Back on the Danube — Further Adventures in Budapest

After a so-so two days in Warsaw, where the stress of everything from Ukraine to jetlag, as well as a sub-par dinner at previously-praised Nolita, I was happy to get to Budapest. Not even the excellent tasting menu at Senses lifted my mood much as I arrived in Budapest — for that mood to be further cloudied being shouted at by a set of drunken Russian (they were reeking of vodka) tourists wearing garish “patriotic” outfits…

It took a lot of effort to ignore and walk away…

I chose to stay a little further away from the river this time near Nyugati Station, a nice 15-minute walk in or a simple Metro ride. Even though I had skipped my “usual” brekkie at Warsaw Chopin Airport of kiełbasa due to my hangover from Senses, I just wasn’t in the mood for a serious lunch today…

So fast forward to dinner, a late dinner, with a dear friend. There weren’t too many options on a Sunday late evening, everything was closed — or closing — so we had to hit a tourist trap, either in Pest or up on the Buda hills. So we went for the latter, and settled with Citadella.

The view is spectacular, as the panorama restaurant has some of the best views in all of Budapest. The food and service was, well, less spectacular. My starter was not bad though, the scallops with wild mushrooms.

scallops

Not bad, it was cooked well enough and it presented nicely, and the mushrooms were plentiful. But for the main it all fell apart as they brought out the wrong dish for my friend, so all went back…and by the time it came out, my catfish tasted rather bland…

catfish

Oh well, what can you expect? Yes, there is a piece of local catfish under the greens…

They seem to want us to get out of there also, so we tried to take out time just to irk them a little. I don’t like that kind of attitude, especially at an overpriced tourist trap. Eventually we headed out and cabbed it back to Pest, where I headed to the bar for a nightcap before crashing out…

The next day proved to be not too busy, but a little running around that got me a little sweaty. The way this mild, spring heat is already affecting me I am not gonna survive the summer… For a late lunch I dropped into a place I had been looking at online, the oddly-named LaciPecsenye.

The place is done like a gastropub that specialised in meats. Mmmm… Some of the photos I saw were extremely tempting and I sat down inside in the air conditioned room (most people sat outside) and looked forward to a fine lunch.

goat cheese

My starter was goat cheese with various pickled vegetables… Oh geez, this reminded me how much Hungarians love pickled vegetables, and how I can do without most of it. The goat cheese was extremely bland and the pickles actually made it even blander…

suckling goat

My main course was suckling goat. I was really, really looking forward to it. It wasn’t that great, it was okay, but it could have been so much more. The meat was done well, but it had soaked in the olive oil too long after plating so the skin was getting soggy. And it was more olive oil than jus, which really ate into the taste of the goat. Meat was of good quality and it tasted nice, but it could have been so, so much more… I left a little disappointed…

Had to run some errands through the afternoon in the heat, and once my clothes were begining to get soaked I realised I needed to hide from this mild heat… So I headed back and was drenched by then… I am getting more and more intolerant to any heat each summer that comes along…

I headed out for a late dinner on my own as everyone I seem to know was either out of town or busy that evening, so I walked around and had a few possibilities. I went back towards the same area and settled on Kispiac, another meat-centric bistro.

They seemed to be really disorganised and the service was just shockingly bad. People stood around while diners were waving for service. They seemed clueless about basic customer service. Even the locals, who are used to dodgy service, were utterly flustered and several walked out before they were served! It wasn’t even this bad in Russia in 1992 when I was there! Just awful!

It took 25 minutes to order something… I had some questions but the server didn’t know and I said just bring out the better of the 2 dishes I had questions on — the belly or the rib. The rib won, apparently, after it appeared 20 minutes later.

ribs1

This was actually quite tasty, a rib done in a roast with the crackling on top. I enjoyed this treat although it was on the small side. I had not ordered a starter fearing it to be too big. I was going to order something else but the server had gone AWOL and it took me another 15 minutes to track him down. By then the kitchen was shutting down, so I left. Ridiculous. Good food, failed by service.

The next day’s lunch I didn’t want to risk it so I went to Klassz — somewhere I know is solid. My lunch here in the autumn of 2012 was excellent, so I went back anticipating another good lunch. It was even warmer this day, so I was happy to once again sit inside this cute winebar and enjoy some chilled local whites.

pea_soup

My starter, once again a soup, was a nice pea soup. Creamy, with a poached egg. The soup was flavourful and rich, and perfect for someone like me who loves the flavour of peas. Excellent! Plus, the wines were fabulous. This is one of the best places to have wines by the glass, with a very wide selection.

duck_wild_garlic_risotto

My main was utterly fantastic: duck with wild garlic risotto. Wow, two of my favourite things. The risotto was excellent, with enough of the wild garlic to make you want more. The duck was cooked perfectly, retaining the deep flavours without it being too lightly cooked. Excellent! Best meal in Budapest, to be perfectly honest.

I have to say Klassz has never let me down. Food has always been fabulous, the wine selection superb, and the service efficient. This is one of the hidden gems of Budapest. It’s worth going just for the wines, but the food is excellent. One of my top recommended places for this beautiful city, where sometimes finding a combination of good food, drink and service together is difficult…

It was my last evening in Budapest and I had made a booking at the Michelin-starred Onyx, where I had a wonderful meal before. I was meeting a colleague, a well-known British-American political figure, for an evening of stories and discussions. So the focus for me was less on the food.

As I waited for my friend, I had asked for a martini. They had suggested the local sparkling instead, but I like having a martini before a political discussion. Goodness that was a bad move. My friend arrived the same minute my martini did, and even he had a second glance at the glass… I think they poured about half the glass of vermouth as it was noticeably off-coloured. It was utterly undrinkable…

A Michelin-starred restaurant that cocked this up that badly? Very poor, very poor… I’ll spare you the photo of it… I sent it back nearly full and took a glass of the aforementioned sparkling…

After a somewhat mediocre amuse (oyster) I was more interested in the conversation than the food. Nevertheless my starter arrived, the gulyás.

1-gulyas

The menu said this was a course they presented at the Bocuse d’Or when chef Szabina Szulló competed in 2013. Not bad, rich and deep flavours. A nice start.

2-lamb

My main course was a strangely-plated lamb selection in 3 parts. Sorry for the odd angle, as I tried to get it all in without blocking the light or leave a big shadow. To be honest, it was pretty bland. I really like my lamb to stand out. This tasted like some bland, cheaply-imported New Zealand stuff that is reared to have no distinct flavour. Just didn’t do it for me, and I actually lost interest in the dish. I could have this in some mediocre cafe back home in Virginia.

Oh well, this wasn’t as good as last time, not at all. But the conversation was excellent and we both ordered the goat cheese tasting:

3-goat_cheeses

Well, not quite what I thought. It seemed to have tried too hard to “dessertify” the cheese course, which defeats the purpose. I rather would have some solidly good Hungarian cheeses instead of an overly-creative platter…

My colleage had a deadline so he departed as I took one last drink before leaving myself. I was happy from the conversation and company, disappointed from the food and especially the martini debacle. It shows a lack of care and complacency on their part, to be honest.

To be perfectly honest, this was not a great eating few days in Budapest either. If the food stood up, the service surely did not. Problems everywhere, from the dodgiest martini I have ever had to running around the block trying to find the AWOL waiter. Only Klassz was up to par — again. It’s clearly the best of the lot — again.

Coda: The next morning I headed out of Budapest with a headache as I had a long drinking session later on with some other friends and colleagues. I had to skip my “other” usual at Budapest Liszt Airport, a stop at the excellent Leroy Bistro. But at the time I didn’t know what I was in for getting back to London. I should have had some mangalica before I left…

Welcome to London…where the IT system of Immigration failed and the queue was 2-3hrs long… Welcome to London… 

Oh wait, there’s a Tube Strike and Heathrow Express Strike too… Welcome to London…

Citadella
Citadella sétány 1

LaciPecsenye
Sas utca 11

Kispiac
Hold utca 13

Klassz
Andrássy út 41

Onyx*
Vörösmarty tér 7-8
Budapest, Magyarország

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