CUISINE: Hungarian ADDRESS: 348 Dundas Street DATE: June 15, 2013
Just over a year ago, I was in Hungary on an unbelievable school trip. I had never even been to Europe before, so landing in Budapest as my first stop was the kind of mind-expanding culture shock that only international travel can provide.
OK, well not LANDING in Budapest. The outskirts of Budapest, where the airport is, looks pretty much like Mississauga. But the rest of Budapest looks like this:
So, yeah, pretty much exactly the same architect that designed all the No-Frills stores in London. Sigh….
I was super excited to get to go on the trip, but I was a little worried about the food. I had tried a couple of samples of Eastern European food in the past, and it just seemed like meat, carbs and slimy sauces.
And the long story short is, IT TOTALLY IS, but apparently I like that stuff.
I didn’t eat a single green thing until we hit Prague.
Anyway, when Budapest came up on the AZ Resto tour, I knew I had to call my European travel companion, known analytical thinker, adventurous foodie and actor extraordinaire, one Andrew Varkaris:
Andrew in Prague, March 2012: check out the awning that is IDENTICAL to the one on the front of the Budapest restaurant! #authenticitytest1 #passed
I think it is a good test of friendship longevity to travel with someone. Andrew, as one of the token Drama kids on the bealart trip, spent most of his time with me, making up dialogue to go with paintings we didn’t understand, staring artfully while drinking coffee in outdoor cafes, and buying expensive, garishly European-looking clothing so we could brag about where we got it to people in Canada. We spent ten days traipsing around Europe together, and didn’t get sick of each other. At all.
That’s not to say we didn’t irritate the people in our general vicinity. Especially since our grasp of the local language involved repeating found phrases, both phonetically and incessantly:
[SCENE. On a crowded coach bus. Early morning. People are trying to sleep.]
Megan & Andrew: BELEPNI TILOSSSSSSSS!!! AHAHAHAHA!!!!
Innocent Bystander: What does that mean?
Megan & Andrew: (with a side-eye glare) We. DON’T. Know.
With those whimsical days on my mind, we met up with Andrew, AZ Resto blog regular Becca (her 5th appearance! See #1, #3, #6, #8), local celebrity Cassandra “Over the Rainbow” Hodgins (otherwise known as my former student Cass), and OKTC revitalizer Mr. Andrew Tribe. This dinner was part of a day of attending shows at the Fringe Festival, followed by an evening of attending the
festivities events of London’s Nuit Blah Blanche.
Let the merriment begin.
Dialogue: Fahza was sooooo ANGRY wit us. He told us we were bad kinderrrrr…
That might be a faux German accent. I feel like Hungarian discipline is about the same.
I mentioned to a few different people that this week’s blog dinner was at Budapest. Anyone who had been to the restaurant before asked the same thing:
"Is SHE still there?"
The she in question is the owner of the restaurant, Marika Hayek, and its venerable hostess. And the elegant, warm woman is still there, albeit moving very slowly. We had made a reservation and stood in the entrance of the restaurant, and she made her way to us and promised us “the most beautiful, most special room, just for us”.
At first, we were hesitant to leave the room we were in, since the SPITTING IMAGE OF BILL MURRAY was playing easy listening tracks on a keyboard.
Ian: Yeah, but it’s like he KNOWS he looks like Bill Murray. He’s wearing the Caddyshack hat.
But when Marika placed us in the front window, in a small alcove with a round table, lush red velvet curtains, and a tiny mirror that Andrew said “made the whole place double in size”, we felt pretty well taken care of.
Ian and I, trying to look Hungarian. (Me: grimace. Ian: chest hair. Advantage: IAN)
(BLOG SHIRT SIGHTING!)
The mirror is hiding in the little nook behind Andrew, but he assured us it offset the red wallpaper.
They started playing Over the Rainbow when Cassandra walked in. Coincidence? There are no coincidences where Bill Murray, Keyboardist, is concerned. #groundhogday
If you are looking for modern elegance, this is maybe not the place for you (try Tamarine. It’s beautiful inside!). But the lavish decor is ABSOLUTELY appropriate for a Hungarian restaurant. We are talking about a country with a history of communism and civil uprisings whose bragging rights mainly revolve around their parliament winning MOST BEAUTIFUL in some sort of European Parliament Pageant. The red and gold wallpaper just works.
Also adding to the charm and authenticity: our waiter Roland. The combination of a cherubic face, gym-rat body, and nearly unintelligible accent didn’t bother us in the slightest.
Megan:(pointing) Could we get some waters for the table?
Roland: (Smiling) Vat?
Megan: Waters? All around? (mimes drinking)
Roland: (even broader smile) Ohhhhhh! Schvata!!! Yes!
(doesn’t bring them for 30 minutes)
But he did bring this, some very nice Hungarian white:
I usually go for a Pinot, but tonight I decided on the HARSLEVELU.
We decided to get some apps to share for the table, and picked a few classics like sausage and Hungarian Pierogis.
Becca: The menu says they have “shrimps” and “herrings”. Can we get “herrings”?
Roland: (smiling) Ohhhhh….
Megan: We were thinking about getting some apps for the table?
Megan: To share? (pointing to the others) All of us? How many should we get?
Roland: Ohhhhh. Stuffed peppers?
Megan: …sure. And these things? (pointing at the menu, smiling) And those waters?
Becca: (piping up, finger aloft)… and the herrings?
Even with six people in our curtain off alcove, what we ordered was WAYYYYY more than we could eat. Each app was $6.95 each, and some (like the stuffed peppers, or the sausage) could suffice for a small, say Cassandra-sized person’s meal.
(PARSLEY SPRINKS SIGHTING! See #2, Amici)
Hungarian sausage which Andrew dubbed “sausage-y” (see, I told you he was analytical and verbose!), but basically not special or seasoned particularly well. It was, in his words, a “hot dog”. It was, however, cooked well, and not at all fatty.
Roland’s recommended stuffed peppers.
The spillage on the bowl is mine, not theirs. A great tomato sauce, and nicely spiced, but not our top choice. I was just excited he knew we were ordering appetizers.
The two giant, deep-fried Pierogis.
Nothing wrong with that. None of this stuff is low fat. All of it is GOOD.
Roland remembered the HERRING! He DID NOT remember the waters.
This was probably our favourite appetizer of all of them. The brine on the herring was VERY SOUR, which made it like some weird, pickly sushi. With full fat sour cream and paprika on it. Bring it on.
I would also like to note that the Budapest seems to fall into the same category as Addis Ababa.
THEORY I’M WORKING ON: The more authentic the food, the less photogenic it is. Let’s see if this continues to be a trend.
Cabbage soup. Exactly like the soup I tried in the market in Budapest. But with a maybe an extra layer of oil on top. I still liked it.
All of our dinners came with soup or salad before, and a huge dinner portion. Some came with multiple dinner portions, and dessert.
This is the HUNGARIAN platter.
Schnitzel, cabbage roll, a quarter of a sausage, chicken paprikash, hungarian gnocchi (similar to German Spaetzle), and BRINY, BRINY pickled cabbage. All was prepared authentically, and smooshed onto a plate for me to enjoy.
Ian ordered Hungarian Goulash. Different from the goulash soup, which he also ordered. He says, and I quote, “I liked it!” Thank god he’s pretty.
And this is Andrew’s RABBIT paprikash (I told you he was an adventurous eater!) He enjoyed it (despite Cassandra’s cries about bunnies from the other side of the table) and we both thought the paprikash and gnocchi was similar to what we had in Budapest.
We had a long and luxurious dinner at Budapest, almost 3 hours. By the time our compulsory desserts arrived, I groaned.
Some kind of Streudel?? I don’t know. I ate so many thingggsss.
We had a long and luxurious dinner, over three hours, at Budapest. Maybe it’s because we were in our own little curtained off area, or maybe just because we are talkative people in general, but we were roaring with laughter throughout the night. Andrew came back from the bathroom with tales of a dungeon-like fortress under the building; at one point, Cassandra said the dinner was like a private comedy show for her. And dear Roland, who eventually did remember the water, even got in on the act. When Roland mistakenly assumed that Cassandra and Tribe, and Rebecca and Andrew were couples, they both started role-playing break up scenarios:
Tribe: Are we together? (snivelling) NOT. ANY. MORE.
Cassandra: Separate bills. Please. SEPARATE.
Whereas Andrew and Becca’s relationship devolved, as so many do, over the eating of a plate of streudel.
When Andrew expressed his dismay with Becca, Roland piped up, “You won’t be getting any TONIGHT!”
True, Roland. So true.
We definitely were in the right mood for the Budapest. Is it the place you take people to impress them with your Epicurean palate? Maybe not. But it is European homey, old-school, priced right, and different that everywhere else. And in London, that counts for a lot.