Contemporary Budapest offers a gastronomical experience to be reckoned with. Leading Hungarian food writer, blogger and TV cooking show host Zsófia Mautner offers her pick of Budapest’s best restaurants.
Whether you’re in the market for traditional Jewish-Hungarian fare, a Japanese pork sandwich accompanied by breathtaking views of Budapest’s skyline or a Michelin-star vegan tasting menu, Zsófia Mautner has you covered. The author of 14 cookbooks (including one in English, 2016’s Budapest Bites), Mautner contributes to a number of food magazines and also runs her own blog, Chili & Vanília.
Stand25 is the low-key alternative to its sister restaurant, Stand. Located in District I, it’s a friendly bistro run by Michelin-star chefs Szabina Szulló and Tamás Széll. The menu here changes all the time, but Mautner recommends trying the goulash and potato casserole. Beyond this traditional fare, the menu focusses on recipes based on seasonal produce. What truly stands out, however, is the wine pairing offered for every dish at Stand25 – accompanying your dinner with a glass or three of fine wine is almost unavoidable.
When it comes to street food in Budapest, Mautner quickly points out Cupákos. Located in the heart of the lively party district, only a few metres away from the Szimpla Kert ruin bar, the restaurant is a haven for meat lovers, complete with an interior akin to a traditional butcher’s shop. Whether you are after ribs, sausages, crunchy duck or pork knuckle, only the freshest meats are on offer, and dishes are prepared right there and then. Among Mautner’s favourites are the bone marrow on toast and roasted pork sausages. But whatever it is you decide to feast on, Cupákos has one key suggestion: “lose the fork and use your hands!”
The concept at the heart of Michelin-star Babel is that of nostalgia. Specifically, the menu harks back to the childhood memories of the restaurant’s young, visionary chef, István Veres. Hailing from Transylvania, Veres uses ingredients that evoke a distant yet distinct memory of this region, such as the earthy flavours of lichen, hay and nettle. Mautner defines Babel as the ultimate destination for contemporary Transylvanian cuisine in Budapest, delivered via a variety of tasting menus. Dishes on the five-course menu include lamb neck with lavender cheese, and the ‘Snow White’ dessert with tomato, elderflower, rhubarb and yoghurt. Babel also offers a seven-course vegan tasting menu – a rarity in Budapest.
The Lobby Lounge, Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace
Hotel Restaurant, Tea , Pastries, Dessert, Wine
Every day from 3pm to 6pm, a live piano soundtrack sets the mood for an unforgettable experience – the Herend Afternoon Tea – at the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace. Under its glass cupola inside the beautiful Peacock Passage, the Lobby Lounge welcomes guests with a cup of tea and delicate appetisers and pastries – a grand, luxurious experience. What makes this a uniquely Hungarian affair, Mautner points out, is that the food and drinks are served on fine local Herend porcelain tableware. For those who wish to make their afternoon truly decadent, tea and scones may be forgone in favour of a glass of perfectly chilled Sauska Brut Blanc and truffle egg cream sablés.
Bar, Bistro, Restaurant, Coffee Shop, Hungarian, Mediterranean, Coffee, Tapas, $$$
Két Szerecsen offers a wide range of international dishes | Courtesy of Két Szerecsen
Set on what is known as the ‘Broadway of Budapest’ thanks to its numerous theatres, Két Szerecsen dubs itself “a coffeehouse in the old sense”. Mautner describes the venue as casual, and it is this relaxed vibe that makes Két Szerecsen such a great choice for any time of day. You can drop by the bistro for breakfast, lunch, dinner or coffee and expect to be captivated by the diverse array of flavours on offer. With options ranging from Spanish tapas to Moroccan-inspired dishes, the bistro’s changing weekly menus span global cuisines. If you prefer to stay local, Mautner suggests trying the chicken paprikash or the red wine-braised beef cheek with cottage cheese pasta – along with all of the desserts!
TOPRUM is famed for its panoramic vistas of Budapest | Courtesy of Hotel Rum Budapest
If you’re still feeling peckish after a day of exploring, TOPRUM Rooftop Bar is the place to go. Situated on the seventh floor of one of Budapest’s finest boutique hotels – Hotel Rum Budapest – the bar offers stunning panoramic views of the city. What makes TOPRUM stand out from the rest of the capital’s rooftop bars, however, is that guests can enjoy al fresco drinks here 365 days a year, including the colder months when the outdoor area is kept warm and cosy. For foodies, TOPRUM’s main attraction lies in its selection of bar food, which Mautner considers the best in the city. Don’t leave without trying the tonkatsu sandwich, the beef ribs or sorrel soup with smoked sturgeon.
If you’re looking to have a break from the hustle and bustle of downtown Pest or happen to be exploring the peaceful Buda side of town, Mautner’s recommendation is Vendéglő a KisBíróhoz (KisBíró). Although KisBíró is 10 years younger than its renowned sibling Bock Bistro, it boasts the atmosphere of a more refined restaurant. Here, traditional homestyle cooking is served with elegance; try, for example, the pike-perch fillet with delicate red cabbage cream and dumplings filled with blood sausage. Mautner’s favourite dishes are the Hungarian fish soup and the foie gras-stuffed roast chicken, while the range of wines on offer is also second to none. The wine menu at KisBíró offers the entire József Bock Winery selection, making it difficult to refuse a glass or two with your meal.
Desszert.Neked is set in Budapest’s District VI | Courtesy of Desszert.Neked
For cake lovers, Mautner recommends Desszert.Neked – a centrally located, corner café in District VI. Whether you prefer a mouthwatering French-style mousse, macaron, or a contemporary take on a classic Hungarian cake such as the rákóczi túrós (baked meringue cheesecake) or the zserbó (a layered apricot and walnut cake), there’s a treat here to suit every sweet tooth. The café’s interior is bright and airy – the perfect spot to while away a few hours in the company of some excellent cake.
To get a taste of traditional Jewish-Hungarian gastronomy, head to Rosenstein. Although its location in District VIII might seem a little off the beaten track, the Keleti train and metro station is less than a five-minute walk away, and Mautner assures that it’s worth the trip out of the centre. A family affair for generations, Rosenstein dubs itself as “the cosy restaurant where the owner is the chef”. Here, Mautner recommends the roast duck with cabbage pasta and the flódni cake, layered with poppyseed, apple, walnut and plum jam.
Stand works closely with local farmers to ensure quality and freshness | Courtesy of Stand
One of Budapest’s six Michelin-star restaurants, Stand showcases its unique vision of contemporary Hungarian gastronomy with deceivingly simple yet undoubtedly well-thought-out dishes – its signature duck liver with tokaji aszú wine being one of them. The restaurant also proudly places emphasis on its relationship with Hungarian producers, supporting sustainable development and safeguarding the terroir that provides its ingredients. Mautner describes Stand as “perfectionist Hungarian fine dining”.