Thursday, 29 December 2011

Budapest - more than the land of the goulash

At the end of November I was lucky enough to enjoy three nights in glorious Budapest as part of the annual ‘work Christmas do’. Not knowing anything more than the humble Hungarian goulash as a dish I was keen to see what else was on offer.
We stayed at the Mercure Korona Hotel on a B&B basis which was very much a continental affair, with the odd frankfurter sausage and rasher of bacon. One thing that I found a little bit on the strange side was the dish of poppy seed bread rolls soaked in milk – not for my palette!
On the first morning we split into same-sex groups as part of a challenge, and headed off to our respective spas for the morning. We’d chosen the Gellert Bath where as well as plunging into hot water, a heavy contrast to the freezing cold weather, there was also the chance for massage and other beauty treatments. I had a stinking cold so opted out of a dip, but enjoyed a very soothing, and great value for money head massage. There were three of us who opted out of the water and happily we are all greedy sorts, so it was only a matter of time before we headed into the adjoining hotel Gellert Hotel to sample their confectionary in the coffee and cake café.
I enjoyed a caramel cake, which was so rich, moist and moreish that I could have quite easily had another slice. Estelle and Katie went for an apple strudel and a chocolate cake. The apple strudel was like no other I’ve ever tried, it was flavoursome with cinnamon and mixed spice, and actually tasted to me of Christmas – wonderful. The chocolate cake was a small, round chocolate sponge, coated in a hard chocolate jacket – all dark chocolate, all lovely.
We found lunch in a nice little pub/restaurant – with the longest menu I’ve ever seen! Everything we had was good and with a bottle of wine plus a few beers between five of us, the meal came in at less than £15 a head which we were astounded by. Unfortunately I’ve forgotten the name of the place, but there were business cards stuck all over the walls and we were given an enormous basket of monkey nuts at the table and encouraged to throw the shells straight on the floor – it was great fun.
In the evening the whole tribe of us were booked in to Matyas Pince which was hotly anticipated. The menu had been circulated around the office and there were a few options that sounded a little unusual, especially to some of the fussier eaters, so we were keen to see how it fared.
We needn’t have worried – I had a perfectly delicious meal comprising of Truffled Potato Soup to begin, baked goose leg (amazing) for mains with sides of braised red cabbage, ‘smashed’ potatoes and fried onions – this was the star showing for me, the crispy skin alone was worth the trip to Budapest! The meal was finished off for me with a ‘Somlo’ cake which I found were very common in Budapest, and are a sponge cake flavoured with rum, with chopped walnuts and a chocolate sauce. Not up there with the best ever dessert, but nice enough.
Throughout this meal we enjoyed a whole host of wines, including a dessert wine which was served up after our first course which was a little unusual and finished off with an Irish Coffee – lovely. There were a few people who had the odd dudd dish – such as the cheese soufflé dessert which actually looked, and apparently tasted like an egg McMuffin, but I’d chosen wisely so was left satisfied. Also throughout the meal there were traditional Hungarian folk singers going round and singing at various people – so it was a great atmosphere.
The following evening and half of the troops had flown home so there was a smaller group and we’d found a little restaurant close to our hotel called Vendia Ketterem. Considering the overall cost of the meal which was around £20-£25 per head the food was exceptional – presented well and a great, friendly service too. This was a ‘smart’ restaurant and the food lived up to the overall look of the place too. I had a breaded cheese to start which was good and followed with a fillet steak – which I wouldn’t have been disappointed with at Hawksmoor. The accompaniments were a little strange, potato shapes, which had a fruity tang to them but as I’d asked for it blue I was more worried this would be over-done, but no – absolutely cooked to perfection.
We decided against dessert, not least because we had been indulging a little too much – but also as it was our last night and we were keen to get out drinking and dancing boots on. On our hotel reception’s recommendation we tried a little place called Fat Mo's and had an absolutely brilliant evening. The DJ was very accommodating and only too happy to play all of our random requests .Never did I expect to see three of the men from our office dancing away to the routine of Beyonce’s ‘All the Single Ladies’ however it appears with copious amounts of beer, wine and the odd shot of Unicum , anything can happen! Unicum is the Hungarian national drink and which I can safely say I’d happily never try again – a herbal concoction that reminded me of the worst kind of medicine.
I’ve only really mentioned a handful of the eateries we enjoyed food in and have to say I’d recommend Budapest to anyone, as far as the food goes. One thing that must be noted is that smiling seems to not be big on Hungarians list of favourite things to do, however don’t let this deter you from what is a great city. I definitely would return particularly in the summer to enjoy the sight-seeing more especially the views along the river which were slightly blighted by the frost factor.
We enjoyed some fine-dining Budapest style which was fantastic but on the last day I had a bowl of goulash, as couldn’t leave without trying the native classic, and have to say it was the most warming, hearty meal I had out there. I can safely say one would find it hard to go hungry in Hungary as in three days I had no complaints about breakfasts, lunch or dinners.


  1. I have to agree with you on both the horrendousness of the Unicum and the heartiness of the goulash! Love that the Irish coffee got a mention :-)

  2. I knew you'd love it Sam - I felt the Irish Coffee mention was a MUST. A great weekend and lots of good grub!