For those thinking Hungary is just about goulash and Tokaji dessert wine, it is high time they took a visit to this stunning country in central Europe which is only 2 hours by plane from London. The capital of Hungary, Budapest has no less than 7 Michelin-starred restaurants. Since Hungary won Bocuse d’Or Europe in 2016 (the Olympics of the culinary world), they’ve been going from strength to strength and they will be hosting the European final of the Bocuse d’Or in March 2022.
The Bocuse d’Or Hungary success was down to Tamás Széll at Stand Budapest, which is also Michelin-starred (Tamás is now also the trainer at the Hungarian Bocuse d’Or Academy). Securing a table at Stand can be a tricky affair as they are busy on all days of the week. Whilst seasonal changes do occur, they’ve always kept Tamás’ award-winning dish, sterlet with cucumber salad and clam sauce topped with caviar. It’s decadent and it encapsulates the best of Hungary, with sterlet traditionally caught from the Danube. One thing to note is their vegetarian tasting menu which is quite an advancement for a nation that thrives on meat-eating, especially mangalitsa pork.
Café culture has been a crucial part of the Hungarian way of life and particularly since the end of communism in 1989. The New York Café is one of those iconic venues you must book in early to savour their world-famous afternoon teas.
Michelin-starred dining isn’t all about glitz and glam, you can get equally inventive food in a relaxed brasserie-style environment at Borkonyha Wine Kitchen. The key to Michelin success is often championing local ingredients, so at Borkonyha you get an extremely refreshing sturgeon with grapefruit and dashi. You will also often find beetroot in Hungarian dishes, so at their restaurant, it is served up to compliment quail and black salsify. The saturated colours make the dish visually appealing but the sweetness is the perfect foil for the mildly gamey flavours of the quail.
The wine industry has come on leaps and bounds since communism ended in Hungary in 1989. Arguably their most famous export is Tokaji dessert wine and dining at the fine dining restaurants mentioned previously, you’ll learn they are rated from 3 to 6 puttonyos. The higher the number, the higher is the sugar content and generally more valuable. Although you have to give careful consideration not to pair the sweetest dessert with a 6 puttonyos wine.
Much like the English wine industry, Hungarian sparkling wine is experiencing a booming market. One winery tour I would strongly recommend taking is to visit Kreinbacher estate in Somló. You get to sample exquisite wine with wonderful minerality due to the volcanic heritage of the area but also admire the stunning award-winning architecture of their winery with buildings that seamlessly blend in with the natural surroundings.
Why not combine winery tours with a spot of sightseeing? The ideal place for this is the historic town of Pannonhalma. The Benedictine Pannonhalma Archabbey and the accompanying library is one of the most impressive destinations in Hungary to visit and being situated on a hill in a relatively flat landscape, means you get unrivalled views of the countryside. Wine-making started here in 996 by Benedictine monks and has since been revived again post-communism.
The other destination to consider whilst you are exploring the scenic countryside is Lake Balaton. It is the largest lake in central Europe and where plenty of locals have their second homes and decamp over the summer months. A ferry ride across the pristine lake whilst admiring the sunset is one of those bucket list moments you will remember for the rest of your life. There are worthy dining options to consider in the area including the restaurant Kistücsök, which arguably started the modern Hungarian culinary revolution back in 1992. You can try classic Hungarian street food dishes like lángos, which is a deep-fried flatbread, and Mangalica ham.
Finally, if you are concerned about the calories, there are plenty of sightseeing opportunities to burn off the excess energy, particularly in Budapest. Budapest has one of the most spectacular parliament buildings in the world. Their grand staircase is truly a sight to behold and the best thing is they offer regular guided tours for you to enjoy. You get to tour half of the parliament building which used to be the House of Lords but that was abolished in 1945.
The other must-visit historic part of Budapest is the Buda Castle District filled with superlative attractions like the Moorish-influenced church Matthias and the recently renovated, St Stephen’s Hall of the Royal Palace. And you can’t say you’ve been to Hungary without having visited their world-famous bathhouses, like Spa Széchenyi. It’s the largest medicinal spa in Europe, the most visited attraction in Budapest, it has 18 pools and 10 saunas/steam cabins. This is just the kind of destination that reminds you why you’ve missed travelling so much in the last few years.
For more information on their beautiful country, please check out https://visithungary.com/