It may be a bold statement, but on a recent trip to Hungary’s capital, I think I found the best restaurant in Budapest. The Bock Bistro on Erzsébet körút is not ridiculously fancy or expensive, but everything about it is perfectly charming.
I was surprised by the gastronomy of Budapest. It was naive, but I imagined it was all goulash and dumplings – the traditional image of Eastern European fare. Goulash was on a few menus, but there is so much more to Hungary’s cuisine. Plums and sour cherries feature in both savoury and sweet dishes, whilst delicate nut mousses are a speciality dessert.
My friend Zita of ziziadventures, had been kind enough to provide a list of recommendations for places to eat, and the Bock Bistro was on there. It was very close to our hotel, and therefore a convenient choice.
Having set out at peak dining time, we arrived to find the small restaurant full and we hadn’t made a reservation. The waiter, however, said that we could come back in 20 minutes and he would have a table ready. I think we were lucky – booking is recommended for this place.
We retired to the bar next door and ordered unicum cocktails – my first taste of this Hungarian aperitif – and returned after the allotted time to find a table ready and waiting for us.
The waiter spoke flawless English, making me feel bad about my complete lack of Hungarian. Indeed, when I tried out my few words of the language on him, he simply looked at me quizzically. Soon a witty repartee was bouncing between us as he conspired with us to try and tempt our only non-wine-drinking friend to try a glass of local wine.
As a coeliac, I was a bit cautious about eating in Budapest, unsure whether it was something restaurants would cater for. I had a card in Hungarian explaining what I could and could not eat, but our kindly waiter immediately put me at ease.
“I’m a bit difficult…” I began.
“Don’t worry, so am I,” he shot back.
He proceeded to come up with several dishes especially for me, which weren’t on the menu. In the end, none of us had a dish on the menu – he listed such wonderful-sounding specials, which he seemed to invent just then, just for us, from the ingredients he knew were in the kitchen.
He explained that the main courses might be a while, but brought us some delightful starters and anyway, the wine and conversation was flowing.
When the main dishes did arrive, we were in heaven. I had a tiger prawn and sweet chilli salad, while beautifully-cooked rabbit and lamb featured on my friends’ plates.
Our meal ended with a glass of palinka, a clear fruit brandy.You have to love the Hungarian names for their national drinks – they are so playful and fun to say! It provided the perfect note to end on and sent us skipping merrily back to the hotel.
It’s hard to pinpoint what makes Bock Bistro quite so wonderful – it is an almost alchemical mixture of freshly-prepared food, cooked to specific orders, the fusion of Hungarian and other cuisines, the incredibly reasonable price range and the sparkling service.
All I know is, if and when I return to Budapest, I will head straight to this place for dinner.