(Yeah, I don’t know what’s happening with the move either. I’ll keep you posted. But on the bright side, my new website for all things musical is now up and running at Cate Sings, and I even have plans for making sure it doesn’t eat my life…)
A few weeks ago, Scoopon had a deal on a 7-course degustation at The Budapest Restaurant and Palinka Bar. We thought this would be a nifty present for our friend T’s birthday, so today Andrew and I sallied forth to Elsternwick to meet T and her husband for a Hungarian lunch.
Of course, it wasn’t that easy. For one thing, today was the Melbourne Marathon, a fact I discovered when I arrived at our (re-scheduled) choir this morning, and none of the contingent from the south side of Melbourne had arrived. So getting there took a very long time. And for another thing, I had, I am sorry to say, really terrible cramps (I apologise for mentioning this in an otherwise ladylike blog, but trust me, it’s relevant) and hadn’t had breakfast, so I was both very hungry and entirely uninterested in food by the time we arrived.
We looked at the Degustation menu, and T (who had arrived before us) blithely informed us that we could have wine or beer as part of the meal. I very rarely drink, and am, in fact, an utter lightweight, but by this point I was all too willing to self-medicate with red wine, and said so.
Well, said T, if *you’re* drinking, I might actually give the schnapps sampler.
The schnapps shots, incidentally, were a set of 6 for $24 dollars, and included all sorts of things like honey apricot schnapps, golden pear schnapps (I can’t even type it properly, so you can probably see where this is going already), calvados, cherry brandy…
They sounded much better than red wine. T and I decided to share a sampler. Probably. Well, T was definite, I was secretly sure that I would only have a sip.
T, being more experienced in hard drinking than I am, recommended that we wait until later in the meal before getting stuck into the schnapps, so we duly ordered lemonade like good girls, and investigated the first course – a Hungarian-style appetiser platter of bread, dips and cured meats.
Which was amazing. It shouldn’t have been, really. I mean, my Oma was from Austria and had an Eastern European bent to her cooking, so it should have been very familiar. And the little slices of veal rissole did taste as though they had come from her kitchen. There was rye bread, butter (I don’t usually put butter on bread, but Eastern European food sort of demands it), two kinds of salami, the aforementioned rissole, potato salad and sauerkraut. Sort of a Hungarian mezze platter, something I’d never have thought of.
The sauerkraut was a revelation – I don’t like pickles or sauerkraut or that sort of sour savoury food at all, but cured meats and rich foods are pretty much what sauerkraut is designed for, and it really fit. Gorgeous. So gorgeous, that I forgot entirely about taking photos until it was all gone. Oops. This was a bit of a theme today, actually. I blame the hunger. And the schnapps. (Hey, there was a lot of schnapps – enough for its effects to be felt backwards in time, I’m sure)
The next course was Housewarming Chicken Soup with Noodles.
What can you say about chicken noodle soup, really? It’s one of those quintessential things that every culture does, and no matter its form, it makes you feel good. It’s warm, it’s comforting, it inspires really irritating little books. This soup was all of those things (except for the book part) – very much the Platonic ideal of chicken soup. The broth was particularly gorgeous – a really light, strong chicken stock. I could have drunk a bath of it. We all agreed that this was all lovely, and wasn’t it nice that the serving sizes were so sensible, given that there were five more courses to go. Famous last words, I tell you.
Next up were stuffed mushrooms with a gorgeous beetroot and yoghurt sauce. I’ve never seen mushrooms stuffed this way, incidentally – they had cut the cups in half, and then put them facing each other, cut-side-up, and looking like the inside of an apple.
And then they had crumbed them and stuffed them with goat’s cheese and, I think, deep fried them, just in case we were under any illusions about the lovely light nature of this meal. The beetroot dip helped cut the richness, though, and was also a glorious colour. We loved this.
Then we moved onto the mains, and things got serious. The first main was Goulash with noodles and pickled cucumber.
The noodles were actually a lot like the spaetzle our Austrian student made for an International Dinner at work this year – very heavy, dumplingish noodles, clearly designed to stick to your ribs in cold weather. Today, incidentally, was sunny and gorgeous. The goulash itself had that lovely rich slow-cookerishness that I like (much to my relief, because I’ve faced down some terrible goulashes in my time), and the pickle, again, really worked, much to my surprise.
It was also very filling.
Then they brought us schnitzel. But not just any schnitzel – this was veal schnitzel, stuffed with casabao sausage and cheese and served with creamed spinach, just in case it wasn’t rich enough yet.
Don’t get me wrong, it was the best thing I’d seen on that table yet, but I looked at it with a heavy heart. I was not at all sure I could eat it. And there were two courses still to go.
“Don’t worry!” said T, brightly. “We’ll order that schnapps sampler now! That’s what it’s designed for – to soak up rich food, so that you can eat more!”
I expressed my doubt at this. “Well, yeah, it’s primarily designed for getting drunk, but it *also* works to soak up rich food!”
We nibbled on the – divine – schnitzels and creamed spinach, and perused the schnapps sampler menu. Cherry brandy, Golden Pear schnapps, Honey schnapps, Plum Schnapps in Strawberry Wood, Apricot and Honey Schnapps, Calvados…
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” I asked.
T was sure. We ordered.
Schnapps is really quite strong. And I am, as I said earlier, a lightweight. We each took took a sip from each glass in turn (“To booze!”, we said, clinking glasses gleefully as our husbands looked at us with some amusement). My face promptly went very red, and while I didn’t feel especially drunk, from this point on, I had a lot of difficulty taking photos because I kept forgetting to do so, and then accidentally switching the camera to video. Oops. But it was lovely schnapps, especially the honey one, which was like drinking pure honey that had somehow been rendered very, very alcoholic. The cherry schnapps was also surprisingly good, and not at all like the cheap kirsch that I cook with. And the apricot and pear schnappses were excellent too.
I’m not sure if it really cut through the rich food as much as T had promised, though.
The Cevapcici, a kind of sausage served with red cabbage and spicy tomato sauce, was probably delicious if you hadn’t already had five courses of Hungarian food. I ate about half of mine before giving up. It was quite rich, and probably the fattiest in taste (though I suspect not in actual fat content).
Last of all, they brought out the strudel and the custard. And I have to say, that was the most beautiful custard I have ever seen or tasted.
The texture was absolutely perfect – it was smooth and glossy and deliciously vanilla. I normally hate custard, but this was just amazing, not even slightly eggy, and I could suddenly see how it would make a perfect vanilla ice-cream. The apple and walnut strudel was also very good, and just what we needed after that rich, heavy meal, but the custard was really the star of that particular show.
Then T and I girded our loins and finished the rest of the schnapps. Which did complement the dessert rather well, being all fruity and sweet with a kick like an extremely angry donkey. I’ll be looking out for that Bärenjäger honey schnapps, too, because I can imagine it being the most delicious thing to drink on a hot summer day along with a fruit salad. Bliss.
All in all, it was a really excellent meal, even though there was way too much of it, at least for me! We went for a bit of a stroll afterwards, a brisk walk being beyond us at that point, and I’ll be riding my bike in to work tomorrow. That was a lot of food. Dinner is going to be a little bit of yoghurt and fruit right before bedtime, I think. More would be excessive.
I’m really glad to have had the chance to try it all, though, and would definitely go back. I’m afraid I can’t give you much of an idea about the general vegetarianishness and gluten-freeness of this particular restaurant, because a set menu is a set menu – it was certainly very meat, dairy and gluten-heavy. However, looking at their actual general menu, there are definitely a number of dishes marked as gluten-free or vegetarian, so they are clearly aware of that, and I suspect you could make an excellent vegetarian meal of all the interesting side dishes. Vegan options look a bit more scant, though – most of the vegetarian things have cheese or eggs as an intrinsic part of them.
But I do recommend them if you would like to try some very good Hungarian food – and drink – with friendly service. And I must ask them sometime for that rissole recipe, because I am positive that Oma used to make rissoles just like that.
This time last year…Farmers’ Market with Spring Showers Menu Plan for a Busy Week Recipe: Vegan Dream Cookies