Hungarian food is notoriously delicious, filling and moreish – but it is ultimately comfort food for the winter months, to be eaten by a roaring log fire whilst sheltered from the outside blanket of cold, crisp snow. Rarely is it what one would crave in the hot summer months.
Luckily, the Hungarian delicacies at ÉS Bisztró (bistro) in the Kempinski, however, are perfectly catered for the hot and muggy summers of Budapest, ensuring that tourists and locals alike can continue to enjoy local cuisine with a modern and fresh twist.
Named ÉS Bisztró – where ‘es’ means ‘and’, the bistro aims to encompass the best of both worlds, from the wintery moreish dishes, to light summer fare, from both Austria and Hungary.
This modern brasserie, at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus, is situated in the centre of Budapest by the famous shopping district just off the Danube river. Boasting a lovely view onto a busy, sociable square on Fashion Street, and featuring a lovely outdoor terrace, this is the perfect summer destination. The ambience is casual – a bistro – yet classy and minimalist, rendering it suitable for evening dinner dates or more relaxed lunchtime affairs.
The menu is diverse and modern: it features breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a vast array of snacks and light bights to enjoy in between with a drink. There are no set ‘meal times’ and it’s ideal for daytime grazing as well as more formal meals. This isn’t a business centre though – when we visited, the terrace was filled with families, couples, and groups of sociable, joyous guests and visitors. No laptops to be seen and a very friendly atmosphere. Live music plays on the weekends.
The cuisine is typically Hungarian, yet modern and with a Viennese twist. This translates into a mix of more winter friendly dishes like Hungarian goulash (allegedly the best in town), to steaks and salads, poultry dishes and grilled meats. It really is quite diverse yet not too extensive, and it’s certain that each diner will find a favourite.
When we arrived, at 7pm, our designated waiter introduced himself and began our evening by offering us a glass of one of Hungarian’s finest sparkling wines – Kreinbacher Brut Classic – made in the traditional champagne method – and notoriously delicious. It was fantastic, and highly recommended by this writer. Indeed, it surpasses Prosecco or Cava thanks to its being made in the traditional, slightly oaked method, which renders it biscuity, toasty and sumptuous.
We asked the waiter – as we always do – to recommend a glass of wine per course, ensuring that we got the full tasting experience in the most delectable way.
For the starter, after my review of the most incredible Buratta at my previous destination, I had to sample the Buratta and Heirloom tomato salad. Our waiter recommended (with his wonderful style of gusto and aplomb) the typical Hungarian dish of foie gras.
Hungary is the capital of foie gras and famous for its production, so this was a must. This bistro offered a goose liver pate made with Tokaji wine, with stewed fruits and brioche. Tokaji is of course another famous Hungarian speciality, rendering this dish the perfect mix of two Hungarian delicacies. Both were fantastic: though the burrata was less richly creamy than my most favourite rendition, it was tender, slightly salty to the right degree, and creamy enough to be mopped up with the delicious fresh, hot, homemade bread. The butter – topped with sea salt flakes – was delicious too. The tomatoes were fresh and juicy, organic and ripe, whilst the basil was clean and refreshing.
The foie gras was – as expected – exquisite. Tremendously rich but complemented well by the sweetness of the stewed fruits that worked well with the delicate and crispy brioche bun. I know my foie gras very well, being Eastern European myself, and this was excellent: highly recommended.
Portions were decent – enough for one starter per person with the bread basket to be full as a small meal – but not too large that one wouldn’t want to order a main. We were still ravenous and ready for more by the end of these two.
For the wine, our lovely waiter brought out a fantastic Tokaji Furmint to complement the foie gras – it cut through the richness of the pate superbly, and of course the Tokaji Furmint grape harmonised well with the Tokaji nuances of the foie gras itself, an excellent choice, light and refreshing, yet oily enough to stand up to the rich flavours of our starters. It was called MAD, vintage 2015, and allegedly made by the same family that produced the original Hungarian Magna Carta – VERY interesting.
For the mains, our waiter insisted that we enjoy an exquisitely rare cut of beef steak that the Bistro is famous for and proud of. I had never seen anything quite like it – and was keen to try. He suggested a surf-and-turf, not a dish I would associate with Hungarian cuisine, yet prepared with Hungarian spices: an apt example of Bistro’s nuanced style of the dish.
The cut is a dry aged rib-eye, marinated and dried in its own fat with spices, before being trimmed of the excess and prepared to medium rare. We had king prawns with it, and a few side dishes that he recommended – truffle dauphinoise potatoes, creamed spinach, garden salad, and grilled vegetables, which were surprisingly fantastic.
The meat was absolutely divine – it exceeded all of my expectations and may be the best steak I have had for a very, very long time. The prawns were also worth ordering, but the star of the main course was definitely the steak. A tremendously good choice and one that I would order again with great pleasure. The home made barbecue sauce (a secret recipe!) was exceptional too – and I am not a barbecue sauce fan.
For the dessert, we had two delicious dishes. One was a typical Hungarian dish that the waiter said we must try, named a Floating Island served with berries, whilst the other (my choice) was a chocolate dish entitled the Es Rigo Jansci. Both were excellent – my guest preferred the Floating Island which was creamy, light, parfait – like a pavlova yet more fluffy and soft. Perfect for the summer months. The chocolate dish was more rich and heavy, but still well balanced by the fruit. We enjoyed them thoroughly and managed to finish them despite having eaten a lot already – a good sign.
We enjoyed these two desserts with two glasses of local tokaji that were as wonderful as ever. I would have stayed on for more and tried the cocktails, but after so much food and a long and lazy dinner, my guest was ready to retire to bed.
All in all – this was a brilliant start to our stay in Budapest. The staff were attentive, enthusiastic and humorous – we laughed hard and often, whilst feeling very welcomed and at home. The atmosphere was lively and warm, with families and couples, yet we had our privacy and no one bothered us. The music was enjoyable (relaxed, jazz style tunes) and the ambience reminiscent of a New York style bistro yet situated amidst the elegant streets of Budapest. The food was divine and to a very high standard. I will be returning!
Deák Ferenc u. 12