It’s always a special feeling, to step into a restaurant. Every place has its own atmosphere, its own history, colours and scents. This applies, above all, to one of the most famous restaurants of the city: as you walk through the beautifully carved wooden door of world renowned Gundel, even time seems to stop for a bit. Entering the palatial hall, I found myself marvelling at a precious collection of photographs hanging on the wall: pictures of politicians, notabilities and famous people who decided to consume a memorable meal here. Among others, Queen Elizabeth II smiles back at me as I silently enjoy the splendid atmosphere.
A distinguished place comes with its very own characters, too. Looking around, Wes Anderson’s movie, The Grand Hotel Budapest came to mind and I started wondering how can such a traditional place adjust itself to the modern gastronomic trends?
Although Gundel is considered to be one of the most traditional places in the Hungarian capital, innovation has always been part of its life. The founder, Károly Gundel placed Hungary on the global map of gastronomy, by mixing the authentic flavours of the region with the newest technologies of his age. But his legend does not only lie in his remarkable achievements: he was also known to be an extraordinarily generous and mindful person. Many artists could be found among the regular guests, and when a painter ran out of money, Károly accepted a painting instead of cash. There is a famous story about how he created the so called Palóc soup for Kálmán Mikszáth, just to amaze the writer. And this kind of treatment still lingers around the historic halls: every time the waiters emerge with a newer round of meals, their graciousness and humbleness fill the air.
At first, a set of soups arrived to our table with three samples, steaming elegantly from the white china cups: a portion of the well-known goulash, Fisherman’s soup and quail soup. I have to say that I belong to the group that regards such traditional meals as real calamities. But I thought it was the perfect place to give it a chance, finally and with their timeless essence and harmonious tastes, they did manage to win me over. The next mouth-watering compilation was the Goose Liver Quartette consisting of Goose Liver Smoked on Cherry Wood with Prunes poached in Red Wine, Gundel’s Goose Liver Pâté with Golden Raisins, Grape Jelly and Grape Seed Oil, Black Truffle Dusted Goose Liver Paté with Cherry Chutney, Hot-smoked Goose Liver with baked Apple and Lavash Bread. Many people are sceptical about goose liver and they’re quite right to do so as it’s not easy to prepare it with such fine texture and characteristic flavour as it is presented at Gundel. My personal favourite was the one with baked apple and lavash bread. For the main course, we tasted two of the most traditional dishes: Pan-fried Pike-perch à la Charles Gundel with sautéed Spinach and Asparagus Velouté and Sautéed Strips of Beef Tenderloin Gundel Style 1910 – both made exactly the way the famous founder formulated it in his original recipe. By the time we got to the much praised Sautéed Strips of Beef Tenderloin, I kindly warned our waiter that I might not be able to finish the meal as I was already feeling full. But owed to the gently seducing scent circling above my bowl, I soon had to realize that the temptation was completely irresistible! And last but not least, let me introduce you the dessert that bears the founder’s name and makes any ordinary day into an extraordinary one: the Classic Walnut Crêpe à la Gundel with Bitter Chocolate Sauce. If that would have been the only thing introduced by the gastro dynasty, I think we’d still be absolutely satisfied.
It’s also worth noting that I am lactose intolerant, but still managed to taste whatever I laid my eyes on, so if you’d also suffer from some sort of food allergy, inform the waiter who’ll offer you a wide range of suitable options. At the end of our visit I asked myself again: How can a traditional place like this one make its way through the whirl of always changing gastronomic trends? Well, the reason is hidden in every spoonful of rich soup and forkful of classic dish as they are all made and served in an exclusive manner, sprinkled with kindness and seasoned with the wisdom of a mythic figure.
Street Food Picnic in Gundel Garden
29 April – 1 May
Hungary’s most famous restaurant opens its fabulous garden for the rolling gastronomy, and awaits guest not only with special bites spiced with spring’s fresh flavours but with street musicians and plenty of programs for kids, as well.