Budapest is an excellent destination for young independent travellers: there are plenty of bars, museums and shops to get stuck into; a beautiful riverbank upon which to walk, picnic and admire the views; and, of course, a myriad of restaurants offering everything from traditional Hungarian fare (of which more later) to modern city-slicker cuisine. The Café Biarritz, situated very close to the Hungarian parliament, offers a meeting of the two cuisines, with dishes ranging from the orthodox Kaiserschmarrn to the more cosmopolitan offering of fried goose liver slices with a red wine sauce. This was done more successfully, arguably, than any other restaurant visited throughout the weekend in Budapest, by taking all of the best bits of the thoroughly modern Sofitel Chain Bridge’s Paris Budapest restaurant and those of the historic Kisbuda.
Quiet at the weekends, the Café Biarritz mainly hosts government employees during weekday lunches, and so we were able to enjoy a tranquil meal in the midst of an airy-looking interior. As one would expect during a quiet time for a restaurant, service was at all times polite, attentive and accurate. The food also did not disappoint, either in terms of portion size (which at the Café Biarritz is actually sensible, unlike at many Hungarian restaurants where portions are grossly oversized) or in terms of quality. The starters – a pumpkin soup and pork pâté – were superior in both taste and presentation, far exceeding what we could make ourselves at home (which is, ultimately, what we seek when dining out: excellent food prepared beyond our own capabilities, within a relaxed and tranquil environment). Meaty and satisfying, the pâté was balanced by a refreshing vinaigrette, while the soup achieved incredible depth and smoothness of both flavour and texture, going beyond the purée-like texture of most homemade soups. The truffle oil garnish of the soup added even further dimensions.
The main courses also did not disappoint, with the ox cheek stew having clearly been cooked slowly over a period of hours, contributing to a melt-in-the-mouth texture and rich taste experience. This was contrasted nicely by the traditional ‘noodles’, which were actually more pasta-like in shape, and whose doughy, slightly porous consistency and neutral background flavour helped to soak up the plentiful sauce. On the other side of the table was fried foie gras, served with an innovative apple chutney and crispy potatoes, again proving the Café Biarritz’ ability to marry the modern and the long-established.
With this, glasses of Hungarian red wine were served, which provided a taut combination of spiciness and restraint in the flavour. Overall, the wine list offers many affordable local options, with several choices being available by the glass, which is always appreciated. Sparkling water served from a siphon was also a welcome feature of the meal’s accompanying beverages.
After all of that, sharing a dessert seemed to be the way forward, and while faced with many delicious choices – we were assured that the tiramisu was worth a detour, and the orange and cardamom cheesecake seemed too good to refuse – as soon as the words “traditional” and “Hungarian” slipped out of the waiter’s mouth, we knew we had to go for the Kaiserschmarrn (even though we didn’t know what it was, really). When in Rome, and all that (well, Budapest). Luckily for us, the Kaiserschmarrn is completely delicious: essentially a thick, crunchy pancake with a caramelized outer coating, it’s most usually served warm and with jam (in this case, apricot). One serving of this rich pudding was certainly enough for two, which we followed up with acceptable espressos.
This totalled around €35 per person, which is not bad for such a high-quality lunch. Its generous (but not ridiculous) proportions and tranquil setting make this truly an oasis in Hungary’s bustling capital, meaning that a return visit would always be desirable.
1055 Budapest Balassi Bálint St 2, Hungary