Restaurant Review: Kisbuda Gyöngye, Budapest Thursday, Jan 2 2014 

Whenever we visit a new place, we like to avoid the tourist traps and try traditional specialities and places that the locals enjoy. This led us to Kisbuda Gyöngye on a recent trip to Budapest, meaning we had to take a taxi out of the city centre to a quiet residential street that you would never just stumble upon. (For what it’s worth, though, it can also be reached by bus or tram. There is also a brasserie named Remiz, also just out of the city centre, run by the same proprietors.)

This slightly secretive location added to the traditional appeal of the food and decor, as did the restaurant’s reputation of having hosted celebrities and diplomats as well as members of the public. We were also welcomed warmly and our meal was accompanied by live piano music throughout, which made the experience of eating there even more memorable.

So what of the food itself? We were keen to stick to traditional food, and so started with the catfish soup, which contained generous hunks of fish and proved filling, with a pleasing hint of spiciness. Portions are extremely generous in Hungary, so if you plan on having this as a starter, just tell the waiter so that the portion size can be adjusted for you. Following this came a dish of letscho and a flavourful paprika beef stew, served with pasta.

scotch egg is not a scotch eggAfter enough food to feed an army, it’s surprising that we bothered with dessert, but bother we did, thanks to the temptation of another Hungarian speciality on the menu – szilvásgombóc. These are sweet dumplings with a plum jam filling, which are covered in breadcrumbs and then deep-fried. So despite looking like Scotch eggs that moved to Hungary in search of more lenient licensing hours, they are most definitely nothing of the sort. As for the overall taste experience, we found them a little heavy. Despite this, though, we weren’t put off Hungarian food (at this restaurant or otherwise) and would definitely return due to the quality of the welcome, the quality of the food, and the good value for money (we paid no more than £30 for all of this for the two of us, including a glass of nondescript Hungarian wine each).

And we urge you to visit too: the saddest thing about our visit was to see the clearly hardworking proprietor and pianist working all night for so few visitors, in an empty restaurant that (the staff told us) sees more visits during the day from people who work in the area. Budapest is, on the whole, a much neglected European city by tourists, and its restaurants and food deserve more than this.

H1034 Budapest, Kenyeres utca 34

http://www.remiz.hu/kisbuda/kisbuda_etterem_en.html

The Hind’s Head (2) Monday, Jul 25 2011 

I have reviewed the Hind’s Head before, so to do so again arguably seems like a bit of a cheat, especially given that this area of Britain is truly a culinary epicentre (why review the same place again when there is so much more left to visit?). But I review again not without good reason. On my last visit, it was lunchtime and the service seemed haphazard despite there only being 3 of us. On this occasion we were a party of 8, and it was evening, so I was expecting a different experience all round (except, hopefully, for the quality of the food).

Thankfully there was not a shade of disappointment, the whole thing going off without a hitch (well, apart from the triple-fried chips not being available due to something about the quality or type of the potatoes at this time of year not being suitable).

The traditional British pies and puddings (steak and kidney; chicken and mushroom) served went down a treat all round the table, and the wine chosen to go with it all (a Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile) was equally agreeable, although your best bet off the list is probably any Old World wine under £35. But the star of the show on this occasion was the desserts. Faced with a choice from the set menu of Banana Eton Mess versus the mysterious Quaking Pudding, the French contingent went for the latter. This mediaeval confection is best described as being like an English pannacotta, although perhaps not as firm. It’s called a “quaking pudding”, according to the information card that was brought with it, due to the fact that it “quakes and shakes like a jelly when it is served”. An unusual end to any meal!

However, as someone who ordered off the à la carte menu, I went for, on the recommendation of my sister, who had had it before, the equally intriguing Chocolate Wine Slush, and then proceeded to make myself look like a total piglet as I vacuumed it up. While my sister continued to poke daintily at its yumminess with a spoon, I had time to read the information that came with it. Chocolate wine was considered an aphrodisiac in the 18th century, and the chef has put his own modern twist on this by turning it into a shot glass of red wine slushy (the earliest recipe dates from 1694, and is a mousse-like granita known as scomigilia di ciocolatte, FYI). It came with the finest, most delicate slice of millionaire’s shortbread you have ever seen, topped with a flake of gold leaf.

My relationship with millionaire’s shortbread is a bit of a love-hate one; I see it and think “ooh, that looks nice” and then eat it and feel sick. This, however, has a level of refinement previously unknown to this humble dish, being thin and with an intensely concentrated flavour, rather than being over-sickly slabs. Truly, this, combined with the Chocolate Wine Slush, could be my Last Supper dessert and I would die HAPPY.

But perhaps more valuable to the Hind’s Head than my own assessment is the impression made on our French guests (of which two had never been abroad, let alone to England, and of which one could count the number of her UK visits on one hand). The two UK ‘virgins’ happily enjoyed every aspect of the British foodie experience, from the Hind’s Head food to the full English breakfast served at our home the morning after; my sister-in-law went one better, though, and claimed that the food at the Hind’s Head had ‘restored her faith in British cuisine’. CASE. CLOSED.

http://www.hindsheadbray.com

The Hinds Head, High Street, Bray, Berkshire SL6 2AB

tel: 01628 626151

Chain Review: The West Cornwall Pasty Company Sunday, May 9 2010 

For those unfamiliar with the great creation that is the pasty, allow me to enlighten you. It really is touchingly simple: pastry, stuffed with good hearty English ingredients like swede, folded over, and baked until golden brown. The Italians (probably) nicked it from US. Take that, calzone.

Even though it in all likelihood originated as an easy meal or snack for the lower classes to take out and about with them during their day’s work, made cheaply and using ingredients straight from the earth of England’s green and pleasant land, it has evolved to become one of Britain’s best-loved, while still hanging on to its roots in England’s West Country (you can almost hear the Cornish accent whisper in your ear as you take a bite).

While the West Cornwall Pasty Company might not be the first pasty company, it is certainly now one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, now bringing the classic foodstuff to the nation. Reasonably priced, it also sells other things to go with your pasty, such as crisps, drinks, and other solid British snacks such as sausage rolls.

As a chain, you’d think that the quality of this food would be questionable, but it even passes the French test (a.k.a. my fiancé), getting the thumbs up from a nationality that is famously picky about the quality of its meat. However, what you get is a range of seriously delicious, satisfying and traditional foods that never fail to disappoint. I certainly had no beef with my traditional Cornish pasty (containing beef, swede, potato and onion, FYI), and neither did my fiancé, who also sent a sausage roll down after it.

You won’t get fine dining here; the outlets take the form of open shop fronts that offer little or no seating, meaning that you are expected to make like your Cornish forefathers and eat on the move. Still, there is nothing wrong with this. Warm Cornish pasties eaten on Windsor’s Long Walk in the sunshine on a temperate April day? Yes please.

Website: http://www.westcornwallpasty.co.uk

Locations: most high streets