October 22, 2010
Gundel is the best known restaurant in Budapest, the city’s Grande Dame, founded in 1894. It has probably been the best known restaurant in Eastern Europe for a century. Linda and I went for dinner on September 29, 2010.
We took the European continent’s oldest subway line (1896) out to City Park; after a ten-minute walk behind the Museum of Fine Arts we arrived at Gundel on time for our 8:30 reservation. We were seated in a corner table where we could watch the dining room. As the evening progressed, it was a surprise to discover that we were the last to arrive and that the restaurant was only half full. In this photo you can see the violinist serenading the couple in the middle rear. He next went to the Brazilian couple in the right foreground and played The Girl from Ipanema for them. Gundel is that kind of place: individual attention and service in the old style. The orchestra had two violins, a cimbalom and a bass. The musicians came and went; all four were not usually there at the same time. The music was elegant and appropriate, not at all raucous.
We ordered glasses of Hungarian sparkling wine and contemplated the menu. Of course, we ordered the Gundel Classic Menu with pairings of Hungarian wines.
Good fresh bread was put on the table.
The first course was
Lohinai füstölt pisztráng hagymás burgonyasalátával és zsályás mártással
Smoked Trout of Lohina with Onion-Potato Salad and Sage Sauce
The smoked trout with its herb filling and green mayonnaise was nice, but the potatoes were too cold and vinegary. The wine with the trout was BALATONBOGLÁRI OLASZRIZLING 2008 – LÉGLI OTTÓ. This was like a classic Riesling, but had additional flavors and an aftertaste that made it interesting. It went very well with the trout.
Hideg sárgadinnye krémleves Gundel Muskotállyal
Iced Honeydew Soup with Gundel Tokaji Muscat Lunel
Cold fruit cream soups are a Hungarian tradition, particularly with sour cherries. This was very good, nicely capturing the melon flavor, which was probably cantaloupe. The tokay was in the soup, but we didn’t understand that at first and, when we inquired, they brought us little glasses of tokay to go with the soup.
Mushroom stuffed Mushroom
This was quite a rich dish with two variations on stuffed mushrooms. The wine was SZEKSZÁRDI SILLER CUVÉE 2009 – HEIMANN ZOLTÁN, a rosé of no interest.
Veal Cutlet Pittsburgh Style
This dish was created many years ago for a banquet at Gundel for the visiting Mayor of Pittsburgh. It was so appreciated it has become a Gundel Classic. A veal tournedo is atop a bed of sweet corn and is dressed with a veal gravy. Alongside is a generous slab of seared goose liver atop a bed of julienned onions and veal tongue. Roasted potatoes complete the dish. This is about as opposite to Nouvelle Cuisine as you can get. The wine was GUNDEL EGRI CABERNET SAUVIGNON GOLD SELECTION 2005, a robust wine that went well with the cuisine; it really coated the mouth and turned one’s teeth purple.
Klasszikus Gundel palacsinta
The Classic Crèpe à la Gundel
Surprisingly, this was the only course I didn’t like. The pancake filled with chopped walnuts was okay, but the chocolate was leathery with little flavor. The wine was GUNDEL TOKAJI ASZÚ 6 BUTTS 2003; it was luscious and good.
The whole evening, including the cuisine, was a trip back a hundred years to the early twentieth century. It has to be enjoyed for what it is. In another setting, it would be very easy to be harshly critical of the cuisine. We had a lovely evening and then took a taxi back to the early 21st century.