Gundel, Budapest

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.

Gomba gombában
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.

Pitsburghi borjúkotlett
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.

 http://www.gundel.hu

 

2 Responses to “Gundel, Budapest”

  1. Heather Norman Soderlind Says:

    Ah Gundel…fond memories of almost weekly trips to Budapest when I worked out of Vienna. A memorable meal there ca. 1990 with a dashing young executive from Hungarian National Bank when we agreed that Reuters should post the Forint rate on a Reuters Monitor page for free. Cannot remember what we ate though!
    All best wishes, Heather

  2. George Rusznak Says:

    Michael, it is very sensible for you to make your assessment in the proper context. For countries whose history does not include epicurean culture, it is very hard to create a sophisticated cuisine that will measure up to the high standards of international gourmands. It is a problem of both producers and consumers. Although I understand that some countries with a similar historical deficiency have been quite successful creating a respectable indigenous “haute cuisine” in more recent times.

    Gundel apparently seeks to combine its venerable, traditional status with attempts at contemporary creativity and, I gather that, unsurprisingly, just as it is elsewhere, it is a hit and miss proposition, George


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