Tigris – a must do in Budapest
Reading the Michelin Guide is a reasonable way of finding good food in a city but when you’re far from home and you balance the pros and cons of packing the book (it’s not available for e-readers yet, shame on you Michelin!) against another pair of shoes, well, the latter always wins out, even for Greedy Girl.
At our feast in Stockholm (see the blog ‘Unpronounceable – unforgettable), we chatted with the Maitre D over coffee in front of the fire and mentioned we were headed next to Budapest. ‘Tigris!’, he exclaimed, ‘you must go there.’ Dutifully Greedy Girl looked it up online the next day and made a booking.
Having been slightly underwhelmed by Budapest’s great market, in the heart of tourist-ville, followed by an absolutely disastrous meal nearby when both Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband were in desperate need of sustenance, the food experiences of Budapest were in danger of being consigned to shopping in the local market (Lehel Csarnok) and cooking in the apartment. Tigris was booked for our third night in this city, extraordinary for its great divide (and Greedy Girl is not referring to the river Danube) and we ventured forth with hope of reviving our tastebuds. We certainly did.
Two blocks back from the river, on a side street near the picturesque St Stephen’s Basilica, Tigris was once a part of the ‘Tiger’ hotel built, according to our waiter, in 1839 or 1840 if you believe the website and designed by a noted Hungarian architect, Jozsef Hild. For the last four years running, the restaurant has been recommended by the Michelin Guide.
As you enter the oblong dining room, there is a cluster of framed award certificates over the bar – they’re just for the wine list, we were told. The awards for the food are a more modest collection on the wall at the far end. Why they don’t outstrip the wine awards remains a mystery.
Promising food in true Hungarian style, Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband were amazed to find a whole page of the menu devoted to foie gras – or as the Hungarians prefer to call it, good old goose liver. Greedy Girl opted for the ‘tasting plate’ of foie gras while her opposite number went for foie gras with sour cherry sauce. In the meantime we sat back, enjoyed a bottle of NV Veuve Cliquot (a steal at around A$45) and tucked into the amuse bouche – a duck rillette with onion jam served with three different slices of bread, a white, an olive and a nut. It was delightful.
The plates were barely emptied when the foie gras arrived. Gluttonous husband’s dish was served with the goose livers pan fried, on a crouton of fruit bread with the cherry sauce. It was absolutely yummy. The sweet and sour flavours of the cherry worked brilliantly with the richness of the foie gras, which takes on a different dimension when it is warmed.
Greedy Girl’s tasting plate was enormous and featured foie gras done in four ways – with tiny chunks of tuna sashimi, a cold slab served with an apricot chutney, dipped in a crushed nut mixture and finally, as a foie gras ‘creme brulee’. Working from left to right, Greedy Girl would have been content to stop right there. It was so rich, so filling, served with the lightest brioche. She ate half of each ‘style’ and passed the plate over to gluttonous husband.
The ‘creme brulee’ style came with its own story. Apparently, some years back, the restaurant scored a visit from the godfather of gastronomy, Paul Bocuse, who ventured to Budapest to try the local foie gras. He enjoyed it so much, he went into the kitchen to talk to the chef and together they invented the foie gras brulee. Greedy Girl says: ‘Love your work’.
Gluttonous husband moved on to a ‘hot appetiser’ – a concoction of squid, prawn and fennel sauce – the sauce having also been flavoured with squid ink. The squid was pure white, the prawn was just cooked on the inside but had a remarkable golden crusty texture on the outside. The fennel taste was somewhat obscured by the squid ink but together the three elements worked well.
On to the main course. Greedy Girl opted for the special fillet mignon which was served simply with white asparagus (can’t get away from that at this time of year in Europe), new potatoes and a heavenly jus. Asking for the meat to be cooked rare, it arrived closer to medium-rare which was still perfectly fine. The meat had a delicious almost light quality and was complemented by the asparagus and the jus. The potatoes were delicious – perfectly turned, they had been par-boiled and then baked with rosemary to give a lovely golden colour and a beautifully herby taste. To add to the experience, Greedy Girl had a glass of Hungarian red ‘Kopar’ which is a blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. It was very good.
Gluttonous husband had asked for a recommendation on his main course and had the tenderloin of Mangalica pork with slow-cooked pork cheek, apparently a typical Hungarian breed. The tenderloin was cooked sous vide (for four hours, according to our friendly waiter) but then wrapped in prosciutto and fried for a lovely texture and a pink interior. Gluttonous husband commented he’d never eaten ‘pink’ pork and although a little confronting, enjoyed every mouthful. The pork cheek was cooked for eight hours and the texture and taste was a delight. It was served with a light caulifower puree and crispy shavings of that vegetable.
Chatting to the waiters throughout was a bonus. The service was a very rare combination of personality, attentiveness and old-fashioned hospitality. When gluttonous husband mentioned he wanted to try a Tokaji with his dessert, the head waiter insisted he have a ‘special dessert’ to go with the wine. It duly arrived – a confection of goats cheese, chocolate sorbet, toffee tuile biscuit and grapes. It was rich, richer, richest. Gluttonous husband tried each of the ingredients individually and noted the cheese was too much on its own. It needed softening with the rest of the elements but almost defeated him. Almost. The Tokaji was fragrant and not too cloying.
Greedy Girl asked for the black chocolate mousse with salted pistachios and ice cream, checking of course that the ice cream was served separately. A dark chocolate sludge on the base was dotted with the salted nuts and alternating dollops of ice cream and a lighter chocolate mousse. It was yummy. Greedy Girl happily ate her limit in the chocolate and nut department and gluttonous husband mopped up the rest.
We were all set to depart but our friendly head waiter was having none of that. He brought over a small bottle and two glasses and poured us both a digestif … apricot brandy, known locally as ‘palinka’. Wow. Two sips and Greedy Girl was certifiably flammable. It worked a treat on the tum though, which had been dangerous close to bursting up till then.
Tigris was a delightful surprise. It’s tucked away in a side street, but announces itself to the world with its windows covered by a cascade of fairy lights. All the staff speak English and are more than happy to help recommend something authentic. The cost? Probably ‘expensive’ from the locals’ point of view, but came in around A$200 – including all the wine. A must do in Budapest.
Budapest, Mérleg u. 10