My best friends and I trawled the 23 districts of Budapest to create the perfect ‘sustenance schedule’ for a busy day of sightseeing. Here I share our recommendations for fuelling your day exploring the Hungarian capital.
I discover cities through my taste buds. What better way to acquaint yourself with a new culture than to sit down at the dining table and sample the flavours and specialities of a country? Food is an integral part of a city’s personality and, in my experience, can act as an excellent guiding landmark on a day of exploration. Seeing the architecture of Lisbon isn’t complete without a coffee and a custard tart. A road trip through Nashville wouldn’t be the same without juicy spare ribs. Not in my particular version of wanderlust anyway.
Budapest is known for its Gothic architecture, most notably the Parliament building and Matthias Church (both well worth a visit) but the real treasure of the city can be found in its kitchens. The laid-back capital has realms of excellent restaurants, many of which leave those accustomed to London prices spluttering at the lightness of the cheque.
After collating recommendations from friends and local sources, my friend, and I boarded our plane clutching a refined shortlist of places to try. Here are our final picks, carefully whittled down through hours of trying, testing and tasting, for the perfect 24 hour sustenance schedule.
It was famous food critic AA Gill who said, “Breakfast is everything. The beginning, the first thing. It is the mouthful that is the commitment to a new day, a continuing life.” If this philosophy is anything to go by, then Cirkusz is the perfect place to start exploring the Pest side of the city.
We were prepared to wait for a table outside in the fashionable Jewish quarter after seeing the pulled pork eggs Benedict being delivered to their table. There’s no reservations, but a twenty minute wait was proved worthwhile for me by the delicious Turkish eggs (and half my friend’s portion of the Hungarian breakfast too). The french toast is hot, steamy and loaded with cinnamon. Don’t get a portion of this to share if you want to avoid an argument first thing.
The Baristas take their coffee seriously at Cirkcusz so if, like me, you have a passion for your morning flat white, you can stop by at the barista school next door where professionals, as well as amateurs, can learn about the art of coffee creation and hone their skills. A bag of their single source, specialty-blend coffee beans make an excellent souvenir and now I can enjoy the sweet caffeinated nectar at home.
Cirkusz, 1074 Budapest, Dob utca 25, Budapest, Hungary. Brunch served everyday until 5pm
With the sun still shining brightly into October, an al fresco lunch at Hilda made an ideal midway pick-me-up. I have a weak spot for stylish restaurants so the building, redesigned by the Hungarian architect Jozsef Hild with jewel-tone mosaics and egg yolk yellow walls, was a treat in itself.
The restaurant prides itself on its rotisserie chickens that spin seductively from behind giant glass oven doors at the back of the building. I ordered the classic option which was delicious when sliced up and served with a fresh mixed salad and paired with a fresh apple juice.
Hilda’s location is ideal for crossing from low and flat Pest over the Széchenyi Lánchid bridge to Buda, which rises high above the river on the other side. We decided to skip the cable car and walk up the hill, if only to work off our generous lunch.
Hilda, Budapest, Nádor utca 5, 1051 Hungary. Breakfast, lunch and dinner served everyday. Kezdőoldal
There are certain restaurants that cultivate special evenings. The hardest part in finding these spots is that you have to stumble across them unwittingly rather than actively seeking them out from a Tripadvisor review, or risk spending the evening with your neighbours from the plane trip.
The great charm of the tiny M Restaurant is that it feels like you have discovered a secret. The ambient lighting and wistful drawings decorating the walls (I loved the sketched ceiling fan) created a cosy atmosphere, all the better to enjoy our first taste of Hungarian wine in. We ordered a bottle of the house red and a litre of delicious ruby-red liquid with no label was presented to us.
In order to soak up the wine, it was imperative that we had three courses. The goat’s cheese salad with walnuts and apple puree was gorgeous smeared over freshly baked bread and the enormous portion of duck with crispy skin that followed was even better. And as my friend convinced me, “it’s never a special occasion without piping hot chocolate fondant.” The best part of this meal however was receiving the cheque for £20 a head at the end. We were practically giddy as we strolled home. Nothing to do with the wine, of course…
M Restaurant, Budapest, Kertész u. 48, 1073 Hungary. Dinner served from 18:00 Tuesday to Sunday