For a long time now, those looking for food by Lake Balaton have had more options to choose from than lángos and fake goulash, and in the past two years, more and more eateries have opened with the aim of doing the hospitality genre as it should be done, with high-quality ingredients. Restaurants have already switched to summer mode, and the newly opened and revamped ones we’ve visited in the past couple of months served us food we hadn’t really seen before.
We bumped into the newest apartment restaurant of Balaton – and artisanship in the best sense of the word – in Pécsely, a township north of Tihany and only 10 km from Balatonfüred. The concept for the restaurant was dreamed up by Soma, who traded in big city life for the panorama of the Káli Basin – it is based on the Italian “agriturismo model”, which means that all ingredients come from local producers. The butter and cheese are supplied from the surrounding area, the ciabattas are produced by Marmorstein Bakery, and the cherries for the pies come from nearby gardens. The eatery is perhaps best described as a hybrid of a restaurant with a terrace and a BBQ in the backyard of a good friend, and its garden is characterized by the well-known Káli atmosphere: colourful chairs, huge ceramic jugs and a panorama bordering on kitschy. Going barefoot is recommended, and taking a few swigs of pomace pálinka is a must.
After a promising start in 2013, Sparhelt missed the last season, reopening this February with a new chef, but similarly strong cuisine. For the Sparhelt interior, which is reminiscent of grandma’s kitchen, you have to leave the Tagore-Zákonyi promenade line behind, going all the way to Szent István Square, opposite the Town Hall. Resident chef Balázs Elek is as spontaneous as a Punnany concert at Káli-Kapocs: first he gets the ingredients from the markets in Tihany and Káptalantóti, and only after that does he begin brainstorming for the actual dishes. As long as they serve beef ribs with coffee jus, duck liver pâté with strawberry and dumplings covered in breadcrumbs with home-made, sundried tomatoes, it’s worth warming up to Sparhelt's ideas.
You go deeper and deeper into the forest and when you start thinking that Baba Yaga could appear any minute, you’ll come up to a thatched house as big as a mountain giant’s summer cottage. There are no fairy tales, just true stories about Balaton hospitality: Attila was born into a family running Piroska in Siófok, so he knew how to make a tasty bowl of pork trotters before he found out what stood in the will of the Heartless Man. Using his experience from abroad, he wants to make this eatery an exclusive spot on the gastro map of the Hungarian countryside – the peaceful atmosphere, with squirrels jumping up and down the trees and goats grazing in the neighbourhood, is a given, and in time the establishment could start offering excellent European cuisine with healthy dishes like salads and top-quality meats.
Right by road 71 leading to the north shore, you’ll find out that for a good Italian pizza you don’t need waiters bellowing ciao every five seconds or pizza crust that is as thick as your finger. Il Mercato, which opened last year, has expanded quite a bit, and after serving Balinese cuisine, Spoon Lodge has switched to the flavours of Italy too, so pasta production is happening on a much bigger scale now. Two pizza chefs have been brought over from Rome, as well as heaps of Italian ingredients for them to work with, and the result is such a serious Italian restaurant that even Balaton wines have been banished from the drinks menu. As bold as it may sound, we think this is where we’ve had the best pizza around Balaton, so we would dare any other eatery to come up with something better than the paper-thin crust and mamma’s pizza sauce.
When two of the founders of Balatoni Kör join forces to create something lasting in Badacsony, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for. The famous Laposa winemaking family bought the building of the former legendary Hableány restaurant located a few minutes from the railway station, and by this summer have revived the terrace with their own wines and some tasty Bezerics burgers. An establishment where drinks are provided by them and similar, talented Balaton winemakers can only be good, and this venue will be hard to avoid if this summer continues to bring terrace friendly weather.
Márk Lakatos and Ádám Németh came from Budapest and captured the atmosphere of Tihany PIAC Marketplace with much more ease than the way Siófok captures party tourists. The stylist-cook and his friends make – or rather weld – food every Saturday and Sunday, and nothing could be further from their concept than serving catfish cream and rib-eye steak at a market food stand. Instead, they want to stick to tried and tested recipes, such as a hearty plate of scrambled eggs for breakfast, and crisp frankfurters or perhaps fried (orange flavoured!) sausages with salad and something on the side for lunch. An extra feature tipping the scale in their favour is that they work with their own butcher, who is based in Algyő, and blends high-quality meat with traditional methods and the ideas of Ádám and co. This is exactly how a good workshop should be run.
The Járosi family have become a noted player on the Hungarian gastro scene thanks to their organic farm in Balatonhenye and their restaurant in Balatonfüred. By this summer Malackrumpli has put together quite an impressive team, including the chef of Székesfehérvár’s 67 Restaurant, and will serve excellent dishes, such as the fantastic burger, also available in an Angus beef version. The menu changes frequently due to the use of seasonal vegetables, but if there’s an ingredient they are really keen on cooking with, they’ll travel as much as 300-400 km to pick it up. Everything is organic here, and that’s a philosophy they are not willing to compromise. Yet, their prices are not higher than the ones you’ll find at an average bistro – the only thing that is an even bigger achievement is the elegance with which they have reinterpreted home-made krémes.
Just before the summer season, news of the opening of Csopak’s Márga Bistro came louder than the subwoofers of Balaton Sound, even though the restaurant didn’t appear out of thin air on the Csopak hillside. The bistro was born as the 2.0 version of the existing Szent Donát Restaurant, with the well-known five-star view and the addition of the former manager of MÁK Bistro in Budapest. The menu is jam-packed with new wave Hungarian dishes: the very brave can kick off the gastro session with beef tongue, and there’s no point in stopping until you’ve tried the trout baked in its skin and the Márga dessert made with strawberry and rhubarb. Csopak wines and the effortless, yet refined cuisine make this restaurant a definite hit.
We have written about Pegazus several times before: the last time we checked in on them, they had just opened a contemporary exhibition inspired by Balaton, and for this summer they gave quite a boost to the kitchen section as well. They’ll never have a permanent menu; they’ll always be spontaneous about the kind of food they serve. The possibilities are endless, just like the number of spots in the Káli Basin with a stunning view: everything can come out of the oven/frying pan here from hearty salads, Indian chicken tikka and burgers to lecsó.
What to do if after spending some time in Spain, you find yourself missing the local cuisine? You open a restaurant at home, of course. That’s more or less how the story of the family business called Pura Vida started this spring – Tapolca can finally be famous for something other than the Cave Lake. Ever since the opening, the owners have shocked everyone by posting instant hunger inducing food photos on Facebook every week, and also by serving the salmon burger in a black bun. Despite our initial suspicion, it’s not their oven that’s burning way too hot – the bun of the fish burger is dyed with squid ink.
What to eat? Any of the Mediterranean dishes; burger fans will be fine here as well.
How much? The mains are around 2,000-4,000 HUF.
You don’t even miss the panorama at this restaurant. Located on the high street of Paloznak, the eatery opened a few weeks ago with a full house, and we predict this trend will continue throughout the summer. Szabolcs Homola thought the winery and the jazz picnic were not enough: he also wanted to give the people of Paloznak reinterpreted Hungarian food, that is simple, but all the more delectable grill grub, with the help of chef Sándor Kerekes. The drink selection features nothing else but Homola wines and vintages from the region, but it’s the cream of gherkin soup spiced up with wasabi-infused sour cream and the mutton stew cooked on an open fire that will take centre stage. And you can take plenty of pictures of Balaton from other places.
Soon we will tell you more about the awesome restaurant that opened on Hegymagas’ Szászi Estate; suffice it to say for now that it has a concise menu with hearty dishes, which is in line with Hungarian tradition, but breaks away from the speisekarte-fried food platter direction that was prevalent 20 years ago. Seasonal vegetables and ingredients from around Lake Balaton will form the basis of the selection; their dishes are best washed down with a glass of fine Szászi wine. Rosé, for example.