What Akvárium means to the Budapest youth pining after a rosé spritzer at the end of hard working day, that is exactly what Pajta is to demanding art enthusiasts looking for a place to eat around Lake Balaton: you only have to mention the name, and everyone who’s someone is there within half an hour. It is a meeting place, a restaurant and a gallery – a well-known spot in the centre of the Balaton Uplands public life, and with a good reason.
A meeting place for artists – Pajta Gallery in Salföld
Be careful and watch where you tread when you arrive in order to avoid the capital offence of stepping on the dog. There is no pretty hostess greeting you at the door here. Instead, face control is the responsibility of a flipped eared dachshund that can already tell if you are new to the place before you step inside the gate. After a friendly welcome, we make our way in, following our little host on the cobblestone path. Calm and dignified as a real artist, owner László Török is sitting on a bench right by the front door, looking at life slowly rolling through the street, and his wife rushes out of the kitchen to meet us. It is immediately apparent that brooding artists as well as hungry bikers have just the right kind of company waiting for them here.
Everything fits just right
The story started in 1984 when László Török and his wife bought an old cottage on the edge of the village. For years the building was rented out, but they eventually moved back in, and this is their third year living here permanently. In the “good old days” their kids were still little, gas was cheap and Lake Balaton was the perfect getaway spot for the weekend. Today, Pajta has three functions: it is a guesthouse, a restaurant and an art gallery just a stone’s throw away from the Salföld stone field. The garden is beautiful and the eclectic interior exudes the vibe of a café in Buda and an authentic farmhouse at the same time.
Body and Soul a la Salföld
Salföld has been a beloved holiday spot among artists for a long time, which has made it so much easier for photographer László Török to set up a real community and a meeting place here. When the Photography Gallery in Váci Street was closed in 1989, a generation of modern photographers like Török had no place to go, so the Salföld house came just at the right time.
Today, Pajta is an important spot in the history of Hungarian progressive photography. About 30 artists have their works on display in the Gallery, with more than a hundred photographs on the walls of the exhibition hall. Pajta has a strong base of artists, and their occasional meetings give guests and locals a chance to attend readings and musical events three days straight at a time.
Yet the soul cannot soar if the body is out of fuel. After checking out the photos, we also wanted to see the Pajta menu. We started off lunch with cold cucumber cream soup, which turned out to be a real summer refresher with an intensive, garlicky-peppery taste and the kind of crispiness we like.
The omnipresent creative energy made us really hungry, and we although we were eyeing the excellent lecho dishes on the summer menu, in the end we sampled the grilled mangalica clod instead. The meat was roasting away on the garden grill, which also piqued the interest of the dogs. They were sprawled out under a walnut tree, but they stormed the grill to check the food out, almost recreating the haunting scenes of Kornél Mundruczó’s White God. All the ingredients come from local farmers, and we soon found out that we have a certain lady called Éva from Káptanlatóti to thank for the meat in the exquisite mangalica dish. The grilled clod is amazing: smoky and spicy, served with a fresh salad and spicy steak potatoes.
After lunch you can lounge or wander around in the lush garden, but you can also leaf through a photo album. Even the slow movement could learn a thing or two from László Török: find a cottage on the village edge with a spot that has a bit of shade and a bit of sunshine, put a bench there and sit down with a glass beside you. We would have loved to spend more time at Pajta, but suddenly all these people arrived, so we joined them to look for other places to test some more Balaton Uplands lemonades. Just like we said: it is a meeting place with a capital M.