The grass is greener at Szomszéd Kertje, a new gastro pub in Csopak. The 'Neighbour's Garden' has local character and a big heart. In essence, the place is communal, the wine and desserts supplied by friends.
Attila Tóth's bistro-like new venture is yet another of those Balaton spots that is hard to categorise. There’s no hint of all the fancy stuff usually associated with bistros: it’s simple, regional and not just for tourists from Budapest.
It wasn’t an easy start. After losing out on their initial location, they rented this Csopak pub and decided that they will establish this place for themselves. Until now, Tóth has helped others open new restaurants, guesthouses and gastro pubs.
The interior was designed by Tóth himself, incorporating elements of the old pub. They were happy to discover the original, 40-year old stone flooring which will soon be revealed. Tóth is especially proud of how they integrated this part into the interior and cites Wes Anderson, his favourite director, and his unique visual style, as his inspiration.
You can sit down – without ordering anything – on the terrace in front of the bistro. There will be about 50-60 seats in the courtyard once it’s done. The place is child- and dog-friendly. Things are still taking shape: they are planning on being open all year round, but though exact details are not yet known.
The Tóth family persuaded chef Gábor Bajkai to move down to Csopak with his family, and they also found someone experienced in raw vegan cuisine so they have vegan panna cotta and brownies as well. Main courses are still mostly meat-based.
The menu has items such as pulled duck sandwiches or 'bacon-wrapped love', a re-imagined Deep South Burger. For this they took the traditional Stefánia meatloaf and replaced the eggs with shredded cheddar and jalapeño, and spiced it up with cayenne pepper and a tiny bit of mustard powder. They wrap this in bacon, and then grill it on lava rocks before putting it into a sandwich. The sauce is made with Moroccan harissa powder, mayonnaise and Greek yogurt. The sandwiches are augmented with grilled onions and homemade barbecue sauce with pineapple.
The permanent menu has ten items, complemented by a daily offering. According to the chef, they wanted a selection that has everything from a filling, homely lunch to snacks to enjoy while watching the match, such as their rethought chicken Kiev filled with herb butter.
Appetisers include ceviche, a refreshing summer dish with marinated sturgeon, habanero, coriander, spring onion and bell peppers.
Crowd-pleasers include goose gizzard stew. The daily menu, planned ahead by Bajkai, also builds on traditional meals. Most of the desserts are homemade.
The chocolate cake is divine. They also buy the desserts from a confectionery in Budapest and from Bergman in Balatonfüred. An old friend has fixed the espresso machine and supplies them with El Criollo coffee. The wine selection includes a Kódex by Jásdi.
Despite the design and the pretty menu, the place isn’t trying too hard to be new-wave. In fact, it's very much like Tóth: informal, cheerful, funny, talkative and open.