“Before we took over the place, you could only get bread-sticks here” said Márton Schönig, one of Fricska’s owners, when we discussed the past. First they had a cauldron, then they got a grill, the three refrigerators became twenty-three, and by now they managed to lure a young chef to Veszprém, one who previously worked in Michelin-starred restaurants. Fricska wants to be a serious bistro, and they receive mixed responses for this intention.
Veszprém Castle towers above us, and the statues of Hungary’s first royal couple turn their backs to us defiantly. Our feet are in Séd creek – this is an unmissable experience. It’s almost like we didn’t come here for lunch; we could just sit here for hours: the deck chairs and beanbags are out. The lost little Vespa-van and the straw-bales are charming, and we could even get a book from the book exchanging stone-cabinet if it wasn't for the significant number of school textbooks there. A few minutes are enough to get roasted in the spring sunshine, but Márton Schönig, the owner of Fricska makes a promise: the nice new parasols will be out soon.
Fricska opened at the foot of the castle’s hill as a community space with a culture-pub vibe in 2013, and it was among the first new-wave spots of Lake Balaton. The past few years brought a lot more progress than they planned on originally. “The expectations are higher than they were when we started. We had to grow according to that, and we would like to reach the next level” says Márton. This is why they decided to do the refurbishment, the reason why the place was closed for the past four months.
The spring opening was preceded by great anticipation, and we were excited to step into the remodeled place; the atmosphere didn’t really change, the columns, the old bricks of the floor remained there, but the space is now clearer, there is new furniture, and they left the rumpled eclecticism behind. The feedback Márton received was mostly positive, although not everyone is a fan of the new interior: “Just as many people didn’t like it when it had the ruin-pub style, but we don’t want to please everyone. Fricska became a more serious bistro.”
Their kitchen doubled in size; they changed everything from the computer system and the kitchen machines to the staff, and the new chef, Ádám Mede, who previously worked at Michelin-starred restaurants (Onyx and Costes), promised Hungarian cuisine with a twist. We sense more than just one twist when they post pictures of cod fish with vegetable ragout, or chicken soup seasoned with star anise and cinnamon on their Facebook page – these look promising, but it’s a rather different genre than the one Fricska was known for. Márton says they will refine this element: “This would be too much of a change for the guests, so we will slow down a bit.” They will keep popular items from the previous menu, like their hamburger and the grilled goods.
The reactions to this new Fricska are mixed. In addition to the appreciative comments on their Facebook posts, there’re many bad reviews as well: some have hard feelings towards the 12.5% service fee, some complain about the new courses or the waiting time. Márton admits, that there’s truth to some of the criticism, and says that they know where these mistakes are/were. “Guests expect everything to work smoothly immediately. This is like a festival, 120-150 people eat here on weekends, and meanwhile our 15 crew members are all new, they still have to become a team. We had the most negative comments on the hamburger, because they find the buns too dense, so we brought back last year’s version. We improved what we could.”
They expected people to want the old Fricska back, but despite the comments, they don’t want to change this new direction. Márton thinks that “there’re many things that the guests don’t see realistically. If we left everything the way it was, we wouldn’t have Fricska this year. This isn’t a playground. It started out as a playground, but it’s not that anymore. There’s a lot of money invested into this. Maybe the guests don’t understand this, but it’s not their business anyway. I was born in Veszprém, I know the people here. Most of the clientele will remain the same, and they will come for the more serious meals as well, because there aren’t too many chefs like Ádám Mede in this country.”
We were able to get proof of this before our chat, as we had some items of the new menu during our blind test. As a starter, we had salt-baked beetroot with charcoal cheese, chicory salad and horse-radish (1,390 HUF), in which the beetroot was pleasant, neither too hard, nor too soft, and the creamy, soft, sour cheese complemented it nicely. The salmon trout with asparagus, potatoes, and rye (2,690 HUF) is light but filling, a spring course free from any exaggeration.
Fricska burger (1,950 HUF) has a medium patty, fried bacon, tomato sauce, mature cheese, and onion jam in it, and it’s served with homemade fries. The bun is thick and dense, so much that the thinner half is enough to fill us. It’s for minimalists, because there’s nothing extra in it, no vegetables: meat obviously has the main role. For dessert, we had the so called Idenézz! Törökméz (1,290 HUF) which is a macerated hazelnut sponge cake cube with honeycomb toffee and thyme on it accompanied by salty vanilla sauce. It was a bit too sweet for our taste (after all, it has honeycomb toffee in it), but the playfulness of the textures and the unusual spiciness of the thyme is really exciting.
There’re many more plans for the future; since the end of May, the bistro and street-food type meals are made outside, and Fricska will be expanded with a boutique hotel in fall. They’ll furnish eight rooms above the restaurant and in the 400 year old building next to it. “We keep working to make it happen.”
Translated by Emma Póli