Up until recently, Vászoly was pretty much only noted on the Balaton gastro scene because of its cheeses, but that could soon change thanks to the launch of a little bistro called Zománc. If fine dining is not your thing, and you’re looking for top-notch, homestyle grub served in neat, red enamel dishes traditionally found in every Hungarian household, we know just the place for you.
You’re in a tiny village on the Balaton Uplands, sitting on the terrace of a former pub that’s been turned into a nicely refurbished little bistro, watching school kids get off the bus from Tihany, and pop into Zománc with their moms to tell them all about the day they’ve had. It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic scene.
Owners György Jónás and Zsolt Szőke have solved a seemingly unsolvable equation: they renovated a seriously dilapidated pub in the quasi-center of Vászoly, found a stone’s throw away from Balatonudvari, and transformed it into a laid-back eatery with flavors reminiscent of grandma’s cooking.
Even though we didn’t have our grandmas with us to help us test the bistro menu, we managed to choose two excellent items. Our photographer had sautéed liver strips with fried potatoes (2,390 forints): the liver was nice and tender, fried to perfection, and the pickles served with it were as good as one might expect.
The other dish, chicken thigh fillet fried in a generous dollop of butter (2,590 forints) was also soft, delicious, warm, and juicy – the experience was truly sensual, enhanced by a delectable cucumber salad. Zománc delivers exactly what it promises: the food is not overcomplicated, and everything is presented in an appetizing way. That’s exactly why people go out to eat.
The rest of the menu also reflects the Hungarian inspiration from the mutton ragout soup with tarragon to the beef cheeks. The main dishes are all reasonably priced; none of the items cost more than 3,000 forints. The two desserts available at the time of our visit were floating island and strawberry-rhubarb pavlova with ice cream; both of them were around the 1,000-forint mark.
“We wanted it to be just like at grandma’s,” Jónás told us. Grandma as a point of reference came up several times during our chat. The owner, who created and then left Bistro Sparhelt in Balatonfüred, says the Hungarian catering industry is dominated by high-end and mediocre establishments, and there’s hardly anything in between. That’s the niche they wanted to fill, and it looks like they’re going to succeed: they’ve only been open for three weeks, and they regularly have affluent guests come in and munch happily on a hearty portion of tasty lung stew.
The stuffed pepper is also pretty simple, all there’s to it is “proper peppers, proper tomatoes, proper meat,” explains Jónás, who currently also doubles as a waiter, and he definitely has the personality for it. The eatery welcomes everyone, even those who simply want to sip on a glass of wine or grab a lighter dish; every guest is important.
The owners believe in serving Hungarian ingredients to their Hungarian guests, without pretense and with the utmost honesty. “I don’t want to give you Dover sole,” says Jónás, adding that a divine potato soup or a steaming plate of cholent can be just as effective. The menu doesn’t get boring, chef Attila Tóth makes sure of it: the selection changes every six to eight days. He only wanted to help with the launch of the restaurant, but he got so involved with everything that he eventually moved to Vászoly.
We met Tóth for the first time in an absolutely typical setting: he was coming out of the kitchen to the terrace to pick herbs from the flower boxes. That’s how the guests know the dishes are not flavored with Vegeta here. Details are important in other areas as well: the owners are trying to promote syrups made in Győr instead of coke, and they create even the simplest cup of coffee with care. Liquors are not particularly popular except for pálinka perhaps and the wines made at local cellars.
The interior is charming: the walls are adorned with old, digitized photos showcasing life in Vászoly, and outside there’s a Csepel sewing machine, which was owned by the grandmother of one of the owners’ acquaintances. The enamel dishes you can see everywhere come from the South Hungarian town of Bonyhád. Through the window behind the counter, curious guests can take a peek inside the kitchen to see where the magic happens.
It is crucial that the employees have time to recharge: there’s always a lot to do, so the bistro is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays (and in January and February during wintertime). There are three or four rooms upstairs, which they’ll soon start renting out to backpackers. The eatery wants to appeal to locals, too. An old lady has already said she’ll spend part of her small pension on coming to dine here once a month.
Guests appreciate the positive attitude of Jónás; one of them has even offered him a well-paying job. He jokingly declined by saying: “I’m honored, but I don’t think my boss would be too happy about it.”