Many people who see Vitorlás Bistro’s joyful logo of a sailor and tasteful, simple interior at the beach of Keszthely still think that if it looks nice, it must be pricey. Yet food isn’t exactly the most expensive here, but it’s by far better than it is at other places. Of course things are different here, that’s clear from just one glance at the menu. The recipes they use at this small family business are all homely, and they’re trying to make their guests choose Zala-style dödölle (potato dumplings) and cold strawberry soup instead of hake.
Located on the premises of Keszthely’s Municipal Beach, this small bistro might look like the summer kitchen of a holiday home: colorful, potted flowers everywhere, an ancient-looking sideboard in the back, and nice, tiny objects radiating summer everywhere. The dividing wall is decorated with fashionable chalk drawings and texts.
Vitorlás (meaning “Sailboat”) moored last May and it replaced the sunbleached plastic chairs, and the waiters in black trousers and white shirts with simple wooden chairs and a friendly service. András Biczó and his partner, Noémi have worked in the hospitality industry of Austria for six years when last year they decided to come home and spend the summer here, trying their luck. “We don’t want to be like the others,” they say at the same time.
The Zemplén-style cold, dill zucchini soup (790 HUF) – the busy bees of the kitchen, Noémi and her mother, Judit are from Zemplén County – is one of the evidence that it’s possible to take homely flavors to the beach. The next course, the fried-onion covered Zala-style dödölle (potato dumplings) with chives and sour cream (1,150 HUF) confirms this once again. They have a wide selection: there’s an abundance of salads, pastas, and meat dishes on the menu – the regulars like their menu long according to András. There’s New York cheesecake in aquarium (890 HUF) for dessert (served in a small jars), so they’re mixing culinary styles, but that’s not a problem at all.
The buffet-revolution isn’t a simple business: the Zemplén-style sour cream lecsó (vegetable ragout), the dumplings with eggs, and the stuffed peppers all failed as barely anyone chose them, so they were banished from the menu. However, people do come back here for the cold strawberry soup.
They also have hakes on the menu; they serve it with the bread they bake, but they also have fish and chips with Remoulade (1,790 HUF), and fried slices as well. The Sunday fried pork chop (1,990 HUF) of Vitorlás has “Sunday” in its name because the grandmothers used to serve it with such a “wavy” coat as they do here and they “didn’t squeeze it” like they do at many restaurants.
When they first opened, it was only passers-by who took pictures of the place. They made a huge sign out of the menu and placed it in a good distance from the restaurant, because people didn’t really dare to check it out when it was simply standing in front of the bistro. “Some people are afraid to come in. They check out the traditional Balaton-style buffets next to us and they think that Vitorlás is expensive,” said András.
“People are used to the line of pavilions; it became a habit to go there. We would like to change that a bit,” adds Noémi. It’s a very slow process, but there have been examples of people opting for new wave meals instead of the fried hake. The hake stays, what’s more, the tiny cottage is even called Hekkmester (Hake Master): fresh sausages, meats, and fish are fried here.
“This isn’t Balatonfüred. It’s much harder here, we really have to fight for every guest,” explained András. “This is why we have to make compromises. For example, we didn’t want to put hakes on the menu, but that’s our best-selling item. Many people evaluate the restaurant based on the schnitzel. Some think that if the schnitzel or the hake is good, they’ll try something else as well. Those who like to eat are open the new things.”
They admit that they aren’t chefs: “one doesn’t have to be a chef to cook good quality, homely meals. You have to learn the tricks, the processes, and if you give in everything, put your heart and soul in it, you can be just as good. The most important thing is what comes from inside, you can’t learn that,” said András.
“Balaton’s roar makes it a bit like being on the seashore. I think the best view is from here,” pondered Noémi. Pickled cucumbers are in the making on the shelves, sage, mint, lemongrass, and bay grows in Noémi’s little herb garden. She’s the one decorating the meals with pretty, edible flowers, causing a nice surprise to the guests.
Last summer was a tough learning experience, it was cold on five weekends out of eight. Maybe they’ll have better luck this time. If they started doing it, they’ll go through with it. “They come and ask if we have lángos, but I ask them, do we look like that?” laughs Noémi’s mother, Judit. “Although we could make some. But only according to my recipe!”
Translated by Emma Póli