Ba­bel

Decanter - - RESTAURANTS - By Fiona Beck­ett

Ask for rec­om­men­da­tions for res­tau­rants in Bu­dapest and you get a list of places that do goose, goulash and dumplings, and the ubiq­ui­tous foie gras. What you don’t ex­pect – how­ever un­fairly – is a Noma-es­que restau­rant of great beauty that sends out food that will knock your socks off.

Why wasn’t Ba­bel on my radar? I only stum­bled across it be­cause I was speak­ing at a wine event and had de­murred (I can’t re­mem­ber why) at the restau­rant choice on the of­fi­cial pro­gramme. I ended up with an­other group at Ba­bel by sheer good luck.

Run by two chefs, István Veres and Gá­bor Langer, the restau­rant is grat­i­fy­ing at ev­ery level. The room is light, airy and con­tem­po­rary – all Scandi-style fur­ni­ture, glass and open brick­work. Some 75% of the in­gre­di­ents and fur­nish­ings, and all the wines, come from Hun­gary.

There’s a short à la carte menu but you’d be mad not to choose one of the two tast­ing menus (four cour­ses for £59 or six for £85), which in­clude most of the dishes you’d want to eat any­way. And for once, be­cause I’m not al­ways an ad­vo­cate, I’d en­cour­age you to choose the wine pair­ings, which were strik­ingly all white.

As the som­me­lier Péter Blazsovszky ex­plained af­ter­wards – and here I para­phrase him loosely: ‘Red wine is al­ways the hero of the meal. White wines can show more facets and give you an en­tirely dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on the food.’

Apart from the orig­i­nal and clev­erly judged jux­ta­po­si­tion of flavours on of­fer here, what was so strik­ing was the con­trast­ing tex­tures. The sig­na­ture dish of egg galuska (noo­dles) – a swoon­wor­thy com­bi­na­tion of spät­zle topped with an airy cloud of truf­fle-in­fused foam – was fol­lowed, by way of re­fresh­ing con­trast, by a silky but deeply savoury duck broth (which re­minds you why con­sommé used to be con­sid­ered such a del­i­cacy), and then by a ro­bustly smoky dish of oc­to­pus.

Both the oc­to­pus and sub­se­quent veal dish (ac­cented with cof­fee) were paired with a weighty Juh­fark 2012 from Spiegel­berg that was in no way di­min­ished by the in­ten­sity of the food. ( Juh­fark may be even more in­ter­est­ing a grape va­ri­ety than Fur­mint and Hárslevelu˝ on the ba­sis of this ex­pe­ri­ence.)

A savoury-sweet dessert of pump­kin, hay, gar­lic and cumin (much nicer than it sounds) made it easy to switch back to a dry Hárslevelu˝ 2015 by Kaláka Báthory as a re­fresh­ing fi­nale. For £22 (£29 if you have six cour­ses) you get to taste some ex­tra­or­di­nary wines from the 140-bin list.

I hes­i­tate to award Ba­bel a per­fect score be­cause noth­ing is ever per­fect, but it’s hard to see what could be im­proved here. Ba­bel, Piarista köz 2, 1052 Bu­dapest, Hun­gary; www.ba­bel-bu­dapest.hu; +36 70 6000 800. Open Tues­day-Satur­day, 6pm-12am.

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