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.