Close to one of Budapest’s main train stations, the Eiffel Palace is an impressive architectural feat of eight floors. It houses businesses, a bar and a restaurant, St. Andrea, which opened in 2015. The building got its name from Gustave Eiffel, the French engineer who designed the worldfamous Eiffel Tower in Paris and the structure of the New York Statue of Liberty. The wrought iron frame of the inner courtyard of the Eiffel Palace, designed by Gustave Eiffel’s firm, has been miraculously spared during the destruction of the corner dome during the siege of Budapest in 1944.
The historical aura of the Eiffel Palace, with its huge 19th-century press in the entrance hall, is quickly forgotten as one walks into the dining-room of St. Andrea Restaurant. Soft jazz music, ranges of wine bottles against the walls, voluptuous ivory tablecloth and intimate lighting warm up the place. Guests immediately feel at ease in this chic yet unpretentious venue. Business people like to take their clients to St. Andrea for lunch, and the evenings are usually loud and happy. By its own admission, even when the restaurant is fully booked, the staff doesn’t know how to turn down guests.
Meant as an extension of the St. Andrea wine estate, which is located in the renowned Eger wine region, the spirit of the restaurant stays true to the deeply religious values of the family running the winery. Here, the food and service strive to do good. In fact, the kindness of the staff, the plating, the taste, everything is simple, elegant and without histrionics. « I don’t like to put too many ingredients on a plate », explains Chef Endre Kollár, « one shouldn’t feel the technique behind the dish ».
Chef Endre, former sous chef of St. Andrea, was appointed head chef after the second lockdown due to Covid-19 in October 2020. The warm and witty man, who started working as a young boy in his family’s orchard of the Zsámbék region, is happy to celebrate his roots through his new position. His grandfather was a hunter and taught him how to take care of wild animals in their environment, how to butcher them, how to cook on an open fire, in the purest Hungarian tradition. « To me, smoke is the 6th taste. I use it sparingly, though. It can be very overpowering ». Game meat is naturally highlighted in every of Chef Endre’s fine-dining menus, except for the vegetarian one. His fallow deer stew (dám pörkölt), presented with beautiful porcini and a side of tarhonya (handmade traditional Hungarian pasta, also called « egg barley ») reminiscent of his grandma’s recipe, is not to be missed.
During his long forest walks and his work in the orchard, Endre Kollár was inspired to use edible flowers, one among many expressions of his gentle side. When asked when he started cooking with them, he answers, laughing and bouncing on his chair : « I don’t know ! It’s like asking if I remember the day I fell in love ! » He acquired the knowledge about edible flowers in his childhood, along with the tradition of preserving vegetables for the winter by using fermentation. His grandmother, who was a forager, also showed him how not to waste anything in the kitchen. This « zero-waste » custom, inspired by the necessity of saving food in farming and working-class families, often conflicts with the requirements of fine-dining cooking, to Chef Endre’s distress. « It hurts me to waste ingredients », he emphasizes solemnly. The very small portions served in multiple-course menus, another fine-dining criteria, put a lot of pressure on him. Hungarian food is generous by tradition, and Chef Endre is sometimes struggling to fuse his family recipes with the modern demands of international gastronomy.
After trying the chef’s menu at St. Andrea, one can definitely comfort Endre Kollár : While the portions are elegantly small, the food still feels hearty, warm and lavish. « Very often, old ladies ask me for my recipes », he says with pride ; « They can recognize the taste of the traditional dish, but they cannot tell how I did it. » That’s one of the reasons why Endre Kollár and the owners of the restaurant decided to publish twelve of his recipes in a book next year. Chef Endre likes to share his knowledge. To do so, he also turns to modern technology. When his recipe of the classic popular dessert túrógombóc (cottage cheese dumplings) was published on the Guide Michelin’s Instagram, it generated an extensive conversation. The recipe, while keeping the tradition alive, was highly technical and gastronomical, making a strong impression on many Hungarian foodies. « I like to listen to any comment or outside opinion about my cuisine », Chef Endre explains. « I’m eager to learn everyday. I often test dishes on my wife and child ».
One can picture a happy Kollár family tasting a perfect duck liver terrine sprinkled with flowers, a venison burger, or some fried mangalica pork (pig with beautifully marbled meat, a Hungarian delicacy) with smoky remoulade and baby romaine lettuce ! The good news is, everyone is invited to join the St. Andrea family whether for lunch, dinner, or simply for a glass of wine from the St. Andrea estate - some of which are absolutely unique.
Hero Image : St Andrea / Chef Endre Kollár