Dining Out 4 minutes 19 May 2023

Hungary's First 2 Michelin Star Restaurants

We take a closer look at the restaurants awarded Two Stars in the inaugural MICHELIN Guide Hungary

At the MICHELIN Guide Ceremony Hungary 2022, two restaurants were newly awarded Two Michelin Stars. This honour makes Platán Gourmet Restaurant and Stand the most highly recognised restaurants in the country. Over many visits to these restaurants, the Michelin Inspectors have been continually impressed by the superb cooking on offer. Although very different in style, both restaurants offer a top-class, Two Star level dining experience. Let’s take a closer look at what makes these restaurants so special.

Beneath the walls of a castle, nestled inside some historic cellars, is hidden a restaurant whose cooking has plenty of skill, refinement and creativity. Chef István Pesti’s cuisine has gone from strength to strength since he opened up here in 2021, and the Michelin Inspectors have certainly taken notice. To rate a restaurant with Two Stars, they look not just for great flavours, but a high level of precision and real depth – and throughout the lengthy tasting menu that István creates, these qualities are there in abundance.

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His dishes are based around delicious natural flavours, which come courtesy of some superb quality produce, but it’s the inventive and intelligent combinations that elevate things to such a high standard. The cooking is always well-balanced – cutting richness when needed – ensuring that all elements fit together perfectly.

Whilst Hungarian flavours are evident throughout the menu, István tends not to stick too closely to traditional recipes. There is a creativity to his cooking, along with a high level of complexity and meticulous care that has to be applauded – and the resulting dishes were some of the most memorable that our inspectors experienced throughout the year.

Attention to detail is key in cooking of this quality, and delicate precision is found from the start right through to the end an evening at Platán Gourmet Restaurant. Setting the tone for one Michelin Inspector’s dinner was an amuse bouche of wonderfully constructed gazpacho granita – it was the perfect texture and distilled the essence of the gazpacho flavour brilliantly – leaving her in eager anticipation of what was to follow.

The kitchen team’s excellent grasp of flavours was also evident in a dish of trout, cucumber and ponzu, where deliciously pure ingredients were enhanced by their well-considered combination and careful construction. The trout was lightly charred on the outer and paired with pearls of cucumber essence; it was the sweet and salty hit of the ponzu that really set the dish alight however, helped along by bergamot, a hint of mango and a finger lime for acidity.

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Several inspectors were further impressed by the reworking of the traditional Hungarian dish ‘Brassoi’. This version used pigeon as its base, with the breasts cooked sous vide to achieve a beautifully succulent, tender quality to the meat. Veal sweetbreads added further richness, which was then offset by a superb ratatouille. These well-balanced flavours are a perfect example of the sophisticated, considered cooking that has impressed the Michelin Inspectors so much. This plate was finished off with a nod to the most famous of all Hungarian dishes, through the use of a goulash sauce.

The inspectors with a particularly sweet tooth found plenty to love in the desserts too. For one inspector, their top dish was a combination of peach, white chocolate and almond, which once again showcased the level of detail here. Different arrangements of peach – natural, purée, gel and sorbet – provided acidity and were a great contrast to the white chocolate and marzipan mousse that formed the base of the dish – while the biscuit ensured a great textural contrast.

There are only eight tables at Platán Gourmet Restaurant, so each lucky diner is treated to a memorable and very personalised experience around the open kitchen. Whilst the dishes are a showcase of István Pesti’s originality as a chef, there is also an admirably confident restraint to his cooking. Smooth service, excellent wines and a unique, attractive location bring everything together to make a great all-round experience.

Hungary’s second newly anointed Two Star restaurant also delivers an exceptional level of cooking, but this time offers a different approach. Here, chef-owner duo Szabina Szulló and Tamás Széll show great respect for Hungary’s culinary heritage by impressively re-inventing and modernising Hungarian classics – such as a deconstructed Somlói cake – which are presented via tasting menus and come with exceptional precision.

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In its design, Stand is a modern restaurant, with a striking glass-fronted kitchen where you can watch the chefs working their magic – and the large dining room has a buzz that promises a fun night out. Similarly, the food is not flashy, but assured and considered, with consistently excellent flavours. Superb technical skills are on display, but this is always in service of the dish, never just to show off. Our inspectors were impressed by the detail, refinement and balance found across the line-up of dishes, some of which were especially memorable.

One such dish is something of a speciality at Stand: sterlet fillet with langoustine, cucumber salad, clam sauce, dill and caviar. An attractively put together dish, with considerable skill involved in its preparation, it was a great showcase of the detail and precision in Szabina and Tamás’ cooking. The lightly steamed sterlet fillet was rolled and filled with a langoustine mousse, which provided great texture. It was perhaps the exceptional clam sauce that impressed our inspectors the most however, providing a pronounced shellfish flavour that was further enhanced by the caviar. As with all great dishes, the flavours were beautifully balanced, this time courtesy of a cucumber salad and some tart apple.

Moving from a Stand classic to a national classic, the gulyás (goulash) soup is a brilliant example of Szabina and Tamás’ modern approach to traditional Hungarian dishes. The slow-cooked beef was deliciously tender, but with a little firmness and plenty of meaty flavour. It sat inside a perfectly smooth soup that provided a great earthiness and a generous kick of paprika. Crucially, the signature spice was not overpowering, and the chefs’ aptitude for balance was demonstrated again by the addition of some acidity to balance the rich soup. For one inspector this was provided by preserved lemon and, for another, by charred apple – the dish being refined by the chefs over time.

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At the base of this skilled cooking is some great quality produce and the excellent saddle of venison impressed several of our Michelin Inspectors. The lean, full-flavoured meat was chargrilled perfectly, ensuring that it was succulent and tender, and it was topped by a fruity cherry and blackcurrant jam in just the right quantity to complement but not overpower the core flavour. Fondant potatoes, dehydrated liver shavings and a fabulous barbecue jus completed this stand-out dish.

When it comes to vegetables, Szabina and Tamás are equally adept as they are with meat and fish, offering a fully vegetarian tasting menu alongside their standard version. One of their signature vegetable dishes – which appears on both menus – is based around new potatoes; another attractively presented dish, this elevates the humble potato to new heights. A huge amount of work had clearly been put into the preparation of the confit potato itself, which provided a brilliant depth of flavour that was only enhanced by the other elements. The whole dish had a richness and earthiness that worked brilliantly, with a potato butter sauce and ‘mushroom truffle’ praised by the inspectors. A ‘mushroom caviar’ sauce was then added at the table for a dash of theatre.

Whichever course they were enjoying, the Michelin Inspectors found their experience at Stand to be truly superb, so it’s no wonder that Tamás, Szabina and other members of the kitchen team have found repeated success in the Bocuse d’Or over the years. Your whole visit to Stand will run like clockwork thanks to the smooth service from a highly organised team, and your dishes will be complemented by some great Hungarian wines.

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