Maybe I failed to find the best places here – there seemed to be masses of tourist-oriented places with just a few bright spots.
Easily top (for me) was Costes (we went to the original, not the ‘downtown’). Multiiple choices of tasting menus, each with different wine matches. We had 3 different menus with 3 different pairings . Service was friendly and efficient with local ingredients featuring prominently. Cooking was competent but we found the main courses (in particular) to be a bit simple compared to the other cities on our trip.
The word on the ‘foodie telegraph’ was that Babel was the up-and-coming place. Indeed it stands out from the crowd – but sometimes that was jarring. Several times we got the impression that we were being told ‘how wonderful this is’ and long-winded explanations for how/why something was presented in a certain way. But it felt almost as if I was sitting in a classroom and being lectured to, rather than being an enjoyable excursion/adventure. An example – 4 successive dishes were served with wines from the same grape (different regions/styles). Potentially a great idea – except I couldn’t see why the exact match was ‘best’ – give me all 4 at the beginning and let me discover the match, rather than sequentially and be told that each was the right match (by wine 4 I’d forgotten wine 1). Overall, although the food was good (mostly) I felt I’d been at a lecture.
Also recommended to us was Onyx, but this was only competent rather than impressive. Despite their website featuring a panoply of chefs, they only offered two set menus (each with the same number of courses) with no a la carte. Then they insisted that all of us MUST order the same menu – apparently the kitchen can only produce one dish at a time – even though they are offering only two anyway. The wine knowledge wasn’t! They may have been knowledgeable on local wines (I’m not sufficiently knowledgeable to be able to distinguish fact from fiction) but their information on Champagne (as a specific example) was pathetic – downright WRONG – I could have lived with “I don’t know”. Food was indeed competent – but I’m not recommending.
Even worse was E.S. Bisztro (Kempinski Hotel). A short menu – then what we ordered wasn’t available. Then our food was delivered to the wrong table (only a handful of tables were occupied). Then when it finally reached us they had to ask which was whose. A total disaster and the food was just OK.
A couple of ‘hints’ for more downscale options. If you cross to Buda for the view across Pest from the Matthias Church/Fisherman’s Bastion, you will encounter massive numbers of tourist busses from the river cruises. You can avoid the masses and take in the view comfortably by taking the local bus over and dining at Alabardos Eterem. Take your day pictures, in late afternoon, without tourists, then have dinner at Alabardos (just the other side of the square) and return after your meal for the night views. The food (and wines) are competent, and the prices only slightly touristy. Plus give a try to Gelarto Bistro (or Gelarto Rosa, same ownership, a couple of minutes apart) for some instagrammable gelato. I admit being seduced by the presentation, but the gelato itself was top quality – I had strawberry rhubarb; and green apple – both flavours were superb (NOTE: although some flavours were in common, each outlet had unique flavours not available at the other – the Bistro had a larger selection).
And the donuts at Donut Box were indeed ‘worth a detour’ – their gimmick is the donuts are square – but I found a great balance of sweet and sour – not just overpowering sweetness.