The Budapest restaurant on the Michelin list: Costes

There is great excitement in the Hungarian culinary world: the first Budapest restaurant, Costes, made it into the Michelin Guide. The Guide lists 271 one-star, 55 two-star, and 15 three-star restaurants. The "judges" deemed only two restaurants worthy of a star in the countries formerly belonging to the Soviet bloc. One in Prague and now one in Budapest.

Apparently as far as the city's gastronomical delights are concerned all the experts agree that a culinary revolution occurred in Budapest. As one article about the event remarked: "We stepped out of Kádár's kitchen." I must admit that I have very fond memories of even those apparently inferior restaurants from the 1960s and 1970s. A "cold plate" for four at the famous Gundel Restaurant was especially memorable. But this is a new era. The chef and the staff are from all over the world and the menu is international although they are experimenting with some traditional Hungarian food.

The "spies" of Michelin check the restaurants several times and rank all aspects of the cuisine and service. Apparently, Costes was chosen out of twenty hopefuls. The amazing thing about Costes is that it opened its doors only a year and a half ago. The restaurant is small. It can seat only fifty-four people while it has a staff of twenty-five. The first chef was Portuguese and the current one is originally from Argentina. At the beginning only the chef was foreign and the staff all Hungarian but for one reason or other by now only half of the staff is Hungarian.

In order to maintain consistently high quality 95% of the restaurant's produce comes from France. This despite the fact that on the home front one hears nothing but praise for Hungarian agricultural products: they are the very best in the world and everything that comes from abroad is "garbage." There have been attempts to limit foreign products in supermarkets. Even the minister of agriculture negotiated with the owners of supermarket chains about  buying more Hungarian products (a major demand of Hungarian farmers) instead of the "junk" that comes from abroad. Some of the more nationalistic sorts are even convinced that "foreign food poisons" the Hungarian customers.

Costes, it seems, is poisoning its customers on a large scale (though, given the hefty price tag for its meals, it may cater more to tourists than to locals). The restaurant buys everything from fish to chicken and vegetables at the same famous Parisian market, Rungis. They have their own truck that makes the weekly trip from Paris to Budapest because outside truckers either stole some of the goods or simply were late with the delivery. They even buy carrots in Paris. Certain vegetables, for example the mini varieties, cost only half of what one would pay in Hungary if they can be found at all. Fish transported from Paris is also about half the price of Hungarian fish. The biggest problem with Hungarian suppliers is that the quality of their produce is not consistent, and consistency is very important in the restaurant business.

So here is the depressing reality of those best in the world Hungarian agricultural products. Economists and politicians who pin their hope for the country's future economic vitality on the agricultural sector should listen to the restauranteurs.

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John T
Guest

Eva – it was sad to read the comments about the restaurant buying most of it’s produce from France. I think Hungarian produce is pretty good quality, certainly better in a lot of cases than in the UK. And supermarkets are certainly more inviting in Hungary.
My recollection after the change of regime was that there was a “west is best” attitude that extended even to food. That isn’t the case so much now, but consumers still go for cheaper stuff over quality when push comes to shove, and that certainly hurts the agricultural sector and meat industry.
I’m certainly disappointed that Tesco don’t have more products from Hungary, bearing in mind their presence in Hungary. I’d like nothing better than to see Turo Rudi in the cool cabinets and Dreher on the shelves.

GDF
Guest

John T: “it was sad to read the comments about the restaurant buying most of its produce from France. I think Hungarian produce is pretty good quality, certainly better in a lot of cases than in the UK.”
Hungarian products may be better than those from the UK but not necessarily better than those from France. This restaurant was competing for the ratings of a French rating guide, this is probably the reason they imported French ingredients.

Öcsi
Guest

“Economists and politicians who pin their hope for the country’s future economic vitality on the agricultural sector should listen to the restauranteurs.”
No, I don’t think they should.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but one restaurant importing produce from France is not representative of Hungarian restaurants. But I understand your point.
This nonsense about the superiority of Hungarian produce, (and food and wine and what-have-you) gets nauseating. That is not to say I haven’t seen some very good produce. I have and a lot more often than I do in Canada. But calling foreign food “poison” is ridiculous.
(You know, its strange how a nation that seems to excel at victimhood is, at the same time, the brains behind life, the universe and everything.)
I’m happy that a restaurant in Hungary made the Michelin list. But because Costes is not a Hungarian restaurant and because its owners are audacious enough to consider Hungarian produce inferior, it would be a good place to dine without rubbing shoulders with the Jobbik crowd – I would hope.
I wonder how the folks at Gundel feel about all this.

Hank
Guest

Calling Hungarian produce better than foreign produce is just as dumb as calling Hungarian produce inferior. Hungarian tomatoes are far better than Spanish or Dutch ones grown in glass houses. Hungarian beef is far worse than Argentinian or Italian. Hungarian milk or pork is the same quality as Slovak or Polish. In short: things differ hugely.
I think the key word is consistency. Good quality must always be good quality, and delivery in time must always be delivery in time. That is where – apart from often being more expensive because less productive and efficient – the Hungarian companies are often lacking, if I must believe the complaints of restaurateurs, chains like Spar and Tesco, industrial producers etc. etc.

Member
John T, I am not so sure about the Hungarian supermarket being more inviting than those in the UK. The small supermarkets are fairly similar. The big Tescos in Hungary are much less inviting than their UK equivalents. Tesco in the UK unfortunately have much better quality produce. In Hungary the shop tends to stock very cheap low quality Chinese manufactured goods. Tesco in Hungary does stock Dreher and Turo Rudi and mostly Hungarian wines, though foreign wines are creeping in everywhere in Hungary nowadays. For agricultural produce, a lot of Hungarian supermarkets don’t have great stuff, The imported fruit is particularly bad – unripe oranges etc., but even the Hungarian produce is not the best in the average Hungarian supermarket. I find that the best produce is usually found at the markets (it’s also cheaper there – but more time consuming to find and buy) or at the small fruit and veg stalls, where it is more expensive but the quality makes up for this. Hungary is very good for tomatoes, peppers, fresh vegtables and fresh fruit in season (especially cherries, sour cherries and apricots). The meat is OK, not exceptional except for a few Hungarian specialities such as… Read more »
Eva S. Balogh
Guest

GDF: “Hungarian products may be better than those from the UK but not necessarily better than those from France.”
What the owners complained about most was that quality was not consistent. One batch of goods was excellent, the next not. That is a serious problem when it comes to that kind of restaurant.

Guest

Just to get a different perspective:
The state of Baden-Württemberg (where we Schwabs live) has 54 Michelin stars.
The little town Baiersbronn (16 000 inhabitants) has three Michelin-nominated restaurants with 7 stars.
And of course these restaurants also get many products from France.
In the end it’s all a question of money : you need customers who can spend a lot of money so you can go shopping and spend a lot of money.

John T
Guest

David – My local Tesco (Broadbridge Heath in West Sussex) isn’t great for fresh meat and fruit / veg and I notice the difference when visiting the Szombathely Hypermarket (the first Tesco in Hungary (or possibly outside Budapest) was just down the road in Olad).
When I talked about Dreher and Turo Rudi I meant in UK stores :-). We do have a Polish corner in my Tesco though, so I can at least get a nice supply of Kubu!

Odin's lost eye
Guest

Hungary is a member of the E.U. It is a ‘common market’. If I have the money, I can buy what I want where I want and no one can stop me. That is freedom!

generic sildenafil
Guest

The local restaurants in Cambridge are using social media to promote their business, with a special emphasis on Facebook and Twitter. As part of the hands-on workshop, participants will use their laptops to create their own Facebook pages and learn how to tweet. In addition, Pixability, Inc. of Cambridge will bring flip-cameras and show participants how to create their own videos to use as part of their social media mix. And Christos Eliopoulos of Cambridge-based Mobilaurus, will demonstrate the newest smartphone application which allows restaurant customers to place their orders and pre-pay takeout orders directly from their smartphones.

truck rental
Guest

congratulation to Costes about being in the Michelin list, I’m sure their food is divining..but, how can I taste it also? I don’t have this 100 dollars for a 4 dish meal. I think that Michelin should have also a low cost list, what do you say?

Dr Alexander Jablanczy MD
Guest
Dr Alexander Jablanczy MD
Obviously you are masquerading as a Hungarian. Any Magyar would gladly pay triple for good Hungarian produce rather than for American or Euro Genetically Modified dreck. I cried when I first ate real Hungarian bread instead of the North American airy puffy presliced white doughy crap they called enriched bread which we call vatta kenyér. We did not suffer so much from homesickness as inability to buy real bread anywhere else on the planet. The Hungarian tomatoes smell taste like tomatoes not red plastic. The best wine I ever had in my life wasnt Chateuneuf de Pape in Avinhon but nameless homoki borok sandy wines from Alföld the Great Plains. They have a bouquet and an aroma that fill a room. As does real fresh bread. Csak Otthon. Only in the Homeland. Has anyone sane considered that Michelin is simply French chauvinist, had the produce not been imported from France but Italy Toscana say they would have turned their noses up at it. Has anyone done the research and found that the Cafe Prag there is one in Montreal was also chosen because of a French connection? Just because you hate and despise everything Hungarian doesnt mean you have to… Read more »
Foodie
Guest

Hungarian bread any good? You have got to be kidding. Perhaps when judged by US supermarket standards. But is still difficult to find decent wholegrain bread anywhere in Hungary that compares to what you can get in France, Belgium or Holland. And Hungarian wine is very good, but overpriced when compared to wines of similar quality produced elsewhere. Sure, Hungarian fruit and veg is wonderful, but so is veg produced in other sunny climes. Also this is overpriced: I saw Hungarian farmers selling Hungarian strawberries at four times the price of Greek ones. They weren’t four times as good. I think your patriotism is clouding your taste buds. If you have to boast about Hungarian food, stick to pastries, in which case you may have a point about superiority over anything else.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

I don’t even bother to answer this and similar comments. The owners of the restaurant in question were interviewed after they had received the Michelin star. They were the ones who were critical of Hungarian suppliers and they are the ones who feel that they must get their provisions from abroad.
Moreover, it is nonsense to say that other countries with similarly suitable climates can’t produce equally good fruits and vegetables.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

And, by the way, the owners of the restaurant are Hungarians.

Paul
Guest

I’m probably going to get abuse for this, but Hungarian wine is terribly overrated.
I noted this summer that Tesco are now doing wines from Australia, Chile, etc. So at last, decent wines of a known quality and consistency, at a reasonable price.
Hungary could be a great wine country, but until it stops believing its own, unfounded, propaganda and starts investing in new equipment and methods and better vine varieties, it will stay as it is – mediocre.

An
Guest

@Paul: Well, with Hungarian wine, you really need to know what you are buying. What the country doesn’t have is the mass-produced consistent quality, which I guess, comes from a highly standardized wine-making industry. Luckily, because there is a lot to praise about traditional wine making, although that is more likely to be a hit-or-miss process, and also a lot depends on where the wine was made (area and cellar).
That said, I never ever had so much bad wine as in the US. If you go to an average grocery store and by some reasonable priced wine, chances are it will be nearly undrinkable. That never happened to me in Hungary, but there, I always had a vague idea what I was buying. As a general advice, I’d stay away from any wine made on the Alfold (homoki borok).

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

An: “If you go to an average grocery store and by some reasonable priced wine, chances are it will be nearly undrinkable.”
I’m surprised but I’m very lucky. We have a fantastic liquor store nearby with a phenomenal wine collection from all over the world. There are many very good wines reasonably priced and some very fancy ones also that cost hundreds of dollars a bottle.

An
Guest

Eva, that’s why I was talking about the average grocery store. There is a specialty wine store in our neighborhood,too, and I never went wrong when I shopped there.
But in Budapest, I can walk in ANY grocery store and find some decent wine. Of course, I am a lot more familiar with the wines there, so I have a better idea what to buy.

Member

I will never understand why Hungarians in the US go to the cheapest supermarket, but a loaf of the cheapest crappy bread, a bottle of $5 “Chateau De Vomit” and start complaining about the food. People! There are so many stores around here where you can buy good crusty bread and good wine. You are just lazy and don’t want to spend a few dollars more …

An
Guest

@Mutt Damon: I think I still wasn’t clear.. all I was saying that in an average grocery store in Budapest it is possible to buy a decent wine, while in the US it doesn’t seem to be the case. You’ll have to find a store that carries the “good stuff”.
It only makes sense to compare like with alike… now we can go on comparing the selections of wine specialty stores in the US and in Hungary… My hunch is that in that comparison,the US would come out as a winner.
But what the general stores carry, is kind of indicative of the general drinking culture of the country… so hence the comparison. Of course, my mistake was to expect similar quality of wines in the supermarket as in Hungary… now, that was a mistake. Most Americans have no hoot about wine (talking about the general masses), and I was really surprised how bad the stuff is that they are generally drinking.

Member

I give up 🙂 It’s always the same thing. Yes, you can buy a box of merlot in the supermarket, but this is *not* the drinking culture. Nobody understands the Americans … sigh. Ok this should be a different thread.
When I officially became American my colleagues – as a total immersion into the drinking culture – bought me a gallon of Rebel Yell bourbon. It was a translucent plastic bottle like the milk jugs. The quality was a notch above the rubbing alcohol – I guess the sugar and the coloring agent worked the magic. We didn’t get blind from it, but I was afraid …

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

An: “But in Budapest, I can walk in ANY grocery store and find some decent wine.”
I think that it might have something to do with the different systems. For example, in Connecticut one cannot buy any kind of alcoholic beverage in grocery stores. Only in liquor stores that must close by 8 p.m. The only exception is big supermarkets where they sell beer but on Sundays they cover the shelves.

An
Guest

Eva, wow, I’ve never been to Connecticut. Here in Ohio most grocery stores have a liqueur licence. And never seen any store covering up alcohol on Sundays 🙂 Maybe the influx of German and Eastern European immigrants had loosened up the famous Protestant ethic a bit …
The particular store I used to go to had an aisle full of wine… only not very good wine. The wine store, a block away, is pretty small, and it has a much better selection… not the “mainstream” brands I see in the grocery store.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest
An: “And never seen any store covering up alcohol on Sundays :-)” This system is an improvement over the Ontario one in the 1960s. Hard liquor and imported wines were sold only in state stores! Well, I think it is perhaps better to speak of a single store. In Ottawa, population around 150,000 had only one store. One had to purchase a liquor license that was good for a year and in those days cost one dollar. The liquor itself was hidden behind walls. The customers had to fill out a list of wines, Scotch, whatever. Each had a four or five digit number. Fairly long and cumbersome affair. The selection was extremely limited. And you should have seen the place before Christmas!!! Long lines and hours of waiting. You had to present your liquor license and swore that you were over eighteen. The license number was entered on your list. One paid at the cashier who then passed your order on to one of the three or four guys behind a long counter. Then you waited until they showed up with the bottles. Loads of fun. Beer was sold separately in breweries. Similar horror story with the liquor license,… Read more »
An
Guest

Eva, that’s very interesting. The closest thing I ever experienced was travelling in some parts of Kentucky in some “dry county”, where no alcohol was sold whatsoever. Didn’t know Canada used to be so strict on alcohol.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Not whole of Canada. Quebec, for example, wasn’t. In Ottawa the ridiculous thing was that one just had to cross the Ottawa River and one was in Quebec where in every grocery store you could buy beer.
Mind you, officially it was illegal to transport liquor from Hull (Quebec) to Ottawa (Ontario). After graduation about twenty of us went over to Hull to celebrate. It seemed that half of Carleton University was there.

Guest

Back to the problem of quality with wines:
Here in Hungary too many small producers make too many wines of unpredictable quality – we just got some dry red wine from a family member that we took to Germany where now someone is drinking it as mulled wine – with a lot of sugar and spices …
Regarding the USA and Canada:
They still seem to have a strange relationship with alcohol, even many years after prohibition. My wife still remembers when we were shopping and bought beer somewhere in New York state – and they asked me for my papers/id and put in my birth date in the computer (I’m 68 years old …).
And I also remember a dry county in Texas …

Paul
Guest

“The quality was a notch above the rubbing alcohol”
This from a man from a country where every time you visit, you come away with a plastic bottle of home-made pálinka!
I have poured so much of this totally undrinkable stuff down the sink over the years that I’m surprised I haven’t been taken to court by the local authority for lethal pollution!
OK, commercial pálinka isn’t too bad, but much of the home-made stuff is terrible. It’s got to the point, after 10 years of trying not to gasp/cry out/vomit/collapse/die (delete as appropriate), that I now pretend to be teetotal or on medication.
And before anyone rushes to defend pálinka, just try holding it in your mouth next time you have some – or sipping it. Ask yourself why it has to be drunk my knocking it straight back!
I am deeply grateful that I was born next door to one country and just over the sea from another, where they know how to make a drink that not only can be sipped, but is actually one of life’s great pleasures to sip!

Paul
Guest

Getting back to wine – undoubtedly there are some good Hungarian wines, but they must be in the price bracket I can’t afford, because in 10 years of trying, I’ve never found them.
Actually that isn’t true. Once we were given a very pleasant wine, so we tracked it down to buy some more. It was a little out of our normal price range, but we thought worth the extra. Except that it wasn’t, it was nothing like the wine we had been given – same name, same year, but it may as well have been a totally different wine.
It’s no accident that Tesco has started stocking reasonably priced wines from places like Australia, Chile and South Africa (and even the US!). Once Hungarians forget all their wine nonsense and actually try these they are in for a big surprise.
And so is the Hungarian wine industry.

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