Of all the fine dining restaurants in Budapest, Borkonyha Winekitchen is one of the more casual options. Although prices have recently gone up, making it less of a steal, the 5-course tasting menu still delivers great value.
Budapest’s many fine dining restaurants
Budapest has six Michelin-star restaurants. For someone intimidated by the heavy hitters like Costes and Onyx, Borkonyha is a good place to start. The atmosphere feels almost like a bistro or a cafe. It’s once you’re at the table that you notice all the little touches that really elevate the experience to the fine dining category.
Borkonyha tasting menu
We ordered the 5-course degustation menu for 23,000 Ft. We opted out of the wine pairing this time, choosing instead to go with the waiter’s recommendation for a white Tokaji wine and a pinot noir with our meal. Both paired very well with our food, and the courses were timed so that we hit the right wines and dishes at the right time (even without doing the wine pairing). It’s the little things that seem natural and effortless but you know are heavily coordinated.
Even though it’s a starter, and not even one of the courses on the tasting menu, the bread basket was probably the most memorable dish for me. The tricolor basket contained a black bread, a nut bread, and a spiced bread (coriander? cumin? I don’t remember). Each was distinct in color and flavor, and all improved by adding a pat of soft butter and a sprinkle of flaky salt using a tiny wooden trowel. Throughout the rest of the meal, I kept coming back to the leftover bits of bread.
Course 1: Duck liver pâté
The duck liver has been the signature starter at Borkonyha since the restaurant opened in 2010. Accompaniments change with the seasons. When we went in October, the duck liver pâté came with plum jam, plum sauce, and hazelnut.
I’m not much of a pâté fan, and the first bite struck me as strong, salty, and funky. It grew on me more with each bite. The complex flavors changed each time, and the accompaniments were well thought out. The tart sweetness of the plum cut through the salty, overwhelmingly meaty flavor of the pâté. At first, the dish seemed so rich that I couldn’t imagine finishing the entire thing, but I did.
Course 2: Scallops
My most distinct impression of the tasting menu at Borkonyha is that I’ve never had a meal where the ingredients tasted so much like themselves. The second course with scallops, sun-dried tomato, and coriander was the most emblematic. Very simply dressed scallops in a clear, light broth, unencumbered by heavy spices or seasoning. The flavors in each bite were so delicate that taste changed completely based on whether your spoonful of scallop contained some broth or not.
The colors were so vibrant and a welcome respite from the heavy, brown, meat-and-potato diet we had gotten used to in this part of Europe. Scallops were perfectly cooked; they offered some texture and resistance upon first bite but then just dissolved in the mouth. The experience of eating this dish was a delight, and felt as playful as the bright colors themselves.
Course 3: Guinea fowl
The poultry course consisted of guinea fowl, confit onion, potato, lettuce, mustard seed, and au jus. Having recently had a similar wild partridge course at Aizle in Edinburgh, a comparison was inevitable. Unfortunately, this dish could not stand up to the inventive combinations and flavors of the gamey dish at Aizle. Each component was well-cooked and the flavors well-executed. Just nothing surprising.
Course 4: Pork chop
Two small slabs of pork chop accompanied by aubergine, brioche, and a small cube of melt-in-your-mouth pork belly. Very porky and satisfying, and the most quintessential pork chop I’ve ever had. The aubergine was a confusing choice to me—it lent a Mediterranean note that seemed out of step with the heartiness of the dish. The pork belly added a nice touch of richness and decadence to an otherwise straightforward plate.
The palate cleanser for the evening was almost-liquefied cucumber with yogurt espuma (foam). I’m not a fan of cucumber, so I didn’t love this dish, but it did the trick. Cool, refreshing flavors cleared the palate just before dessert.
Course 5: Almond thyme panna cotta
Dessert was a series of little globules lined up in a bowl—almond and thyme panna cotta, almond sorbet, and redcurrant with some kind of crumble. Somehow, this dish lacked the richness and sense of indulgence I expect from a dessert. The heavy almond flavor and thyme made it so light and non-sweet that it was almost savory, and I could feel a little graininess from the almond in the panna cotta. It was good, but didn’t quite feel like the close of a meal to me. I did love the redcurrant, though.
Should you go to Borkonyha?
Borkonyha is food done well that delivers an authentic Michelin-star experience. Go at lunch instead of dinner, when you can still experience fine dining in Budapest but at a fraction of the price. Don’t miss the wine pairings, either—Borkonyha is a great place to sample Hungary’s famous Tokaji wines.
Although each dish is thoughtfully and well prepared, I wouldn’t expect anything to blow your mind while dining here. Flavors are classic and pay homage to Hungarian tradition, but they are safe. I haven’t been dreaming about any of these courses after leaving the restaurant—except that bread.
If you’re new to the atmosphere of Michelin-star restaurants, take my advice and don’t try to open the door for yourself on your way out. Let the staff do it for you and avoid a very awkward encounter where your coat is half on and the doorman is staring at you, confused. I speak from experience.
A few can’t-miss spots in the Hungarian capital for a short trip or weekend away.