Costes was the first restaurant in Hungary to receive a Michelin star in 2010. And even though Budapest now has four Michelin-starred restaurants, Costes remains in a league of its own. The same is true when it comes to prices, making the restaurant prohibitively expensive for locals; on many nights, there isn’t a single Hungarian patron in sight (the 5-course tasting menu with wine pairing comes out to over €150 per person).
The food? Chef Eszter Palágyi applies contemporary French cooking techniques to premium, locally-sourced ingredients, turning them into visually pleasing, delectable pan-European dishes. Traditional Hungarian foods are reduced to playful amuse bouches at Costes: as part of the tasting menu, guests are introduced to mini versions of goulash, lángos, and Túró Rudi. Dessert arrives inside an oversized Rubik’s cube, as an homage to the Hungarian invention.
Appetizers and main dishes are delightful and engaging - if Hungarians knew that pike could be this soft and delicious, they would be eating more of it. The Hungarian foie gras is creamy and flavorful. However, one is hard-pressed to call out any of the dishes as truly spectacular. That is, until you get to the desserts. They're unconventional, thought-provoking, and the main strength of Costes (Palágyi started as pastry-chef at Costes). For example, “Bling”, a lemon cream coated in a round, thin, transparent sugar glaze and sealed by a grey, sculpted sponge cake. It looks so much like a light bulb, including screw threads and electrical foot contact, that patrons need servers’ encouragement to crack open the “glass”.
If traditional Hungarian fare prepared through a fine dining lens is the direction Palágyi is taking Costes, then it would be great to see more of those amuse bouches make their way into the regular tasting menu, and, similarly, some of that bold creativity from their dessert menu extend to the earlier courses. The service at Costes is excellent - you would be hard-pressed to find a more informed or professional waitstaff in Budapest.