Balázs Pethő, the executive chef of family-run Csalogány 26 Restaurant, was one of pioneers behind Hungary's current food revolution. A whole crop of younger cooks, many of them established head chefs now, learned the ins and outs of haute cuisine under Pethő's tutelage at a time when comically backward, communist-era kitchen practices reigned supreme. Pethő's exceptional skills best show through in his eight-course dinner tasting menu at Csalogány 26.
The restaurant largely eschews fancy imported meats and fish used by other high-end Budapest places, instead extracting the most of more reasonably-priced and locally-sourced cuts, and pairing them with seasonal vegetables and light sauces. This means that Csalogány 26's eight-course tasting menu for €50, or €75 with wine pairing, is among the best deals to be had in Budapest for discerning diners. The restaurant also serves a three-course lunch prix fixe on weekdays, which also offers a great value for €8.
On any day, dishes can include a suckling pig terrine paired with crunchy vegetables, minced guinea fowl with squash puree, gilt-head bream with peas, and crispy and tender roasted chicken thighs. Not to mention Csalogány 26's inventive dessert variations that always surprise and amaze me.
The restaurant, which is located in an unremarkable Buda neighborhood, isn't furnished from the latest interior design catalogue like some other fine dining venues on the Pest side. But there's something endearing about the relatively simple interior: perhaps it's their way of saying that food takes center stage here. Accordingly, Csalogány 26's two long-time waiters are among the most knowledgeable and professional in Budapest - patrons are in good in hands.