Budapest’s latest Michelin-starred restaurant, Essência is the project of the Portuguese-Hungarian husband and wife duo, Tiago and Éva Sabarigo. Before venturing out on their own, Tiago was head chef at another decorated establishment, Costes Downtown, while Éva came from the hospitality industry. Essência is a casual fine dining restaurant: the high-ceilinged ground floor features exposed brick walls, plush mid-century modern furniture, and bare tables.

For dinner, there’s a Hungarian and a Portuguese tasting menu, as well as a fusion option with selections from each. It's called “May 17th,” their daughter’s birthdate, and I recommend you opt for this one. The highlight was the creamy foie gras, a traditional produce of Hungary, the grilled octopus with beluga lentils, and the tender mangalica. Hungary’s heritage pork was served with a paprika sauce and a side of acorda, which is a Portuguese bread salad infused with coriander. The tasting menu costs €140 per person with wine pairing. As with the food, the wines are sourced from Hungarian and Portuguese producers.

While Tiago Sabarigo is a highly skilled chef who puts out delicious and eye-pleasing dishes, I also think there's room for creativity when it comes to assembling the menu. For example, by replacing some of the cliched fine dining staples like the quail with ingredients more native to Hungary or Portugal.

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