In 2015, three young Vietnamese-Hungarians with a passion for cooking and a background in fashion and design opened an Asian-fusion restaurant, Sáo, in the tourist-packed Jewish Quarter of Budapest. Sáo turned out to be a success story. Encouraged, the owners opened another restaurant, KHAN, this time in the residential Újlipótváros neighborhood a bit outside the city center. Here too a chic, Instagram-friendly interior awaits customers complete with sleek wood finishes, concrete columns, contemporary art, and Asian collectibles.
And here too, the food is a collection of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Japanese staples. Think pho soups, dumplings, tempura, fried rice, and fried noodles. But the more dishes I've tried at KHAN, the more convinced I became that beneath the disguise of exotic-sounding Asian menu items, the colorful interior, the chic waitstaff, and the beautifully hand-crafted ceramic bowls straight from Vietnam, they actually serve some pretty bland and overpriced food here. That the Cantonese-style fried rice (HUF2,590 or €9) is dry and leaves almost no impression. That if it wasn’t for the dipping sauce, the fried spring rolls would have little discernible flavor. That the rice sheets are insipid, thick, and not even rolled in the Vietnamese banh cuon. The list goes on.
Why is KHAN fully booked most nights then, you may ask. I think a lot of people are drawn to the restaurant's glossy interior and reputation as a "see-and-be-seen" spot with a chic crowd. But anyone eager to explore Asian flavors in Budapest will find more depth of flavor and often lower prices elsewhere (e.g. see Budapest's best Chinese and Japanese restaurants).