Bistro Jardin Budapest, Hungary
If you are ever in Budapest on a Friday night, the famous Friday fish feast of the Bistro Jardin in Budapest’s five-star Kempinski Hotel Corvinus is not to be missed. It was one of the most enjoyable and memorable meals we experienced during a 40-day family travel experience throughout five countries in Europe and Asia. This seafood buffet extravaganza was lively, entertaining, and extraordinarily delicious! And though it is arranged as self-service buffet, we particularly enjoyed how the chefs and servers attending our table enthusiastically helped us determine our selections. Throughout the evening our friendly, humor-loving servers and chefs pointed us to gourmet servings of some of the finest and freshest seafood we’ve ever tasted. Friday nights are special but the Hotel Corvinus restaurants also features dishes of Italian and Hungarian regions.
Our evening began when our maitre d’hotel informed us that we would go on a little “fishing” expedition before we were to be seated. He led us over to a table where our teenage son was given the opportunity to hook one of several wooden fishes in a bowl of water. Written on the side of the fish facing the bottom of the bowl was the prize each fisherman would win. As he struggled to hook a fish, our host complained that the stubborn fish our son was attempting to catch must be a “flying fish.” Finally he brought up a fish that entitled us (adults) to enjoy a complimentary glass of tokay wine at our table, a wine made famous by Hungarian vintners.
As we enjoyed our beverages our waiter walked us through the format for our fish market feast. We were given a tour of the various serving stations throughout the restaurant. A variety of tempting appetizers awaited our visit at one station, while nearly a dozen fresh fish selections were found on another. Elsewhere we discovered dessert tables, a sushi area, a couple of cooking stations manned by attentive chefs, and even a carving station where beef eaters could line up to sample the evening’s selection of prime rib. Once we had ample opportunity to enjoy our salads and appetizers, we were instructed to take a large basket and place our fresh fish selections on plates within the baskets. Inside the basket we were to deposit a checklist itemizing instructions to the chef on how to prepare the fish and what side dishes were to be added. After sending our basket off to the chef, we could continue to dine on several choices of soup, bread, salad, and all those delightful appetizers.
With the help of our server, we chose a 2006 Nyakas Budai Sauvignon Blanc, a crisp, fresh wine that was slightly sweet and not at all grassy—a perfect choice that did not overpower the mild seafood flavors we enjoyed throughout the evening.
Roaming through the various stations, I sampled both beluga and salmon caviar, blini, wasabi-laced sushi, smoked salmon, raw oysters on ice, crab cocktail, and seafood salad. Afterwards, I grabbed a basket and considered what crustacean or shellfish items I might select. I placed a few giant prawns on my plate, leaving behind the mussels for others to enjoy. More than half a dozen fresh fish selections now beckoned for my attention: Filet of pike, perch, salmon, red snapper, red mullet, sea bass, barracuda and John Dory fish were cut into various sizes allowing me to select three or four without looking like I would be piling my plate as high as a sky scraper. I then filled out my checklist, instructing the chef to grill my selections, although I could have selected steamed, poached or stir fried. Next I added to my basket fresh broccoli and cauliflower which I chose from among a half dozen other vegetable offerings, this time requesting them to be buttered and stir fried, although I could have had them grilled or steamed. When I brought my basket over to the chef on duty at the cooking station he directed me to choose one or more side orders: steamed rice, tagliatelle, parsley potato or french fries. There were also several sauces available for one’s fish or vegetable selections: pesto, lemon butter, cream sauce, and tomato sauce.
The three of us took turns throughout the evening, leaving our table to wander about the restaurant, returning with a new delicacy to sample and share. There were various soups, some with mussels, another, a clear broth, and another with prawns. One dish, Tom Yam King with prawns was served with parsley and had a delightful spicy flavor. Although feeling very full after dining on so many scrumptious dishes, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sample some of the prime rib, which, in itself, could have been fabulous entrée were it not for all the seafood temptations. I accepted the chef’s offer to add a very tasty garlic thyme sauce which gave the dish an added richness.
By this time, though our belts were loosened, we felt we couldn’t pass up the dessert table, upon which some of the best-tasting pistachio nut ice cream in all of Europe beckoned. Several cakes and pastries adorned the table along with nuts and fresh fruits and a local egg-white dessert I was urged to try. Once again, there was no shortage of options here. Our major problem was to limit ourselves to placing the smallest portions possible on our plates in order to sample more widely from the assortment of delicacies.
Two hours after arriving to embark our “fishing” expedition, we found ourselves reluctantly but contentedly leaving behind one of our most memorable and satisfying dining experiences–and certainly #1 for seafood–during our glorious five week tour of Europe.