2007/04/02

MATTEO - BUDAI BAUHAUS




Smart title for the article, right? Mr. Budai is the head chef of Matteo, the bauhaus eating establishment off Pasaréti tér in the heart of Buda. Budai and Buda, get it? Sorry about that...

Mr. Budai is a sweet, big man, approximately 300 kg in weight - although has lost some kilos recently- and appears regularly in Mrs. Stahl's morning program, where he has a silly section doing home made "fast food" and reading recipes of ovearly zealous ladies writing in to get their hands on his cookbook.

He is also the ex-head chef of Remiz, believe it or not, which was good if not great until he left. Since then it has gone badly downhill for Remiz to the point where I'm even considering going there to have a nice főzelék on the weekend. Bad bad bad.
So Mr. Budai made an exit to Matteo and established one of the finest eateries in Buda.

Just a little more background before we get into the details of our weekend, sunny and delightful lunch... Mr. Budai and the owners of Matteo are diversifying of late. Business seems to be thriving and they decided to open up a sister joint in Zsolt Udvar called Trio. Terrible idea, terrible place, a sure failure. Bad atmosphere on the lower level, a closed down upper level, almost completely empty, some remnants of the Rosenberger type kitchen that used to operate here before they took over. I get their e-mails once every month iviting me to a wine dinner, but there is no way I'm going back there. But hey, if they have the money then why not invest in alternative projects.

Enough of this detour.

Getting back quickly to Matteo... I've now realised that this is the typical scenario where the presence of the head chef makes all the difference. Maybe because we know each other well and talk frequently about the dishes when he comes out of the kitchen. Or maybe because he is the most up-to-date to make recommendations on the dishes.
Or maybe because he makes his sous-chefs work like animals.
I'm not sure, but my prior experiences tell me: if he's there, the food tastes better. This by the way is a representative research in my head comprised of about 10 or 12 visits over the past year or two.

Upon our most recent visit he wasn't there. Not to say the food was mediocre or bad, but simply not up to the standards that this restaurant had set in the past. I've been here on occasions where Mr. Budai cooked up sublime 5-6 course menus with the freshest market ingredients and with a passion that only he could muster. Some wine dinners have left me longing to go back the next day for more. But somehow the magic fades during the week and I get the bad feeling that all of this is a one man show.


Yes, the architecture is great, the service is smart and unobtrusive, and the menu is very appealing, but the food leaves you with an " I expected a bit more" feeling in your mouth. We start by ordering the true favourite: the real deal tafelspitz that is perhaps the best in the city. A huge plate of clear beef broth with some vegetables and on a separate plate: a mix of oxtail, a great big marrow bone and a slice of braised beef and best of all, a big dollop of horseradish to accompany all that. Weak at heart should order this dish for main course, while we, big eaters, take it as a 'soup'. Two of these big soups were served up while I went for the winter remains on the menu: a pumpkin soup with honey chestnut shavings. The soup tasted great, while the chestnuts tasted like they were shaved last December. Not to worry, I finished off some bone marrow and some oxtail with garlic bread and horseradish to beat out the taste of the chestnut.
Our choice of wine was a bit off the mark as we went for a '06 Takler Rose cuvee to accompany the summer vibes. It had a bit of a generic Rose problem as seen on the Szeremley Pinot Noir Rose and some others: a distinct taste of nail varnish that killed the fruity taste. Nevertheless we couldn't bother sending it back and downed it quite fast eventually, because the sun was beating down so heavily on our scalps.


Main courses followed soon: my duck rosé with duck liver, cardamom sauce and steamed cabbage was truly very good and the meat was cooked to perfection, while the plate of various tapas ordered after the hearty meat soup failed to impress. When the tapas appeared in Matteo, there were 4 of a kind, larger portions and more elaborate tastes. Now, the tastes are more generic, somtimes blending into each other and 5, minuscule, bite sized bits not enough to fulfill. The modern take on the traditional chicken paprikas with a noodle-muffin was tasty and not too far from the original according to members of the family tasting it.


To finish it all off we had the Matteo version of the chocolate souffle... direct orders were given to the kitchen not to let the damn thing dry out and to whip it out of the oven while the chocolate still flowed freely inside. Although aesthetically not perfect (it drooped a little on the plate) it tasted really good with the strawberries and the compulsory baileys cream on the side - which I never try as it would make the whole thing ultra-heavy.


Hmm, this review leaves me with some doubts in my mind. First of all, is the chef so important to the kitchen? It seems, yes. Secondly, did they manage to keep up the initial high in terms of food and service? It seems, not. Third of all, are they wasting away their talent getting into new restaurants when the old one is not as good as it should be? It seems, yes. And fourth of all: is my critique a bit too harsh? Maybe.


Overall: 6,5 / 10

Ristorante Matteo

No comments: