Summer started way too early this season to the delight of many: pop stars holding outdoor concerts, my male counterparts looking out for shorter skirts, tennis courts taking the winter tent off a month ahead of schedule and also „Zimmer Frei” owners at Lake Balaton. But early summer is also a delight for us gastro freaks as we slip on our flip flops, don our sunglasses and head to the nearest eating establishment with a large, open air terrace in search of a cool rosé and a light feast.

I for one work completely the opposite way as a large percent of society as I tend to favour more heavy food in the summer and the go light in the winter. In this aspect the many great open-air or terraced Csárda around the Lake are my best buddies. Regardless of the season or the weather they serve up Cellar-paprikas (Pincepaprikás) with “tarhonya” noodles, a rich Fish soup served with delicious fish pieces, roe and milk (Halászlé), some Grey beef (Szürkemarha) steak with button mushrooms, a red wine sauce and sliced dumplings (szalvétagombóc) and a whole, grilled pike (fogas) with parsley potatoes and some tartare sauce on the side. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you sit out overlooking the Balaton from St. Orbán inn in Badacsony or the Lovas Csárda in Alsóörs/ Lovas or the Ferenc Pince in Tihany with a glass of local Riesling or the lesser known, but just as superb Kéknyelű (“blue handle”) in your hands.

Another notable mention on the south side of the lake is Kistücsök, the grand terrace of which unfortunately does not overlook the lake, but is close to the fantastic wine areas of Lelle and and Balatonboglár - where star wine-makers Légli and Konyári reside - and has a fantastic array of wines offered by their sommelier to accompany the truly great food. It’s not often that one finds a kitchen with such a level of sophistication around the lake.

Of course with the arrival of summer, open-air terraces are also in abundance in our fair capital. Look for the eateries of popular Liszt Ferenc square, where nowadays you have to weave through the trendy crowd with care as there is only a small trail left in between the hundreds of outdoor tables and chairs and dozens of eateries side by side. Expect members of the good looking twenty something crowd first stare then pose for you as you walk by.
Michelin starred French chef Patrick Lenotre oversees the cuisine at café Miro, while Menza serves up good, standard local fare with a retro twist. Expect classical chicken soup to be served from a huge porcelain bowl - a tribute to the cooking of our grandmothers. For a less fussy and less crowded experience try Szimpla and Dupla down the road from Liszt with Restaurant M crammed in between or the very promising and newly opened Klassz on Adrássy út.

In another part of Pest, Ráday utca is also vying for that top outdoor venue prize. The ambience here is more laid back, less pretentious and there is also more space due to the fact that it’s a long street and not a crammed square. Notable mentions here are the Leroy restaurant –part of the hip chain of restaurants as well as the millions of cafés/bars (Soul, Jaffa, Time) that line the street.

Over in Buda the terraces become larger, more upscale and perhaps somewhat more family oriented than their Pest counterparts. Getting to them isn’t as easy as one would think as the more popular ones - Remíz, Náncsi Néni – are a bit further away from the city center, but definitely worth the trip. Remiz for its outdoor grill kitchen constantly perparing large batches of spare ribs and Náncsi for its romantic, traditional Hungarian menu. Don’t miss the top hors d’oeuvre in town at Náncsi: the Captain’s favourite, which is a tapas size portion of famous Hungarian pörkölt with lots of bread to soak up the paprika sauce. On a more upscale note, Arcade and Matteo offer what could be called as „haute cuisine in the shade” with a great selection of Mediterranean, cosmopolitan fare.

Summer has officially hit the country! The bottom line is: out with the straw hat, the shades and the comfy linen shorts! Discover everything edible and drinkable under the warm summer sun and the starry skies.
Published in '07 Summer Edition of the Dining Guide

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