Arany Kaviar is a Russian themed restaurant celebrating its tenth year in business this year, in Várfok u. just below the castle and close to Oscars. Szása, the head chef says he’s ready to make the leap up to be among the very best in Hungary and he’s doing everything in his power to get there including some training and courses in Michelin restaurants abroad and looking for the top ingredients: from Russkiy Standart vodka J, to the best local duck to giant lobsters from the Bering channel. I can clearly say - after two meals here recently - that the restaurant has arrived and taken its place among the very best.

Today I am with my family and we are celebrating the birthday of a much respected family member: me. After drinking a couple of ice cold vodka shots which arrive in chilled shot glasses we turn our attention to the menu. The food here is an interesting Russian inspired mix of great food, but let that not fool you into thinking all they have is Pelmenyi and Borscht. No, they have all the great soups, like Szcsi and Szoljanka as well as Georgian specialties like Basturma as well as the obligatory Beluga, Keta and Osetra caviars. Our visit coincides with the 10 year old birthday and the launch of the new tasting menus: an anniversary menu and a gourmet menu to supplement the fantastic offers on the main a la carte menu. We decide to give Szása and the cooks a real challenge and order the worst nightmare for the kitchen. I order the 8 course gourmet menu, my father orders the six course anniversary menu, while my wife and mother order a soup and a main course. Completely different dishes, completely different timing, complete chaos. But we’re sticking with our choices.

We start with the welcome treat of some fish paté, butter, garlic butter and home brown and white bread loaves. The bread is the real treat, which looks like a small, flat brown disc. The butter and the paté melts on its warm surface, because it’s recently come out of the oven. I’m already feeling full and I have a momentary panic attack just thinking about the eight courses that will be arriving between now and midnight. The first course arrives for the family: I receive a tasting of caviar, while the others a clear beef broth with mushroom dumplings (varenyiki), the most amazing herring on a bed of pickled cucumbers and a traditional Russian szoljanka with a potato piraschki cap on top. The beef soup is a clear broth, deliciously prepared with the earthy mushroom dumplings. The herring is simply amazing compared to my knowledge of that terrible stinky fish swimming among a pool of onions. It’s light, tasty and the cucumber pickle below it adds a nice touch to one of the top dishes of the night.

My small helping of beluga caviar arrives on a large wrought iron stand filled with goodies: the caviar in the center and beside it soft butter, grated hard boiled egg, finely chopped onions and shallots and sour cream. The idea is to put a bit of sour cream/egg/onion on your soft blini pancake and then the caviar and down it. Of course, the world’s most pricey caviar is great alone and better with all of the additional ingredients as well.

Next came a light salmon filled pelmenyi with keta caviar and sour cream, while prawn filled pelmenyi with parmesan shavings landed to my right. Both were really awesome, but I still remain of the view that nothing can match the taste of the meat pelmenyi with sour cream and small dash of vinegar. I’m also not sure of the Italian spin with the parmesan shavings which took that dish into the ravioli/tortellini arena, but my father seemed to like it a lot.

After a longer break we carry on with the dinner and order up a bottle of Konyári Loliense ’06 to go along with the fishy dishes. I’m now quite positive that all ’06 wine will be great, because every bottle I’ve had sings songs and tells tales of the great weather. Next up is a break for the girls, a soup for my father and a Bering Sea leg of lobster with Cognac and garlic butter sauce, baby courgettes, baby mushrooms and some asparagus. The crab meat is cooked well, but overall it’s just a bite of meat that goes down pretty fast. The best things about the dish are the great, fresh vegetables which remind me of all the great vegetable only dishes that are becoming so fancy nowadays in top restaurants. They can sell a dish on their own really, without the meat or fish „garnish”. My father seems happy with his Szcsi, a sour soup of cabbage and inside a piece of meat the quality of Vienna’s own Plachutta would be proud to serve up. The ladies have another piece of house bread and some remains of dad’s soup while they wait. The kitchen is also having a hard time trying to juggle our strange orders, so while they go about preparing the real thing we are invited to a small treat of pomegranate sorbet or rather pomegranate jelly and pieces with some vanilla ice cream. It’s not really a sorbet but sweet light dessert, but we gulp it down thankfully.

As for the mains... wow. My wife had a pretty bad week leading up to this dinner and the only thing she could eat was boiled potatoes. She wanted something that was kind of light but tasty at the same time. The duck on the menu with a foie gras ragout was a bit too much so she asked to keep the duck rosé with a light ragout other than what was on offer. She received the most delicious duck with a sauce made from sweet, fresh figs.

My course was a three piece ensemble of pink lamb with a great little side dish of aubergine stuffed with goat cheese and adzsika sauce from Georgia. It was so good that I forgot to take pictures of it so all that was left were the thin bones of baby lamb. I accompanied the dish with a really wonderful Gróf Buttler unfiltered Pinot Noir, which was recommended by the sommelier. I looked with envy to my left where to me the best course of the night was arriving: the medallions of veal with foie gras, truffles and a sweet aszú type of reduction all lying on a bed of poppy and pear strudels. The veal pink, the goose liver perfectly cooked, the strudels soft and sweet and the truffles giving a nice earthy but perfumed contrast to the sweet dish. I loved it to bits.

The most forgettable course was the soft goat cheese with blueberry jam... too soft and creamy for my taste and losing much of its goaty taste. We moved on to a Vayi furmint and a Nyakas late harvest for these courses and they served them well. Last but not least was a mixed surprise of desserts – a rich and creamy chocolate mousse, a mascarpone cake, a little Georgian cake with sugary sour cream and I forgot the rest, take a look on the picture attached.

Some words about the service: it has always been attentive and of top quality every time I have visited in the past. Although the restaurant has many Russian and Georgian specialties, I would say that it is rather the roots of the kitchen that point in this direction but the style and quality is of top international caliber. I’m just writing this so that anyone afraid or skeptical about Russian cuisine, but interested in superb food will surely also find Arany Kaviár to his or her liking.

Pricey? Yes. Overpriced? I don’t think so. The six course jubilee menu is 10 000 without the wine, which is a strong bargain of you ask me. It’s much more of a bargain than the other tasting menu, but if you’re into caviar you have to pay the price. The only criticism it gets from me is the decor, which may not be the most sophisticated interior in town with very heavy fabrics and kitschy Russian motifs and golden icons. Also, I fail to see why empty bottles of Moet champagne have to be displayed for the guests to see ... like a sign of past golden ages when people could afford that stuff. It simply doesn’t belong there.

Altogether, I wish the restaurant another ten years in business and the struggle for stars to continue. It’s not often you see a talented team, a strong creative spirit, a well-defined vision of where the kitchen is going and great dishes hand in hand.

Arany Kaviár
Overall 8,5/10