Victor Segal is one of Hungary’s top chefs. I know that for a fact. He already wooed critics as the head chef in Baraka, while it was located in Magyar utca and then made a name for himself at the same location running the joint under his own name. His previous bosses all knew the mantra: location-location-location. I guess he also realised along the way that a very small side street of Rákóczi út is in fact not the perfect location for one of the country's top restaurants. Since then Baraka moved to the end of Andrássy út in the Andrássy boutique hotel and Segal opened up his new restaurant in Ó utca. According to the chef the place is still in an experimental, sort of trial mode and he only allows three or four tables to be filled every night. On this specific night a couple more tables were filled with hungry guests all awaiting his tasting menu creations introducing the world famous Amedei chocolate.

First a couple of words on the place itself. Segal has a passion for minimalist cuisine- a strong focus on the best ingredients but presented in a stylish, chic yet simple fashion. This also goes for the interior of the place: a lot of fine cutlery and glasses and tableware, but not obvious to the viewer at first glance. In fact, the place is located in a newly built apartment building in Ó utca, which has rooms for rent for short or long term guests- a sort of apartment-hotel. Segal’s restaurant is at the bottom, street front of the building and is similar to Fausto’s restaurant where - in a previous blog entry – I said that you feel like you were sitting in an office building. The minimalist, almost spartan decor of Segal restaurant also reinforces this feeling and doesn’t make you feel really comfortable. Maybe a little less formality would help.

In our company are a top ad executive and a top hotel and catering executive with his wife. All the professionals are here waiting for that injection of Amedei chocolate. Amedei is an Italian brand of chocolate which – according to PT, my gastro-freak buddy – is supposedly superior to the world famous Valrhona chocolates. I must take that piece of information with a pinch of salt as Valrhona is the obvious choice of Thomas Keller and Gordon Ramsey. I say, if it’s good for them, it should be good for Victor Segal and his guests. But there is no time, neither opportunity to choose between the world renowned chocolates as the representatives of Amedei are here in the restaurant to offer a brief history of the brand and how they create their chocolate. I won’t bore you with the details, suffice to say the chocolate comes from exotic places (Columbia, Ethiopia, Kenya, etc.), is very expensive and damn good.

Contrary to our heightened expectations, our first minuscule dish of the night – an amouse bouche – didn’t contain any chocolate at all. All it had was delicious pieces of finely chopped salmon tartare. We destroyed it in seconds and were ready to move on. The first dish of the tasting menu was a saint maure goat cheese on a spicy linzer pastry with white chocolate and mint. The cheese was truly super delicious and so was the pastry which had hints of cardamom and ginger. The white chocolate sauce must have also been good, but I was too preoccupied with the cheese to notice. This was a trend that followed us the whole evening – the chocolates didn’t play the role that maybe they were supposed to and in all of the dishes played a kind of secondary or auxiliary role to the main events. Of course the chocolates were used mostly in sauces, but the other spices in the sauces eclipsed the various chocolate tastes that we were supposed to experience. The wine accompanying our cheese and dish was a Viognier ’06 by Gál Tibor. A match made in heaven and a fine, fine wine.

Next up came the black tiger prawns with jalapeno chili and toscano brown chocolate sauce. The quality of the tiger prawn was second to none – cooked to absolute perfection and maintaining a nice firmness and crunch. The chili and chocolate worked very well together also and added the necessary spiciness and sweetness to the dish. The Mandolás Furmint by Oremus enhanced the sweet notes of the dish well. Apart from the chocolate not playing a major role in the dishes my second observation is about the quantity of the food. In most famous restaurants I have been to there are two options. You either go for the a la carte menu or the multi-course set menu. With the latter option your portions are medium sized and by the time you reach the dessert you feel you’re full. There are some establishments with 8-10-16 course tasting menus, where the size of the portions can range from a small glass to a very small little pile sitting in the middle of a huge plate. After you’re through 5 or six of these you start feeling OK, but as you near eight of even 12 courses you have to start undoing your buttons even with the smaller portions. This evening, Victor served up four courses altogether and each one was unfortunately very very small. By the end we were all feeling quite hungry. More about our post-dinner experiences later.

Our colourful main course arrived soon after we devoured the tiger prawns. This was deboned hare fillet with chocolate beans, mango puree and sautéed radishes. The colour palette was beautiful with the dark brown cocoa bean sauce, the orange mango puree and the bright pink radishes. The hare pieces were wonderful and soft, the mango puree went well with the chocolate sauce, but however sweet the radishes were, they couldn’t keep up with the rest in terms of flavour harmony. I wasn’t sure that the ’05 Chardonnay by Németh Attila was the best match for this dish, but it is truly a unique wine and unlike most of the Chardonnays on the market currently.

The only place where we could really feel the intensive chocolate taste was the last dish of the tasting menu: a chuao chocolate mousse with some freshly ground pepper. The chocolate mousse was airy and light and just as chocolate goes well with chili - it also goes well with spicy, black pepper.

But we weren’t finished.... As said previously, the amount of food fell short of the capacity that we could handle that night. So we decided to "restart" the evening somewhat after the last dessert left the table. We asked the chef, if he had anything left in the kitchen and he said he was willing to feed us some more. Victor then decided to make us some foie gras. This was truly delicious with the liver melting on our forks and then our tongues. Atop the liver lay two spring onions as a contrast to the sweetness of the foie. The wine we had with the liver is somewhat of a rarity...actually, we might have destroyed the last two existing bottles of the stuff. It was a Gróf Buttler Kadarka Aszú, which was simply amazing. Amazing taste and amazing how he could make such a delicious (red!) sweet wine from the late harvest of the Kadarka grape. I was just about full, when I finished my piece of liver, but my two table friends decided now was the time to order in the main course. This came in the form of two portions of beautiful, medium rare steaks that had a gingery taste and came on a bed of indian lentils and something that looked like papadums. I only managed to sneak a small bite of the stuff, but it was truly delicious. My condolences to the chef wo had to cook us a full, complete dinner after we had finished the 4-5 course tasting dinner.

When that was finished we saw that people were feasting on some bright red chorizo pieces at the bar. At this point, PT - slightly overwhelmed and drunk - says to the waiter "Do we reall have to stand up and go to the bar to get some sausages?". By that time we had far too much to drink - including all the chardonnay, the white cuvees, the sweet kadarka and the Buttler bikavér - and we quickly ordered a basket full of these meaty, spicy tasty little fellows. Maybe that was going a bit too overboard, but it really felt like a fitting end to a crazy meal and a drunken evening. Sort of like when you’re going home at night drunk at two in the morning and all you want is to dig into a hot dog or a spicy, saucy, fatty gyros in the middle of the night.

After the dinner I still think that Segal is one of the best chefs working in the city. If he gets the size of his portions right and adds some funk to the otherwise dreary interior then he will have a lot going for himself this year.

Overall: 8/10
Segal étterem