Caviar and Bull – Deep fried dreams

As an alternative to our global food scouting we thought we’d go along and try a dinner at one of the top-rated restaurants in Budapest called Caviar and Bull. The place has been receiving very hot recommendations from all around the social channels, and also has a nice website and an international, Maltese, hot chef to go along with it, so it was definitely worth seeking out. Located in the ground floor of Royal Corinthia hotel, and about twice the size of the space as neighbouring Bock Bistro, it definitely has the edge in where the hotel chain is putting its money over the local serving juiced up Hungarian specialities. But what of the food?

Evidently the clientele of the restaurant is made up of about 90% tourists, international hotel guests and visitors to the city. The menu reads like it was some kind of global franchise, with signature dishes from around the Med formulated in a language and style that reeks self-assurance bordering on the obnoxious. My favourite ones are „ancient tempura” and calamari „rolled in our success” and the ultimate lobster with all kinds of garnishes and „the rest is history”. In fact, the only other sister restaurant that I could find of the same name is in Malta. Perhaps Caviar and Bull and the chef have been a runaway success there, but calling a dish “rolled in our success” is way too steep for me.

Sorry to take the wind out of the sails so early on, but all this place reminds me of is a deep fryer churning out soggy, oily stuff on a random beach in the Mediterranean. In fact, I’ve never had such overpriced and overinflated fried stuff ever before. To be honest,  don’t think the food is bad per definition, but I fail to see how it differs in quality and innovation than your random upscale beach bar in Marbella, Thessaloniki or Sardinia.

First up is the greeting of the chef. And guess what? He greets us with something he has simply taken from another restaurant. Spherical olives, first devised in Spain by Ferran Adria and currently also used in Tickets bar in Barcelona. So in fact, is he letting us know that he has no imagination whatsoever?

The actual dinner starts with little balls of creamy, cheesy stuff, sort of like the bolitas de queso or Spanish croquetas or something similar. The taste is creamy neutral, the crispy shell not so crispy and the filling meh. Notice the trend starts here with the deep fryer.

Next up is the calamari fried in black Himalayan salt with “lime caviar” and herbs. This dish arrives in a fake newspaper bag, obviously with reference to the street food roots that it cannot leave behind. The quality of the calamari is good: it is springy, not chewy, and the black salt crust does give it a slight edge versus being plain. The lime caviar dipping sauce fails to lift it out of mediocrity.

The third fried and battered dish of the night is octopus rings with potato „foam”, paprika „dust” and chili „hair”. You’d be surprised to find that the octopus was also deep fried and battered sitting on top of a potato cream. This dish is an analogy of the polpo gallego which also contains rings of potato and octopus showered with paprika. But it tasted nothing like  where it drew inspiration from. Once again, the key ingredient, the octopus was of good quality, with an average potato cream underneath and no sign of paprika or chili to give it some sort of kick or edge.

Fourth deep fried dish arrives at the table which is a prawn with „ancient tempura”. Tempura batter is supposed to be crispy, flaky, almost like light crystal shards when fried. As opposed to this the “Ancient tempura” was falling off the prawns slightly as well as being too oily and soggy. It felt like it actually was from another day and age. Condiments once again were the chili and honey sauce that resembles the produce from a supermarket and again micro hairs of chili.

Eventually the battering and frying ended and we got another starter of the signature rabo de toro „artisan” tortellaci. Malta obviously has Italian and Spanish and moorish influences and this can be seen on the dishes. This one is a big tortellini filled with very very soft and silky bulls tail meat, almost in a creamy consistency probably cooked slow and low for hours on end. The richness is enhanced by a red currant, red wine, shallot cream with pine kernels that is very sweet indeed. There is not much to cut through the richness and sweetness unfortunately so we try and go for some left over lime pieces from the previous dish.

As a main course: perhaps one of the biggest disappointments of the night arrives in the form of a sea bass fillet filled with lemon marmalade with a dill velouté and some deep fried potato crumble. You can see the sad vegetables on the side of the plate simply boiled and plated and then the highly average fish with the non existent marmelade and the dill hidden somewhere far in the background. This was a dish that felt like it had come from the chafing heaters of of a poor banquet with a sloppy fish, sad ingredients and a forgettable sauce. Whatever the ancient and historic Maltese recipes prescribed, this was not up to par.

Last, but not least, we order the chef’s signature dish, the Lobster popcorn with chili and ginger chutney, spicy mayo, garlic oil and the “rest is history”. In fact, the “rest” on the plate were pretty intrusive blobs of garam masala flavoured mayo that didn’t remind us of ginger or chutney, or chili or garlic oil. It was a bold and “in your face” garnish for the lobster that didn’t help bring out or enhance the delicate taste of the spiny crustacean. The lobster subsequently tasted exactly the same as the “ancient” shrimps, breaded and deep fried and coated with some chili hair. A waste of time and money.

Ok, so we fell for a tourist trap, it happens. A bunch of deep fried seafood with no real concept, some elevated marketing talk on the menu, and some mayo and chili hairs thrown in on the side. As I said upfront, if this happens to me in a nice little Maltese restaurant on the shore, I’d be happy to pay for it. But here the whole concept got perverted into some kind of weird fine dining establishment where the “rest is history”. It just cannot be taken seriously, save for the seemingly good quality ingredients. The lack of innovative cooking techniques, the intensive use of battering and frying the seafood, the inbalance in condiments and the inflated ego all point to the fact that this is a serious overhyped joint. And hundreds of euros for some lightly battered seafood is simply not justified. The rest is history.

PS -The sommelier was nice J.

Caviar and Bull
Overall: 4,5/10