STAND RESTAURANT - DEFINING MODERN HUNGARIAN
The typical cuisine of Hungary is pretty much intertwined with remnants of the 50s and 60s when ingredients were scarce and we ended up with a shortlist of dishes that were paprika and lard based, full of tomatoes and cabbage and potatoes that were widely available. Besides ground pork maybe that acted as the filling for these vegetables - as a nod to Ottoman cuisine - we left behind most of the great dishes that originated before 1900 and we became enclosed in our own little world.
There have been many discussions on how we can move on and develop or reinvent Hungarian cuisine, which I don't want to open now as it would be a long story, suffice to say that most of the trials usually go into making the dishes much lighter - ie getting rid of much of the lard and onion base and maybe using less paprika as well. Most scholars say that paprika became widely used as a cheap replacement for pepper early 19th century and started to overtake Hungarian cuisine. The result of this modernised and lighter cuisine obviously loses some of its supposed authenticity as a result of this.
Anyhow, one of the most renowned Hungarian chefs Tamás Széll, ex-Onyx restaurant is taking great strides in his small bistro on the Hold street market, Stand 21, and now in his fine dining restaurant Stand to upgrade Hungarian cuisine and show us his take on how we can develop some of the dishes further.
Tamás is a very likeable and social character - although he stands like an army general in his kitchen - and it is obvious there is no room for errors at (t)his level. He won the European qualifier of the European Bocuse D'Or event in 2016, a competition where time and precision is of the essence. You can see some of this well oiled machinery like performance in his open glassed wall kitchen in the city.
The barrage of canapés and small bites reaffirms the ambition to take local recipes and recreate something more elegant and vibrant, perhaps lighter. Like the cheese and sour cream lángos, that is a perfect little ball of non oily dough just enough for one great bite. Or the vibrant spring pea tarts.
Also as an introduction a nice little plate of fatty mangalica pork jowl ham with gougeres and liptauer cheese. As a nation we thrive on these things, but quantity wise this is more than enough. Also the quality of the ingredients are top notch.
One of more standout features of this lunch was the wide use of a wide array of vegetables, which also sometimes went missing in "traditional cuisine" and there was an overdose rather of preserved cabbage and potatoes. In this case it was a confit beetroot- known and used widely in Hungary and also Poland and Russia. The top of which was grilled and filled with pumpkin seeds and swimming in a vinaigrette of beet juice, tokaj wine vinegar, and pumpkin seed oil. And some garlic mayo on top. Very intriguing dish, a nice balance of sweetness and acidity.
This is a great little dish of marinated beef "tartare", something that probably dates back to the mongol hordes that ran over this country in the 13th century and also our ancestors who used to cure and tenderise meat under their saddles. In this case some grated egg yolk, a fried potato chip boat and some green sauce are the accompaniments.
Perhaps the most beautiful dish of the day was this mushroom velouté with chervil and stuffed young kohlrabi on top. Great play with the fresh early Summer kohlrabi and the depth and richness of the mushroom sauce at the bottom. Beautiful, yet the flavours could have been more slightly more perky.
Tamás is an avid fisherman, so his fish soup filled with milt tortellini is a must try, but also this fresh water trout with tarragon sabayon and grilled asparagus. All vegetables are seasonal - this lunch was early June when asparagus was aplenty. Beautiful ingredients, textures and plating. You could envision this course in many of the restaurants in the Austro-Hungarian empire and it reminds me of some of the dishes in Vienna's Steirereck for example.
Stand is currently one Michelin star and well deserving of this accolade in my point of view. I think it's a great example of pushing the envelope and trying to refine and further Hungarian cuisine. Also, very commendable is the menu packed full of seasonal produce and meat and fish specifically from the region without any need for going into the lobster, caviar and uni category to stand out. I hope that he will keep pushing and build it further.
Stand étterem / restaurant