Although I believe that wines can be fully appreciated when tasted hours after your last meal (desserts excluded), I recognise that wine and food pairing is an important business and very few sommeliers are actually good at it (Budapest’s Four Season’s Italian sommelier is one of them). On the other hand, a meal or indeed, a tasting menu can be more exciting with a glass of well paired wine. This is probably stating the obvious but I had to write an introduction to this post so you don’t realise immediately that I’m not going to write wine reviews today, but about a related topic which is dining at good restaurants, more precisely at Budapest’s supposedly best.
When I first dined in Costes (aka the only Michelin star restaurant in Hungary as of 2010) 2-3 years ago I wrote that it was the best Hungarian restaurant, full stop. It wasn’t an overstatement, I felt quite confident about it for Costes had been so much superior to any other local restaurant in terms of innovation, preparation and presentation that it was undoubtedly the best in town. I also knew that it was just as good or even better than some Michelin star restaurants elsewhere (notably, certainly better than a particular one star restaurant in London’s Soho, as long as food is concerned although I’m not so sure about the atmosphere). Now that the Portuguese chef Miguel Rocha Vieira is back (Seja bemvindo!) I was lucky enough to visit Costes three times in 2 weeks lately so I hope you’ll forgive me if I jump to some conclusions here.
A major problem with their heating system was apparent on my first visit and unfortunately they couldn’t (or didn’t) fix it in two weeks, but the front desk people were even cooler than the December frost outside. The arrogance and negligence of the waiters remained the same as two years ago, in spite of the owner sitting next to our table in one occasion (with a former Lou Lou employee who I happened to recognise). This could have been a good sign, because if the kitchen folk didn’t change much either then I could have been expecting a terrific performance from them. But this time the waiters’ arrogance was combined with a sort of carelessness and even incompetence that was already a bit scary (when serving the plates, one fella insisted to interrupt our rather important (well, let’s face it, rather important to me) discussion to tell us exactly what’s on the plate in front of us, feeding us with information we’ve already wknown or just seen (I’m sure you can recognise lentils) as if there were subspecies thought to be extinct of an already rare exotic deep ocean seeweed, whilst he seemed not to be enjoying himself too much either). I’m used to getting humiliated by clerks and waiters, they do it all the time with you in Hungary but sometimes it only costs you one Euro or so but for a hundred Euros, it opens a whole new dimension, believe me!
More importantly, the food was OK. Yes, it wasn’t terrific. The amuse bouche were the same every time, and I loved them every time. I don’t want to go through the menus, there were some well made courses too but some were below expectations. The chicken, for instance, may have been organically fed Poulet Noir but it was a bit boring. Good, but boring, and being simply good might be too little from someone aspiring for a star or two.
The sommelier was the friendliest of the staff but Costes’ wine selection is a bit disappointing. The wines not just don’t represent the best of Hungary as one might expect, they don’t even get close to it but few (Szepsy Furmint 2008, to give you a for instance). And in total there are maybe 20 or 30 wines in their cellar, or at least on offer, and that includes whites, reds and sweet wines and even a Port. I wasn’t particularily disappointed by the pairing they offered with the tasting menus and I made my own choices most of the time anyway, but there’s not much chosing to do from a list of 20, is there?
The overall conclusion is that Costes remains one of the best retaurants in Budapest which in itself doesn’t guarantee you any standard. I remind you that we’re talking about a country where no one, literally, no one is able to make a proper baguette and if I want to buy a half decent croissant on the corner it costs me more than at Ladurée. There isn’t a decent bakery in the whole country (Villa Bagatell included), so why would there be good restaurants, one might wonder? (To be fair, the bread I had at Olimpia restaurant today was OK, but this was a once in a month occasion)
Further to the improvements in the kitchen, the whole Costes experience could be so much better with a working heating system, some well trained, polite and helpful waiters and a carefully selected, well stocked wine cellar. The U-turn Costes appears to take might not be as sharp and quick as, say, the democracy takes in this country, but it doesn’t look very promising either.
Instead of writing about wines I’ve been drinking over the past days (Hungarian food doesn’t go too well with wines and the holiday season is an endless feast in this country apparently) I decided to post a picture I shot yesteday of the lake Balaton’s northern coastline, the Balatonfüred area to be more precise (from where these wines come from).
The temperature suddenly changed from minus 15 Celsius to close to 20 above zero in two days in this area which enabled the formation of foggy cloud spreading up to few meters above sea level. I think it’s a stunning view (but I love fog anyway). The lake that reflects precious morning sunshine right to the vineyards of the hills nearby (and is at least partly responsible for the region’s micro-climate) is still frozen keeping the water still and cristal clear.
This mood cries for a late harvest wine!
I wrote some time ago about how I regained my confidence in Portugieser (thanks to Gróf Buttler) and I was rather positive about Heumann’s slightly overrated, although exceptionally good Kékfrankos recently. I wanted to know the difference between the EUR 12 Heumann and the Heimann Kékfrankos for half of that. Here’s the result.
Medium ruby color with purplish reflections.
Olive oil move but lively, suggesting flimsy structure. The bubbles seem to come from some detergent added to sparkling mineral water: they’re quite bright and transparent without any color.
The nose is surprisingly spicy with ripe, rotten plum undertone (quite nice actually) but this element only appears after appr. 45 minutes. The perfum-like, spicy nose combined with the low textural complexity reminds me more of a Pinot Noir or indeed, a Kadarka.
Thin wine with round acidity, smoothly tannic. The finish is rotten plum.
90 minutes after opening the wine shows more complexity on the palate and becomes very well balanced, something most Hungarian wines under EUR20 lack and it’s quite soft too.
Serve it relatively warm.
Score: 5/10 (after a 4, 4+ start) - read more about the rating system here.
Price: HUF 1 900/ EUR 8
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