The Lemurs are in Budapest – rather than have Mama Lemur come visit us at home, we decided it would be more generally splendid to hang out in a European city instead. We picked Budapest partly because I've never been before and also in no small measure because of its reputation as a centre of thermal baths and therapeutic spas. Seriously, after the last few months of work stresses I am more than ready for my mud treatments and hot springs. But it wouldn't be a Lemur vacation without food research. Budapest isn't the first place that springs to mind when you think of culinary excitement and our first night's dinner kind of confirmed whatever prejudices you might be harbouring about East European food. I had ewe's cheese gnocchi with smoked pig's trotter which sounded thrilling but turned out to be just ok. The little dumplings were actually rather nice but on the stodgy and bland side. The trotter was more like smoked ham than the gelatinous treat I had been expecting. But today, we upped the ante by lunching at Onyx – Budapest's second Michelin-starred restaurant and the first with a Hungarian chef.

 

The space is beautiful with an elegant mix of Austro-Hungarian and modern style. We were set up in a cosy banquette by waiters who were just the right side of obsequious. In fact, the service was just what I like in an upscale restaurant – the staff made us feel completely welcomed, even though we were tourists who didn't speak a word of Hungarian and who were having the prix fixe lunch.
So, it's well known that I prefer Asian food down alleys to haute-European cuisine, and Hungarian food is a bit pants, right? And yet, Onyx had me at the bread plate. I can't describe how good this bread was. The seeded thing was a marvel that any Parisian boulangerie would be proud to make. There were little cheese loaves, caraway-studded rolls, and buttery rounds of pastry happiness.

For a starter, Mr Lemur had the Bocuse d'Or winning goulash soup. Of course, goulash is a Hungarian classic and, unlike its bastardised form in the West, it is a soup rather than a stew. This dish was an updated version, with a ravioli of beef and slices of sautéed potato floating in a beef broth, studded with finely diced capers. I tasted the broth, which was somehow both utterly light and richly meaty.

Mama Lemur and I had a starter of white asparagus with a bone marrow sabayon. The asparagus was perfectly cooked, quite al dente, but the star of the show was the bone marrow sauce. The sabayon was velvety smooth with an umami kick from the bone marrow. It was actually quite subtle in flavour but dreamy.

It was served with a generous side of Mangalica ham. Mangalica pigs are native to Hungary and almost died out in the twentieth century. Now there are efforts to recover the breed and all over Budapest you can buy this local delicacy. The pigs themselves are adorablly wooly and the ham is clearly competing to be the next jamón iberico. Judging by this plate, the competition is on…

We all had the same main course, which was lamb rolled in pastry, with mushroom sauce, wild mushrooms, parsley pesto and lamb jus. We're at the tail-end of the morel season here in Budapest so I was excited to have something made with these most decadent of fungi. It sounds a bit poncy to say the dish was a celebration of the mushroom but it truly was. The wild mushrooms were meaty and golden, and the foamy sauce was sensational. Not that the lamb was an afterthought – the meat was delicate and the whole thing condensed so much flavour we could hardly talk about anything other than how amazing it was.

Desserts were perhaps less inspiring, although it could be just that I have less of a sweet tooth. I had the cheese dunpling with home-made strawberry jam, which may have been as good as a cheese dumpling can be. It was enjoyable but not life-changing.

Mr Lemur had the intriguingly-named Citrustextures, which transpired to be a series of elegant blobs. The pool is lemon curd, then there is some kind of panna cotta, yuzu ice cream, meringue and some other bits of lemon, grapefruit and orangeyness. It went down pretty well (Mr Lemur is never going to be unhappy with a plate that begins with a pool of lemon curd) but again, didn't garner quite the raves of the other courses.

Onyx may have rescued the concept of Hungarian cuisine for us. It was a fantastic meal in an utterly gorgeous setting and the price was truly reasonable. The prix fixe comes in at under £20 for three courses, and even with wine pairings, drinks, coffee etc we paid £30 a head. After all that indulgence, tomorrow we are off to the spa for some therapeutic treatments…

Onyx, 7-8 Vörösmarty tér, Budapest

 

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