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Nine Tables

Nine Tables

Corvin Sétány is alive and well. New places are opening on a regular basis. The latest addition that I’ve noticed is Nine Tables, which has taken the spot previously occupied by Bombay Curry Bar, next to Costa. Presumably a Spanish sister to the self-billed American restaurant on Tompa, this piqued my curiosity so much I tried it blind. No sneak peek at the menu beforehand. No price check. No review check. Sadly, I may well have learned my lesson.

True to its name, it has just nine tables, three of which were occupied the night the four of us turfed up, with a reservation. Granted it was early in the week and not a great dining-out night but still, the area has more than its fair share of tourist traffic so I’d have expected more people.

The wine offer was decent enough with a nice array of reasonably priced Hungarian wines to choose from. Interestingly though, the standard glass was 1.6 dl. Not the usual 1 dl or 1.5 dl, but 1.6, I wondered if this was being different for the sake of being different or it if was simply a typo. It must be difficult to divide a 75 dl bottle into 1.6s. But I wasn’t there to do the math. At least I thought I wasn’t.

The menu was limited but enticing. Lamb. Salmon. Prawns. Steak. A little pricey I thought but hey, it’s not every day I see lamb on a menu in Budapest. When we ordered, our waitress cautioned us that the portions were small  – tapas-sized – so we might want to reconsider. Wow. Tapas-sized portions at full-main prices? mmmm…

I like my tapas. I like the idea of sharing different dishes. I like the idea of tasting a variety of stuff. We ordered the lamb, the salmon, the prawns, the chorizo, the croquettes, and some fries, warned as we were that food would come as it was cooked and not all together.

We were four. The first dish up, the croquettes, had three croquettes. We got three prawns, too. And the paper bag with the (cold) bread that came with the chorizo had five slices.

I despaired. Obviously, the whole concept of initiative was missing from the training. Four people sharing a dish designed for three? How difficult would it have been to say – This dish comes three to a plate. Or better yet, this dish comes in threes but we can add an extra one (and charge accordingly)? I felt as if I was back in short socks and mammy was dividing the last sausage between the cousins.

It’s not the first time I’ve wondered whether we’re evolutionizing out of our ability to think independently. Have we become victims to rote training, standard operating procedures, and a blind acceptance of This is simply the ways it’s done. Period. Are today’s service-industry workers allowed any leeway to apply common sense or is theirs simply the job of applying the rules, literalizing the menus, and sticking rigidly to the offer. The last time I remember calling this into question was also on Corvin Sétány in a sushi restaurant that refused to slice its rolls.  Perhaps it’s something in the air.

Nine Tables or no?

The much-anticipated lamb (two cutlets) was bland and overpriced. The whole experience was disappointing. When I wasn’t in conversation and looked around the room, I was drawn to the two skulls on the bar or the TV above it. I’m not quite sure what the game plan is with this restaurant, but it wouldn’t be getting my vote for somewhere to go unless I simply fancied a bowl of excellent fries (really nicely done) and a decent glass of local vino.

 

Ready to rejoin the living

A lady who worked at the post office was approached by a customer who said, ‘I can’t write. Would you mind addressing this postcard for me?’ After addressing it for him and writing a short message, the postal clerk asked, ‘Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?’ The man thought for a moment and said, ‘Yes, could you add a P.S. at the end saying, “Please excuse the sloppy handwriting.”’

complaintThis landed in my mailbox yesterday giving me something to think about on a day when everything seemed like an effort. Every time I opened my mouth, I was complaining about something. I was beginning to bore myself. It was as if I was two people – the one doing the bitching and the one giving out about the one doing the bitching. A typical Irish Catholic. But truth be told, I’d stayed out way too late the night before and was paying the price.

It seems that every so often I need to prove to myself that I still have what it takes to trip the light fantastic. Offering to give a guided tour of Budapest’s hip night spots on Budapest’s Broadway (or at least the ones that were hip the last time I ventured out so late) in and itself could be construed as a nice gesture. Offering to do so at 2.30 in the morning, when most sane people are either in bed or heading there, that was a little stupid.

And, surprisingly, it wasn’t about the drink. It was more about going, seeing, and experiencing the energy that infuses a Budapest night. The random conversations that strike up. The complete spectrum of fashion and form that displays itself in various stages of uprightedness. The highlight? A conversation on Nagymező with a Hungarian who had lived in Kilkenny and spoke English with a Northern Irish accent.

When we left Piaf at 5am, the place was just filling up. It was as if a tour bus had pulled up  and disgorged all of its beautiful people. Instant had turned on its lights and had closed its taps but those milling around were still deep in conversation and happy to add a couple of strays to their midst. But no matter how enjoyable it all was, there was no taking from the 6am bedtime. Friday was a write-off.

erpicA walk around the Castle District was about as much as I could handle. I caught the tail end of the Jobbik demo at Corvin on my way home. Vona Gabór was in full flight but what few Hungarian-friendly brain cells I have were not in a translating mood. I was craving a burger and popped yet  another new eatery that has opened on Corvin Sétány: Epic burger. Massive burgers with – wait for it – both gluten-free and low-carb buns. Hog heaven. And it offers a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich that will have to be tried. Can highly recommend it, if you’re in the vicinity… even if you’re not feeling a little worse for wear.

I lived to tell the tale. 48 hours later, I’m ready to rejoin the land of the living. And while I can still hack it with the young ones, there’s no getting away from the fact that the recovery period is way, way longer.

 

Rediscovering the joy of breakfast

Back in the day when I had a regular job, I  was a great fan of breakfast meetings. Chicken-fried steak with sausage gravy, eggs, hash browns, and toast (two rounds) could make the most irksome news palatable. No matter what the higher-ups threw at me, if I was told over breakfast, I could deal with their inanity.

Back in the day when I’d party until the early hours of the morning, knowing I had to be at my desk at 9am, it was the full treatment of bacon, egg, sausage and black pudding that got me through the day. Nothing else could come close.

Back in the day when I travelled a lot more than I do now, I never missed a hotel breakfast. There’s something about sitting on my own in a huge dining room, with no one to bat an eyelid if I went back for seconds or thirds. The anonymity of it all was quite cathartic, even if the cheeses at times were a trifle rubbery and what some countries serve for breakfast is quite an experience.

Sadly, I’ve found no one this side of the Atlantic who can make a chicken-fried steak or even come close to decent hash browns or sausage gravy. Sadder still, I no longer have what it takes to pull all-nighters, or even early morningers and still function the next day.

So that leaves me with hotel breakfasts. But how to have the breakfast without staying in a hotel?

The lads at Kompót, a great little restaurant on Corvin Sétány that I’ve written about before, have started doing a continental buffet-style breakfast each morning from 7am to 10am to cater for the folks in the myriad aparthotels in that part of town. Curiosity got the better of me (as it usually does) and I wandered over yesterday morning to check it out.

2014-05-07 08.55.56It didn’t disappoint. Cold cuts, cheese, eggs, sausage, cereals, yoghurt, fruit, coffee, tea, bread, were all present and accounted for. I helped myself and then went outside to eat in the early morning sunshine. As I sat and watched the world go by, I thought that I might well have been on holiday, rather than 200 metres from home. I had my book. I had my coffee. I had my eggs. And I was in no rush to go anywhere. Methinks it will become a regular occurrence.

 

 

 

My child is growing up

I’ve lived a life without issue. I have no children. I’ve not watched someone grow day by day, week by week, month by month. I’ve not been present for the teething, the nappy changes, and the terrible twos. I’ve not see them start school, play sports, and pass exams. I’ve not seen the first date, the broken hearts, and the angst that comes with being a teenager. The closest I’ve come to such a metamorphosis is my little corner of the VIII kerület (district).

When I moved into the neighbourhood back in 2008, I was flying in the face of some strenuous objections. It wasn’t somewhere I wanted to live. It was full of minorities. (There are just about enough Irish in Budapest to form a minor minority… hello?) It was home to drug dealers and hookers and less than savoury people. It had no decent shops. It had nothing in the way of good restaurants or wine bars. And apart from Corvin cinema, it had nothing much in the way of entertainment at all.

Now, rating powers of observation on a scale of one to ten, with one being ‘so unobservant that I didn’t notice that taxis in Budapest were turning yellow’ and ten being ‘so unobservant that I didn’t notice that the Nemzeti Hotel on Blaha is now furnished’ I’d rate myself about five. Okay, so I never noticed Corvin Plaza being built. In fact, I didn’t know it had opened till a month later when it was pointed out to me by a friend. And I live just 200 meters from its front door. But since then, I’ve been paying closer attention to what’s going on in my corner of the VIIIth.

corvinCorvin Sétány now boasts its own fab Hungarian fusion restaurant – Kompót – that has an excellent daily menu and a yellow fin tuna starter that’s to die for. It also has a great little wine and chocolate bar – Vino és Wonka – that has a chalkboard menu sporting wines from every wine region in Hungary, wines you’d be hard pushed to find anywhere else. And it has a friendly fruit and veg shop that will source whatever exotic fruit or veg you can think of. It’s home to Dumaszínház – comedy central and has other restaurants, bars, and cafés to suit all tastes.  It has a gym with a 25-metre pool (or so I hear), a Norbi outlet, and just opened, (or should I say, just noticed) a Lidl. And this is on the Sétány, not in the mall itself. The area is landscaped to within an inch of its life with the best of materials and in summer is a great outdoor space with live music, and an almost Barcelonian feel to it.

Until recently, it had its own community garden but this was bulldozed a few months ago. Fences went up. The diggers came in. And I was left wondering what was afoot. Yesterday I saw the placard. Another 227 flats are being built … these, in addition to the hundreds already built in phases I and II. When will it end?

My child has grown from an unruly but lovable ragamuffin into a cosmopolitan teen with its own ideas and opinions, its own taste and style, it own flair and fashion. And I’m the one rebelling.

Of course I love it. I want for nothing. Everything is there, right on my doorstep. What’s not to like? But a little part of me wishes that it was still untamed. That it hadn’t matured so quickly. That we weren’t losing touch.

First published in the Budapest Times 28 February 2014

 

Yes in my back yard

The developers must die a little inside each time they see this community garden on Nagytemplom utca. Smack in the middle of the Corvin Sétány development, rumour has it that the boys who own Grund have refused to sell and are sitting pretty on their expansive beer garden, hostel, and hostelry. Right outside is an ample carpark fronted by some wasteland which has rather enterprisingly been turned into a community garden in recent weeks.

Vegetables, flowers, and compost heaps are thriving in the dirt, overshadowed on three sides by expensive-looking new flat complexes. How long, I wonder, before this little oasis in the desert of development has the life squeezed out of it? Each time I walk by, David and Goliath come to mind and I chalk one up to tenaciousness and determination.

Already the walls of the playground of Molnár Ferenc’s Paul Street Boys are being cordoned off lest a falling brick hit the head of a passerby. Neighbours complaining of late-night noise have resulted more roofs and walls being built on the Grund compound. It’s lost some of its charm as a result but hey – that’s the price of doing business in what is fast-becoming a very residential neighbourhood.

For my buck, they have a good grill, a big outdoor screen, and lots of seating, should the urge to watch some more football come upon me this June. Failing that, I can always sit and watch someone’s tomatoes grow.