Budapest: If on a winter’s night a traveller…

If on a winter’s night a traveller…

Budapest violinist-chef Istvan Lakatos
Photo: Rachel Côté

At Budapest restaurant, Istvan Lakatos combines his passions for cooking and playing the violin

The intended stop was closed, so my friend and I trudged along an uncharacteristically barren Duluth Street, bundled against the cold, leaning into the wind. Then we saw a lit window, paused, peered in at a bearded violinist, hair swooped back, jamming with a keyboardist whose back was to us. Wasn’t this a restaurant? Was it being used for a rehearsal space? Another man came out to clear snow from the entryway, and we asked if the restaurant was open, and if so, could we get a fairly quick bite? "You’ll have to ask the violinist, he’s the chef," he said.

We walked in, the man paused his playing to look at us quizzically, then welcomed us and went to fetch us menus. I was sorry to stop his playing, however peckish I felt. The violinist-chef is Istvan Lakatos, primarily a musician with cooking as his hobby. Weekdays, Lakatos makes old-school Hungarian food; on weekends, the space becomes an African restaurant while Lakatos tends to his musical career as member of the Musicians of the World Symphony Orchestra. On Fridays, his worlds mesh, with him doling out food before 8 p.m., then assuming the role as fiddler for a Roma music show.

Budapest is a small place and would make for an intimate show. We slid into the corner seat onto colourful yet neutral banquettes. I liked the art on the white textured walls. Meant for the weekend restaurant, I bet, the sculptures were in the style of traditional African masks but made of metal tubes and faux fur. I could see Lakatos busily slicing away in the kitchen in the back.

We started with soup, a simple veg with a paprikash twang. Being a small operation, not everything is always available (I’ll return for the cabbage rolls later, to compare with my husband’s own). The keyboardist alone filled the space with music.

I followed up with Hungarian goulash. Nicely tender cubes of veal in a sauce, again rich with paprika, accompanied by what I know as spaetzle in German (which means "sparrow"), those knobbly egg noodle nubs that go so well with stews. My friend had the Wiener schnitzel, a veal cutlet pounded flat and deep-fried, with a few fried potato rounds. Hers could have used a bit more salt, my dish a bit less, but we were pleased enough.

To top off our evening with sweets, we turned to an apricot-stuffed crepe with a light chocolate sauce and a lovely swirly homemade coffee cake.

The prices are low, and not taxed because the space is a cultural centre, also home to Galerie Fokus (so tip generously, and remember the musicians). Budapest, with its raffish mix of modes, reminded me of rabbit holes I’d stumble upon when I first moved to Montreal long ago, where art, food and music jumbled together unexpectedly and effortlessly.

Budapest Restaurant
68 Duluth E.; 514-893-1857

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