New York Café
Erzsébet körút 9-11, 1073 Budapest, +36 1 8866 111, www.newyorkcafe.hu, around HUF26,150 (€95) for two with drinks
Budapest's New York Café is an extraordinarily grand place; gold, marble and Venetian crystal glitter with light, while warming wood, plush velvet and gilded mirrors soften the visual assault of the Italian renaissance and baroque style. Deceptively, the expansive open spaces lead through to cosy corners, luring romantic twosomes. Though this ornate splendour threatens to intimidate those who enter, it ultimately charms and seduces everyone. Not surprisingly, this Budapest institution was recently elected the most beautiful café in the world, beating stiff competition from other grandes dames of café culture including the mighty Caffè Florian in Venice.
When the Italian Boscolo Group reopened the café in 2006 after decades of decline and dereliction, they spirited away András Wolf from that other Budapest must-eat, Bock Bisztró, to be their executive chef. His philosophy is passionately hands-on and the food is unashamedly Hungarian but with openness to experimentation. Wolf does not wave the culinary fusion flag, however. His vision is more about refinement, modernisation and innovation.
Service was immaculately paced and our cheerful waiter informative and attentive. A Hungarian foie gras ravioli starter with jasmine-flavoured apple defied gravity. Likewise, a buffalo mozzarella with dried tomatoes and rucola pesto was light and refreshing. The roast Mangalica pork chuck needed only the lightest pressure from a knife before it yielded into succulent slices, infused with rosemary and served with a rustic mixed-bean ragout. The New York tagliatelle with grilled porcini mushrooms and cherry tomatoes was disappearing fast across the table, but I managed to sneak a bite of the egg-rich strips of pasta, unctuous with mascarpone and topped with a zing of spring onions.
Afterwards, the bounteous Hungarian cake selection duly appeared - little gem-shapes of popular local dainties served with some superlative gelato - a satisfyingly sweet close to a rather special experience.
Sushi has become a global phenomenon in a fashionably healthy way that lentils and mung beans never have. But with stocks of some fish at perilous levels it's good to hear about sustainable sushi. London chain Feng Sushi, which was created by Danish-born Silla Bjerrum, only sells fish from sustainable sources and refuses to sell bluefin tuna (opting for line-caught yellowfin tuna instead). All of its suppliers are chosen because they "care about the environment for future generations".
Take-away cartons are made from sustainable Swedish foresting, chopsticks from sustainable bamboo and sauce containers from sugar cane. Cooking oil is recycled and used as bio-diesel. Little wonder the company won the food category gong at the Sustainable City Awards this year. This is one fast-food joint we want to see on every corner.