The downtown area in Budapest is a good place to start if you want to get a feel for what’s different and good about this Hungarian capital. In a rundown neighbourhood of ragged post-industrial buildings, a spectacular three-story Palomar restaurant offers elegant American cuisine and an excellent wine list. Its setting in front of a century-old geodesic dome is a captivating place to be. I enjoyed my plate of sea bass with pumpkin and apple aperitif, which was served on disconsolate, glazed crockery. Every detail in this intelligent selection of dishes – from the St-Georges Borscht soufflé (go for it!) to cheese fondue (the creamy sweet richness of it makes up for the carb fact) – suggests skill and passion.
The Santorini style Umberto I featured a menu heavy on seafood, a nod to its famous sunny island and beautiful setting. It’s worth skipping, however, a not-too-difficult Irmerdina course, a flaming, spicy classic offering, and arepas (spiced flatbreads) to go, because dinner is not until after midnight.
For a highly eclectic and significant restaurant experience in Budapest, try Komi, which has been around for only about six years but which is extraordinary. Like previous Italian-accented restaurant tours, it’s filled with happy teenagers and hipsters in jeans and boots, but it’s not a teensy hipster’s club. It’s that rare place where you go to drink and eat out, as opposed to, say, a university “recess”. It’s a sophisticated eating/drinking/living place, which includes smart lounge areas with book tables and a classy cocktail list and upscale bar areas with ballroom views. It’s a scene more likely to pull a woman, yet although the dining room is mainly unisex, the friendly and talented wait staff don’t mind serving ladies, whether out of uniform or in workout leggings.