Opened two years ago almost to the day, Pesti Disznó is one of a wave of restaurants that prefer to go by the trendier title of bistro, with all its connotations of updated tradition.
In this smallish location at the corner between Nagymező utca and Mozsár utca where the street widens into a square housing numerous theatres and an apparently soon-to-be-revived fountain, walls laden with bottles on display stretch up to the ceiling, only broken by an open-fronted kitchen used for last-minute preparation and smaller operations. All around a small number of sleek high tables and chairs, free of tablecloths, give out a laid-back, friendly atmosphere.
Outside, past the permanent terrace covered and heated in winter, wooden tables spill out over the pavement, providing an attractively airy alternative on balmy summer evenings.
On such evenings tables each feature a colourful, lit candle-holder in the shape of a pig, a reference to Pesti Disznó (Pest Pig). The hog aspirations are also on display in the logo, a butcher’s rendition of the animal as a beast to be cut out along specific lines.
Originally planned as a Hungarian-style tapas bar but now one of the exponents of contemporary Hungarian cuisine (read: traditional dishes lightened, modernised and with a touch of fusion), Pesti Disznó nonetheless goes beyond pork meat. A quick look through the current menu shows items such as duck (in a soup, with saffron), pullet (young chicken, roasted, filled with duck liver and served with goat cheese and potato pancakes with Tokaj furmint sauce) and zander (with spinach salad and lemon-buttered new potatoes).
Keeping some of the tapas spirit, there are also platters to share and featuring prominently pork-derived cured products. As in an increasing number of restaurants, too, Pesti Disznó boasts its own hamburger line, these coming here in mangalica pork alongside traditional beef varieties.
But this is a Hungarian restaurant, so best tuck in to classics. Some are even more classic than others, such as the gulyás soup – meat, vegetables, small csiperke pasta and a couple of slices of hot pepper on the side for individual dosing: this one has all the requisites but is perhaps a little too soft and lacking in character to be truly memorable. Mangalica pörkölt, or stew made of this traditional breed of pigs that is the mangalica, also toes the traditional line, with its mix of very (perhaps too) soft cubes of meat in a tomato-pepper-paprika sauce served with dumplings. Again, it misses the little something that transforms “good” into “very good” but that doesn’t stop it from being that – good.
Equally classic but on a different register, the foie gras terrine comes as a soft, marbled slice of goose liver and is delicious in itself. It is a shame the accompaniment can’t decide whether to go for cooked, sweet and elegant (purple onion jam) or raw, acid and rustic (slices of tomato, pepper and red onion). Both are given at the same time, which ends up spoiling the overall character of the dish regardless of the quality of its individual components.
More troublesome – as identity crises go – is the duck breast. On its own, it is soft and well-prepared. A small glass of apricot jam brings the usual fruity note to a meat that lends itself well to it. The problem comes from the third item, a cross between croissant and rétes (strudel), a buttery pastry rolled tightly with ground almonds and hazelnuts.
It is rolled too tightly, in fact, for it to be cooked through, meaning the centre is still a bit sticky and, as a result, heavy. As a whole it is a little too dry, too nutty and too lacking in freshness to act as a good complement to the other two ingredients, especially for a summer menu. It feels as if the idea, technically a good one, hasn’t been entirely thought through and the chef needs to return to his menu-drawing board.
After this, desserts get simpler: floating island – meringues in a sweet, light and plentiful custard – and soft, well-made chocolate cake with strawberry jam provide a happy ending.
District VI, Nagymező utca 19
Open Sun.-Wed. 12noon-11pm, Thu.-Sat. 12noon-1am
Tel. (+36-1) 951-4061
Starters: HUF 1,890-2,390
Soups: HUF 990-1,690
Mains: HUF 1,990-5,690
Desserts: HUF 990-1,190