Being literal-minded at The Budapest Times, we naturally wondered what the "21" signifies. Although A) the restaurant is simply at 21 Fortuna utca in the Castle District, B) the menu carries the wording "Egy ász és egy tizes az pont huszonegy", and this seems to translate something like "An ace and a ten card are exactly twenty-one". This, the waiter says, refers to the winning score in blackjack, the card game that is known in Hungary as 21, but then the young man dents his credibility somewhat by suggesting that C) there are 21 doors in the 21 Fortuna utca building, a fact he says the staff is aware of because someone took the trouble to count them one day. Mmmm, well, it does provide another – improbable – reason for the name.

More likely, we feel, is the restaurant’s own raison d’etre that D) here diners will find Hungarian cuisine as it was in the "good old days" but updated to the 21st century. The original real taste is well and truly maintained, they say, while the dishes are lighter than in the old-fashioned way. This is where the freshest possible ingredients come in to play, obtained by going very early to the market, and then using new techniques and technologies.

Stepping inside 21, all appears fairly normal in that nothing is really overtly Hungarian. The waiters aren’t in hussar jackets and there are no red-and-white checkered tablecloths, paprika garlands or Gypsy band. If the clichés in the kitchen have been avoided, so have the clichés of design. Plain reigns. Anyway, if opening a restaurant is a gamble, just like blackjack, the gambit must have been successful, because on this Saturday lunchtime the place is very nearly full and buzzing.

For openers there is a choice of three soups: Goulash with nipped pasta, Hungarian fish soup with homemade pasta and Újházi chicken soup with quail egg. In our case, the fish soup is selected and turns out to be a la Baja style, rarther than a la Szeged or a la Paks, the Baja being mainly carp, partly catfish and with a homemade thick-cut soup pasta called gyufatészta.

The four starters, for those diners capable of handling soup, starter, main and dessert, run to a Hungarian bistro plate containing farm ham, mangalitza sausage, piglet belly and cottage cheese with crispy homemade bread, secondly a Tokaj wine-infused foie gras paté with freshly baked brioche, thirdly a Hortobágy chicken crépe with paprikash sauce and sour cream, and finally Spinach ravioli with thyme butter sauce and crispy cheese.

21 Hungarian Kitchen has three Signature Dishes on offer, namely the Wiener Schnitzel with buttery mashed potatoes (well, it’s Austro-Hungarian Empire), Farm duckling breast with pumpkin purée, beetroots and gratin potato, and Rack of lamb with pearl onions and pan-fried potatoes. For we two, it is the Farm duckling breast and one of the eight mains, the Pan-fried pike perch fillet that comes with spinach potato purée, carrots and a lemony butter sauce.

The other mains must wait for a future occasion: Creamy parmesan risotto with roasted market mushrooms, Superfood salad with creamy goat cheese, beetroots and toasted walnuts, Crispy catfish fillet with lentil pottage and homemade sour cream, Chicken supreme with fresh homemade tagliatelle and mushroom paprikash, Tenderloin piglet ragout with light garlic velouté, Chicken paprikash with buttered noodle dumplings, and Veal stew with creamy egg barley risotto.

Sides are cucumber salad with sour cream, cabbage salad with apple, beetroot salad with horseradish or mixed green salad with homemade vinaigrette. Homemade bread is to 21’s own recipe and, as noted earlier, fresh ingredients are promised all round. Spacious stomachs may just about have room for 21’s "Somlói" sponge cake, 21’s Gerbeaud with crispy walnuts, the Baked cheesecake with lemon sorbet, the Giant chocolate cake or the Cheese plate.

This truly Hungarian experience can be topped off with Unicum, pálinka or Tokaj and Dobogó Pincészet dessert wines. Based on the restaurant’s concept, only this country’s wines are offered and only if they have a distinctive character. Thus there are also several limited varieties often not found elsewhere. The cognac, rum and whisky selection recognises the inevitable, however, and veers off to France, the Caribbean, Scotland, Ireland and Kentucky, US.

21 also refers to E) coming of age. 21 Hungarian Kitchen is only part way there, having celebrated their 10th anniversary on December 12, 2018, but if opening a restaurant is a gamble, it’s odds-on so far that this particular 21 will be reached.

21 Hungarian Kitchen

21 Fortuna utca, District I
Tel./Fax: (+36-1) 202-2113

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