Only a few steps from the Basilica, TG Italiano is a trendy city centre restaurant that, thanks to a great concept and a reliably high quality, has managed to fill every table every evening ever since it opened in 2009. Considering that the restaurant with almost 100 seats inside and about 80 more seats on the recently renovated street terrace cannot be described as small, the achievement is even more respectable.


International chic, no folklore

This Italian restaurant does have a lot of benefits. First of all, we have to mention the interior design: its eclectic mix of textures radiates the charming impression of creative chaos. Rustic wooden panels on one wall, brickworks on the other, industrial-style lamps hanging from the ceiling over decadent leather couches and a modern open kitchen with its heart: a traditional stone oven.

The combination of these apparent objects makes it obvious though that TG Italiano is far from being a typical trattoria. The Pest restaurant, with a ceiling scrawled with all kinds of Italian bon mots, looks much more like a hip Italo-American restaurant that you can find in New York’s Little Italy district. However, the loudspeakers are still calling out "Volare, oh oh, cantare, oh oh oh." The catchy tune completes the Italian ambience.


From fusion to Italian cuisine

Although TG Italiano opened a decade ago, its origins go way beyond that. Its predecessor, Tom & George, an elegant fusion restaurant, opened in 2001, offering a mix of the most distinct cuisines of the world. This restaurant already had a lot of regulars.

However, as Tamás Sztanó, the owner of the current restaurant and the owner of the former restaurant in one person, tells us, everything changed drastically when the financial crisis of 2008 hit Hungary. Restaurant expenses were among the first cost cuts to be made by people back then.

"There was a certain phobia because people thought that the restaurant was too elegant," Sztanó recalls. "They were afraid of having to pay extremely high prices." He and his business partner, György Lefkovits, decided at that point to work out a new concept that would not compromise on quality but would appeal to a larger clientele.

Italian cuisine is very popular in Hungary, and Sztanó and Lefkovits are also enthusiastic fans, so the choice fell quickly on the Mediterranean cuisine. This is how TG Italiano was born. The "TG" refers to the initials of the owners and reminds them of the beginnings of their venture.

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Everything fresh out of Italy

A real Italian restaurant needs a real Italian chef, of course. Creative chef Sergio Viti has been there from the very beginning, making sure that TG Italiano lacks nothing in terms of authenticity. He filled up the menu card most of all with Italian classics – ranging from pizza and pasta up to complex fish and meat dishes.

Since this February Viti has been assisted by another chef, Mario Palermo – he is an Italian man who has clearly Italian views: good cooking, as Palermo says, needs emotions. "I cook the best dishes when I have just fallen in love," he jokes.

Palermo has been living in Hungary since 2013 and has worked in several Hungarian restaurants. He particularly likes that almost all the ingredients used in TG Italiano are in fact from Italy. A large delivery comes in from his home country two to three times a week, including cheese, ham, olives and even – Palermo is especially proud of this – freshly caught fish from the Adriatic Sea. Mussels and other seafood are included among the real Italian specialties offered by the house.

On the other hand, the other ingredients such as duck, chicken and lamb are sourced from Hungary, and in terms of steaks TG Italiano prefers relying on the South American and North American experts.


Pasta is a must

When we ask which dishes he suggests from the broad menu, Palermo seems to be in trouble. He has one suggestion though: "When you visit an Italian restaurant you have to try the pasta," he says, and he emphasises his verdict with a firm movement of his hand.

Especially when making his Pasta Carbonara, Palermo lays his heart bare for the visitors to see. This is actually a quite simple recipe but outside of Italy you rarely get the original dish, since as the TG Italiano chef explains, a real Carbonara has nothing to do with cream, since besides Italian pasta it contains nothing more than egg yolks, pancetta (an air-dried ham), pepper, salt and pecorino cheese (at TG Italiano it’s served with a sheep cheese matured for 36 months).

As further specialities, Palermo mentions the oven-baked aubergines in tomato sauce with a crispy parmesan layer, and the pizza of the house. This one is laid with a finely spiced tomato sauce with thin strips of tender duck breast, onions, parmesan and chili.


No "Hungarianising" the Italian recipes

Although Hungarians generally really like the Italian cuisine, working in Budapest still has some challenges for the chefs: "We still have to do a lot to show people what the authentic Italian kitchen is like," Palermo thinks. He observes that many of the regulars gain more and more courage to wander off from the "safe classics" and venture into trying some less known dishes.

Although they fully rely on the Hungarian taste in choosing the dishes, the recipes are not "Hungarianised" by TG Italiano, as many other restaurants do in Budapest. When a Hungarian guest wants ketchup on the pizza, the wish will not be refused. "However, we will try to convince the guest that the authentic taste of the dish would be lost," Palermo says. Fortunately, such cases are not really frequent.


Evaluation

Thanks to its location, TG Italiano is very popular both with tourists and with residents. Although it does not suit every budget, apart from this it’s a convenient restaurant for any time of day. Even at lunchtime it enjoys a hectically busy turnover.

However, the restaurant with chic design only shows its full charm once it’s dark. The shimmering lights give it a romantic atmosphere, while a DJ in the background provides decent musical accompaniment.

If you would like to visit in the evening, you should make a reservation well ahead. The best area is the back of the guest room, near the "Wall of fame", with pictures and autographs of the celebrities who have visited over the years.


TG Italiano
Budapest, District V, 8 Október 6 Street
Open daily from 12.00 to midnight
Reservations at (+36-1) 266-3525
See www.tomgeorge.hu

Prices
Appetisers and salads: HUF 1800-6500
Main dishes: HUF 2100-15,000
Garnishes: HUF 750-1900
Desserts: HUF 1650


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