On October 21, 1982, when communist Hungary was far from thinking about a political change and all the restaurants were still state-owned, Ilona and Péter Zsidai opened their first restaurant. The well-travelled (for the conditions of the time) entrepreneur couple relied on their luck and succeeded almost only by chance.

As the two Hungarians, who had already both been working in tourism and hospitability, were taking a walk in the Castle District, they encountered a property for rent in Fortuna Street. It's possible that the Roman goddess of fortune played a part in getting the necessary licences from the authorities, since to operate such a private business was an absolute novelty in the country at that time.


An island in communist Hungary

So it happened that Café Pierrot, with its sophisticated continental European flair, quickly became the favourite place of artists and diplomats. "Surprisingly, state security never showed interest in us," Ilona Zsidai remembers. "We were a kind of island. An English travel guide wrote about us back then: ‘Pierrot is an enclave in the heart of Central-European communism, with a friendly atmosphere and a black piano.' And it was true."

The original café and bar developed into a flourishing restaurant after the political turn of 1989, able to offer a varied and up-market selection of dishes despite its small kitchen, and serving as a meeting point for Hungarians and foreigners equally. The couple's son, Roy Zsidai, proved to have a similarly good sense for the wishes of the global public, and led the family business into a large expansion starting from 2007, even stepping into other European markets with openings in 2017 and 2018.


Elegant ambiance in historic surroundings

While the Zsidai restaurants opened during the past decade are primarily characterised by their hip, sometimes even eccentric interiors, with which they have certainly set the course for the Budapest gastronomic spirit of age, Pierrot remains a safe harbour of classical elegance. Located in a 13th century building that used to house a large bakery, the restaurant keeps a certain historic charm with its vault-like rooms, partly bare brickwork and wooden floorboards. The furniture is simple: wooden tables always set with white tablecloths and chairs with red leather upholstery.

The Zsidai group's first restaurant has preserved its appeal to the international public up until today. Several signed photographs on the walls serve as evidence for this, presenting the many stars who have visited, including actors Christopher Plummer, Roger Moore and Robert De Niro, the musicians of AC/DC, Depeche Mode and Deep Purple, and former Formula 1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone.


From classical Hungarian to international dishes

The menu, compiled by chef Lajos Lutz, is strongly oriented towards a global public. International and Hungarian specialties are both included. Especially in terms of the latter, Lutz is trying to offer more than the usual tourist hits. Of course, a goose liver appetiser and a goulash soup are not to be missed, although Pierrot prepares its goulash from game instead of beef.

This autumn's menu includes confit pork roast, duck leg baked in puff pastry, and venison sirloin with pumpkin and vegetables. If you prefer something lighter, opt for the rainbow trout, the red beet risotto or the pumpkin ravioli.

Truffle fans will be happy to hear that all the dishes can be refined with a few chips of the aromatic mushroom, for a surcharge.

If you still have room for desserts after the voluptuous main dish, don't miss the chocolate fondant with the delicate hazelnut note. The restaurant is particularly proud of its selection of Hungarian cheeses, offered not in the company of a ripe red wine or semi-dry white wine but rather a sugar-sweet Tokaji; an unexpected combination that may be a positive surprise for your palate though.


Evaluation

If you are looking for refreshment after taking a long walk in the Castle District, with a sophisticated but quiet atmosphere, Pierrot is the right choice. The first Zsidai restaurant radiates a certain relaxed cosiness, which makes it the perfect place not only for family lunches on Sunday but also for business lunch with your corporate partners.

When the late autumn shows one of its beautiful faces again, it is worth chancing the courtyard, which is partly open-air and partly covered. This can house up to 60 or 70 people for business or private events, and is quite popular in the warmer months. If you are seeking a bit more privacy, book a table in the back room to be well-protected from prying eyes.

Pierrot
Budapest, District I, 14 Fortuna Street
Open: daily noon-midnight
Reservations at (+36-1) 375-6971
See www.pierrot.hu

Prices:
Appetisers and soups: HUF 3190-5480
Main dishes: HUF 4880-11620
Garnishes: HUF 1620-1820
Desserts: HUF 2320-4680


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