Liszt Restaurant, Aria Hotel Budapest
Spiced up with music
The Aria Hotel Budapest opened in March 2015 as Budapest’s first themed hotel – an aria being a piece of music in an opera sung by one person – and the musical surroundings can be immediately detected upon entering. First there is the bold piano keyboard design on the floor, the black and whites of which lead the way through to the Music Garden Courtyard. We will explore this later because first, right inside the front door, comes the Liszt Restaurant, and needs must.
The Liszt serves a three-course Business Lunch between noon and 3pm each weekday, with the menu changing each week. Before selecting, though, something else becomes obviously apparent, and that is the many mirrors of various sizes that line the walls, each one signed by a musician who has stayed and dined at the hotel.
Here we see Sting… Lajko Felix… Placido Domingo… Lenny Kravitz… Bobby McFerrin… José Cura… Gregory Porter… Leslie Mándoki… some perhaps not so well known. Well, if we don’t know all of the names, we put it down to our own ignorance. Each signed mirror has the name printed neatly alongside, lest the signee have left behind something of a scrawl.
Turning to the menu, one notices the promise that this will be “Regional cuisine for cosmopolitans”. Thus, we are informed, all ingredients come from within the borders of the “old” Hungary (2020, remember, is the centenary of that Hungarian bugbear the Treaty of Trianon, causing one of the major empires to disappear from the map of Europe).
Something else: the small print on the menu mentions “signature bread and water service”. This, it is explained to us, refers back to medieval times when kings such as Matthias Corvinus reigned (1458-1490) and hungry travellers could knock on anyone’s door and be assured of being offered at least bread and water.
So the Liszt kitchen offers complimentary bread and water but, as promised, in their own way. The chef uses grape seed flour to make fresh dough each day and the result is traditional Hungarian cipó bread, with home-made butter. A portrait of Franz Liszt hangs in the restaurant, and it is pointed out that his surname translates to English as “flour”, offering some word play at the establishment named in his honour.
As for the water, this goes through a filtering system that makes sure it is pure and allows it to be designated “baby water”. The bread and the water, then, are in-house. The message is that everyone can give, as in the days of medieval travellers, but at the Liszt Restaurant certain offerings are special to them.
However, we are being sidetracked. On this day we can choose between two starters, the first being Mixed salad leaves, goat cheese, blood-orange dressing, orange, caramelized walnut and horseradish, or, secondly, Creamy forest mushroom soup, marinated mushroom, croquant and crème fraiche.
Three mains are offered: Grilled duck breast, celery puree, beluga lentils, burnt leek and marinated mustard seed, or Fried chicken breast fillet, sweet potato puree, grilled pak choi, garlic escabeche, cilantro-sesame seed and soy jus, or Home-made tagliatelle, smoked oil, tomato sauce, marinated aubergine and parmesan.
Dessert is hazelnut and chocolate brownie, pistachio and raspberry sorbet. There are two extra choices for a surcharge: an Aria burger or Dorado with baked cauliflower and hazelnuts.
Another week might offer, for example, Hortobágy-style pancakes, Pork chop schnitzel, Mushroom risotto or Lamb saddle in mangalica ham. Vegan options can be prepared on request.
Meal concluded, exploring further reveals that Liszt Restaurant actually has three rooms: our Mirror Room, a Library Room and the Chef’s Table, the latter being suitable for groups of up to eight persons. The Library Room has more of a gentleman’s club feeling, with high-backed lilac chairs. There is a selection of books to browse, or take to your room if you are a guest, all naturally about music: opera, jazz, Aaron Copeland, Freddie Mercury, Beethoven, “Great Album Covers”, Louis Armstrong and more.
The concierge sits in his room before a wall of CDs of all sorts to play as the Aria’s background music. The piano in the Music Garden Courtyard turns out to be a Bogányi, the revolutionary, flowing, carbon-fibre design inspired by Hungarian pianist Gergely Bogányi. Apparently it is one of only half a dozen or so in the world, and each day a pianist arrives to play it between 4 and 6pm for the complimentary wine and cheese reception enjoyed by hotel guests.
The courtyard has a glass covering through which can be seen the four sections of the hotel, dubbed the Classical Music Wing, the Opera Wing, the Jazz wing and the Contemporary Wing. Above it all, on the roof, is the High Note SkyBar, open noon to midnight, and which the hotel says has the best view of any rooftop bar in Budapest.
It is difficult to disagree, with the Eye ferris wheel on one side, the Castle District over the way and, powerfully, St Stephen’s Basilica right next door, so near you feel you could reach out and touch. Tourists atop the Basilica cupola sometimes spot the eye-catching yellow cushions of the High Note SkyBar and may be drawn over to investigate further.
Where, as they will discover, it is a case of, “If music be the food of love, play on,” as the Bard memorably wrote.
Aria Hotel Budapest Liszt Restaurant
Three-course Business Lunch HUF 5000
Alternatives HUF 2000 surcharge
Lamb saddle from the autumn-winter menu.
Liszt Restaurant kitchen.
Executive chef Ferenc Jóvér.
Cottage cheese dumplins with caramel.
Signature bread and water service with home-made bread and butter.