Michelin stars may be falling over Budapest with some regularity these days, but it remains true that there is still only one internationally famous restaurant that fully reflects the city’s textured history. One that is steeped in the style of the Monarchy, in its interiors and on its menu, while staying relevant on the city’s quick changing culinary map. This is of course Gundel Étterem, the grand dame of Budapest eateries, a place that exudes history and tradition.
Gundel was opened in 1910 by Károly Gundel in the central and very film friendly Városliget, or, City Park. The The New York Times famously wrote that Gundel “did more for Hungary’s reputation than a shipload of tourist brochures.” But like most great cultural institutions, it was nationalized by the Socialist-minded government of the late 20th century, leading to a decline in quality. It was only returned to its true glory when it was returned to private ownership, once purchased by moguls Ronald Lauder and George Lang. Among the famous faces who have dined on their upscale yet traditional Hungarian fare since then have including Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain as well as Pope John Paul II.
The main room at Gundel is a model of Hapburgian luxury. It is no surprise that it has served as a location for multiple films shot in Budapest, most recently 2015’s Spy, with Jude Law and Melissa McCarthy.
But it’s impossible to talk about Gundel without bringing up the famous dessert, the Gundel Pancake, a sweet flambeed crepe. The wife of Hungarian writer Sándor Márai, whose book Embers was a New York Times best-seller in the States, is credited with its invention. Daily Hungary relates it this way: “...the theatrical adaptation of his novel titled Before Consulting was presented in the October of 1940. The banquet following the premiere was held in the Gundel Restaurant. Ilona Matzner (Lola) made one of her family’s specialties, pancakes filled with walnut, raisin and orange zest for the occasion. Károly Gundel liked it so much that he put it on the menu under the name of Márai pancake. But after the emigration of the couple, he renamed it to Gundel pancake.”
For old school luxury in Budapest, ideal for so many stories and uses, it is hard to beat Gundel Restaurant. Oh, and in addition to being a smartly chosen location, you can also eat there, making it all the more inviting.
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