Budapest has this annoying, yet useful tendency, that if a new restaurant opens, everyone will be chowing there for two weeks. Naturally, this only happens, if: A., they have a reason to expect something from the people who have opened it, and B, people ate crazy good food there and are spreading the gospel about it. In the case of KGB (Kálvin Gasztro Bisztró), both of these factors are at play, I didn’t wait my usual six-months before visiting; instead, I jumped right in like a kindergartner onto dessert.
Kálvin Gasztro Bisztró. Naturally. On top of that, there more things: Imre Nyúzó, Dávid Redler, and Tibor Tóth—the chefs, who rampage through the kitchen, since owner Kiatipisz Szotirisz gracefully allows them to do so. Each of them worked independently in impressive restaurants, but now with their combined efforts they put the rest of the neighborhood to shame. Calvin Square has never really had a bistro-style place before, options have generally tightened up to the extremes of either pizza slices or Michelin starred restaurants, even though the square has long left behind its Sin City days.
Three Chefs, Three Styles
While this may sound strange, but really it is not readily apparent, unless of course you read this article, or if you ask, which dishes are the ideas of which chef. When we visited, Dávid and Tibor were creating, and we accidentally ended up trying a 50/50 mix of their ideas. The basic style of the food is so Hungarian it might as well be shooting arrows backward on horseback, but sometimes you can discover a bit of Asian mischievousness as well.
This mischief greets you off the bat with the soup, since in a pretty random way their mushroom soup arrives dressed in black, pointing to the mix of soy sauce and other more Asian ingredients.
I had this same feeling with my main course as well, which was gizzards with fine-cut “goose larynx” (lúdgége) noodles (’Bird with bird,’ get it?). This dish was likewise dominated by characteristic eastern flavors; at the same time, however, the play of gizzard and noodles pulls in the direction of a grandmother’s kitchen. At the same time, I ought to mention here that you should only attempt to eat ‘lúdgége’ noodles with a fork if you are in a truly calm state of mind.
A-T-SZ-K-G-B (KGB’s Guanciale)
My other appetizer was jowl bacon (guanciale or tokaszalonna) with house-made pickled vegetables. I approached this dish with the attitude that, while I hate jowl bacon, I’m not the kind of guy who eats nothing but some specific random tropical fruit, so I thought, let’s do it! If you reevaluate, and convince yourself as to why jowl bacon is good, the whole thing immediately becomes a crazy good experience. On top of that, the boys at KGB did an incredible job of putting this dish together, from its mischievous spiciness to the frenetically cute little pickled cauliflower.
The Potato Noodles
The real big gun of the day, however, was the potato noodles. If I were them, I would put this on their permanent menu rather than having it as a weekly special, since this was the best potato noodles I’ve ever had. Colossal ‘csusza’ noodles and whole fingerling potatoes practically swimming in a truly smooth, brilliant potato puree, topped with indispensable mini-cauliflowers. While I haven’t seen potato noodles at any other serious restaurant, I would give KGB the “Best Potato Noodles in Town” Award, since the boys managed to take Hungary’s most boring, yet at the same time one of its most beloved, dishes, and twist it in a way that gives you simultaneously the feeling of a pimped-out cafeteria and a f#$%^& awesome dish at the same time. I get shivers just thinking about it….
On top of all this, it’s no secret that KGB is also set up for night-time drinking; all in all, it would be hard to hide this, since 1/8th of the whole restaurant is taken up by its taproom, yet the drink selection isn’t the usual dance of cheap beer and cocktails. All of this, with terrace facing Calvin Square, makes for a sweet spot for some summer beer drinking. The whole place is as chill as it is professional, and for this reason it’s damn hard to come away disappointed. Behind the simple-sounding dish names there’s truly exciting content, and I have a huge desire to go back, just to see what chicken paprikás means in KGB-speak. It’s hard to decide what to even call this little gem: wild, brash, bold, unafraid to toss tripe onto the menu if they feel like it. And if they do, then it will be jaw-droppingly incredible. KGB: you’re great!
Budapest, Kálvin tér 5, 1053
0036 1 612 2539
Translated from an article by Péter Csákvári at gastro blog Men & Tál.
Images by Péter Csákvári.