Sometime in the middle of winter, when we were searching for Budapest’s best turó cheese dumplings, we came to Robinson looking for Krisztián Hadzsala’s style of dumplings. Back in the day you could find them at the Terminál, but since Krisztián moved on from there a while ago, I had to go to his old/new spot that I had never visited before. At that time, to tell you the truth, Krisztián was only half there, since he was also one of the chefs de cuisine at Kollázs. All of his food, in addition to the dumplings, were such an incredible gastro-shock that I began to be interested in what this guy is doing at so many restaurants. This summer, Krisztián has returned, and it looks like he’s found a home at Robinson, as well as the company owning Robinson’s other restaurants, as creative chef.
Robinson has had a very stormy history. Before Krisztián’s team arrived, the restaurant’s offerings were notoriously week, especially considering that it occupies what is perhaps the most kick-ass spot in the whole city, the middle of the City Park lake. While they reformed the menu and the whole place, they were still unable to come into agreement about certain facets of the way the restaurant was being run, and for this reason Krisztián and his partner Roland left for Terminál. They then came back to Robinson, where the two came into conflict, and for this reason Krisztián left for Kollázs, only to later ultimately return to Robinson. Phew…were you able to follow all that?
Anyway, since things have gotten back on track, Robinson has not only abandoned its former practice of pushing huge clichés, it has served, and continues to serve every day, dishes that would meet with anyone, and I mean ANYONE’s, approval, from Korean tourists to Buda elites to grandmas from the suburb neighborhood of Újpalota. While ‘inexpensive’ is not the word I would use to describe Robinson, in exchange for your money you get colossal portions (and ‘large portions’ is the most beautiful Hungarian expression after ‘free’). But this doesn’t mean that you should think of the quality level of greasy spoons like Pléh Csárda, but rather large portions paired with exciting culinary innovations.
There was always salmon on the menu, because you have to have it, people look for it. To put it simply, you can’t run a restaurant around here without salmon. When I came back, I said to hell with salmon.
Krisztián brilliantly lists the foods (with the exception of salmon) that a tourist-friendly restaurant must have, since they’re quite simply necessary. You can sit by the lake, there are ducks, naturally tourists are going to come. In addition, Hungarian-style dishes can fit on the menu alongside wonders of world cuisine. All of this can be found in a few seasonal offerings, not a book-sized menu that one could spend a lifetime flipping through. It’s icing on the cake that Krisztián believes that it’s important to harness the passion of his cooks, and to keep that fire burning; for this reason, he regularly takes them to different restaurants, and they have to take part, in groups, in coming up with new dishes for the menu.
Et Tu, Caesar Salad?
For decades, having a Caesar salad on the menu has been requirement for any tourist-friendly restaurant. Robinson’s Caesar runs away from the usual style with atomic-powered speed. On the platter is a kind of rethinking, that is the rethinking of another rethinking. Since the ingredients are the accustomed ones, the twist comes in the ratios: the chicken here is literally half a chicken. In this way, they managed to brilliantly toss the usual gentle gracefulness out the window, and create a crazy huge and crazy delicious dish.
Our other main dish, the ribs, took a bit of time to figure out. It’s almost a half-kilo of food; beyond the size, the ribs are otherworldly saucy, sticky, cooked in a Josper oven. The extra toppings slide off it in a way that makes you want to slide the whole dish directly into your mouth. The baked potato, which serves as a side dish, is a feat on its own, not to mention as an accompaniment to this giant beast. I’m floored.
Our trip to Robinson was a while ago, but I’m still just searching for words to properly describe it weeks later. Adri and I lived through this experience that moved us to tears together, and so she has also expressed her opinion about it:
The head chef stood behind me, while dishes arrived, each one more impressive than the last. He asks, if I like the food, what my favorite dish is, what I think about the city and its restaurants in general.
What can I say to him? That this is currently my favorite spot, that when I was last here I also almost broke down and wept over even the simplest turó cheese dumpling? Who would believe that I wasn’t just trying to flatter him? And why would let him just sit back on his laurels? I mutter, I stutter, and I shove chicken into my mouth.
There are these spots that are typically tourist magnets. Where city-dwellers don’t go, because they believe that they aren’t for them. At the same time, why the hell can’t this be ours? Seated next to the City Park lake, huge portions, incredibly flavorful and harmonious dishes should be our privilege as well! Celebrations, special summer nights: come here! Bring someone here on a date, relax here with your family, become an adult with your friends with a serious steak dinner. There are places that I regret spending not only my money, but my time as well, but Robinson is an experience. For this reason, if you can, you should come here, and be happy that foreign tourists are sitting next to you who will leave Hungary with such an experience.
It would unnecessary for me to examine each dish one-by-one, whatever I tasted immediately became my new favorite. The squash pottage with fish and sausage pictured above, well, I’d adopt it; in the same way, the raspberry dessert with raspberry gummy candy will forever have a place in my heart. The thought has crossed my mind, why doesn’t everyone come here? I quickly realized, that the place is almost always full, meaning that quite a number of people come here. It’s an especially good feeling, that tourists visiting Budapest encounter a restaurant like this, in addition to seeing ducks and sitting by the lake, get a powerfully lesson in the sunny side of Hungarian hospitality. More lakes, and more Robinsons, in Budapest!
Oh, and more ducks too!
Budapest, Városligeti Tó, 1146
0036 1 422 0222
Translated by Tom Szigeti from an article by Péter Csákvári at gastro blog Men & Tál.
Images by Péter Csákvári.