Dinner at Zona in Budapest

Dinner last night was with Agnes Herczeg and Gaia Gaja at Zona in Budapest. It’s a new restaurant that’s only been open four months, and it’s based around the idea of small plates. The name Zona refers to the portions. In communist times, apparently, if you weren’t very well off you could go late to a restaurant and get a smaller plate for less money – a zona portion.

Gaia and Agnes

So there are no starters or mains here: all portions are the same size, larger than normal tapas dishes but smaller than a normal main. And most of them are hot, too, with some Hungarian roots. The chef here worked for a while in a three-star Michelin joint in Basque country.

The decor is just beautiful. Modern, but welcoming and stylish, with one wall dark, reminiscent of a wine cellar. The restaurant is owned by a couple of young entrepreneurs who also have another couple of restaurants and a night club. Gaia was sort of on duty this evening as the Gaja wines were all on sale by the glass so every now and then she’d get up and work the tables where her wines had been ordered.

The food was brilliantly done. We were given a really creative amuse bouche, which was a small egg in some green broth.

This black truffle risotto was just superb. Aromatic, very truffly, with a nice sweetness to the flavour.

This was a creative, visual, unusual dish. Mussels with pigs tail and a variety of beetroots.

First wine was a dry Tokaji, made by the great Istvan Szepsy’s son at the St Tomas winery. The bottle is a collaborative venture by the wineries in Mad, and is the 75 cl version of the famous 50 cl Tokaji bottle.

St Tomas Ma’d Furmint 2011 Tokaji, Hungary
Rich, textured and bold, with nice pear and peach fruit, as well as some mineral and spice notes. Rich and lively, with lovely depth. 92/100

This next course was also superb. Pigeon, perfectly cooked, and creatively presented.

We had a couple of Gaia’s wines.

Gaja Sito Moresco 2011 Langhe, Italy
This is the entry level Gaja wine, but it’s still quite high end! Painfully young, it’s a blend of 35% Nebbiolo, 35% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, mainly from Barbaresco but some from Barolo. The Nebbiolo is from 30 year old vines planted as single clones. Very fresh, lively and bright with cherries and plums, supported by good acidity and firm, grippy tannins. Direct and primary, with lovely freshness. 92/100

Gaja Barolo Dragomis 2008 Italy
An extremely youthful, tight example of Barolo, but very fine. Taut, tannic and vivid with red cherry and berry fruits. Grippy and backward, and in need of time, but it has a lovely cherry fruit profile. Quite challenging at the moment. 93/100

The next dish was sublime. Australian short rib of beef. Tender, softly textured and flavoursome, with plenty of fat.

At the restaurant  also had a chance to chat with Nimród Kovács, a winemaker from Eger (above). His prior life was in telecommunications, who retired from corporate life in 2009 and bought a winery. He has 30 hectares, of which 22 are producing. I tried his impressive Syrah, which reminded me a bit in style of some of the really good South African Syrahs.

Kovács Nimród Syrah 2009 Eger, Hungary
Lovely ripe, warm rich Syrah with notes of olives, meat and spice as well as lovely sweet black cherry and blackberry fruit. It’s ripe but not excessively so, maintaining good definition. Smooth, sleek and characterful. 92/100

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