Tucked in between shrubs and trees, this delightful restaurant awaits in the quiet part of Buda. Just like the gingerbread house in the story of Hansel and Gretel, the restaurant with the unusual name Mandragóra attracts you with a cosy terrace and an atmosphere characterised by casual jazz tunes and food that enchants both the eyes and palate. The place is guarded by the silhouettes of two witches, who, as we learned, are supposed to bring luck in the Hungarian kitchens.
Precious wallpapers, antique furniture, old pictures and other such curiosities decorate the interior of Mandragóra. It has an atmosphere both magical and timeless. “Boszorkányos konyhát, varázslatos hangulatot” – this is the motto of the restaurant. In English it would go something like: “Bewitched cuisine, magical atmosphere”.
According to restaurant manager Máté Párniczky the wicked creatures bring good luck to the kitchen, at least this is what they say in Hungary. This is why the Párniczky family, who founded the restaurant more than 10 years ago together with a couple who were their friends, decided to immortalise the witches not only in the logo of the restaurant, but also look for a reference to witches in the restaurant’s name: Mandragóra, or mandrake in English, is a plant that allegedly has magical properties, and has roots that look just like little people.
Wickedly good food
However, you won’t find any witches in the kitchen here, “only” two extremely talented chefs: Tibor Jávorszky and Járinc Varga. Their creations are no less than kitchen magic: the old recipes are transformed with a few twists of culinary art into pieces of art – for example there is the slow-cooked duck leg, served with red cabbage baked in strudel pastry, or the “paprikás krumpli” – which is supposed to be a simple peasant dish, but here the hearty potato pot is transformed into baked potato cubes on a creamy paprika sauce topped with some dried sausage chips.
Besides the traditional Hungarian dishes Mandragóra also refers to recipes from the Mediterranean, for example chicken breast on a bed of grilled vegetables, or lamb shoulder, served with deep-fried gnocchi and a puree of carrots, chili, dried tomatoes and parmesan. Edible flowers are often used in the restaurant’s kitchen, giving the dishes a sort of playful flair.
According to Párniczky, the restaurant’s philosophy is to use local products whenever possible. This is why Mandragóra sources its beef from an organic farm 50 kilometres south of Budapest. Furthermore, the menu uses seasonal products, composed of a basic menu and an elaborately designed weekly menu.
Eating just like at your friends’ house
Mandragóra has a large number of regulars who have been visiting from time to time over the years. Some are foreigners, Párniczky explains proudly, who always return to eat whenever they are in town again. Besides the excellent food, the courteous service should also be the reason for this. Despite the preppy behaviour of the waiters, it makes you feel just like you are dining at a friend’s place.
Good service at Mandragóra also involves serving a few tastings – with best regards from the chef – before the ordered dishes. We are not talking about boring crackers or such, rather real delicacies such as pheasant pâté on a piece of black bread garnished by cocktail onions.
There are some regulars, as Párniczky reports, who come solely for a really special treat, the dessert specialty of the house, a rich, home-made chocolate cake. “I tried to remove it from the menu once because we wanted to update the dessert card a little bit, however I learned just after a week that I have to put the cake back, according to the wishes of our guests,” Párniczky recalls.
Mandragóra is a restaurant that can be suggested for almost every time of the day and every meal – except breakfast and brunch. It offers a favourable lunch menu (two courses for HUF 1750) between 11.30am and 3.30pm, making it especially attractive to the surrounding office buildings. In the afternoon it’s worth visiting for a coffee or tea with a piece of the famous chocolate cake, while in the evenings you can enjoy an opulent a la carte meal with a glass of wine chosen from the offer of numerous local wineries. When the weather is right, you can relax on the cosy outdoor terrace until late in the evening.
Budapest, District II, 22 Kacsa utca
Open: Mondays and Tuesdays 11am-11pm, Wednesdays to Saturdays 11am-midnight
Reservations at (+36-1) 202-2165 and firstname.lastname@example.org
Appetisers, soups and salads:
HUF 1700 to 2400
Main dishes: HUF 2200 to 4200
Desserts: HUF 1100 to 1400