Advantages Delicious food; good value; friendly, helpful staff
Disadvantages Not so great for veggies
I am usually loathe to go with guidebook recommendations for restaurants; places could be under new ownership, the menu might have changed and, besides, I find it more fun to find places myself. There are times, though, that the guidebook comes in useful and given that, in the part of the world we tend to travel to, many restaurants are closed on a Sunday evening, it's good to have an idea of where to head for to avoid disappointment.We had arrived in Keszthely late morning on a Sunday and had a late lunch at a look and point cafeteria in the student area, avoiding those restaurants in the town centre that we thought we might be eating at in the evening. (Once on a Sunday night in a small town in Finland we spent so long looking for somewhere different to eat that we had no other option than to go to the place we'd eaten lunch as it was only place still open). Unfortunately by the time we'd worked up enough of an appetite to consider our evening meal most of those places were closed and the ones still open looked uninspiring. We decided to go for the Lonely Planet recommendation of Margareta Etterem ('etterem' is one of several Hungarian words for restaurant) putting our faith in the claim that it is one of the best places to eat in the town.
The restaurant is not in the town centre but is just a five minute walk away occupying a large corner plot in a largely residential area. There's a terrace at the front of the restaurant and, I think, a garden-terrace at the rear. Once inside there are two separate dining rooms, though the first appears to operate mostly as a bar. Stepping into the dining room was a bit of a surprise; although the building was not very new, the interior décor, at least in the back dining room, hinted at something much older and traditional and this was done very nicely without looking too much like overdone mock old. The walls were covered with an array of paintings, mostly landscapes and their different sizes and the variety of frames produced an eye catching display. At our corner table we had conventional dining chairs which was something of a relief because other tables had chairs and settles with rather high backs that did not look hugely comfortable.The place was buzzing which was certainly encouraging and we got the impression, from the way the staff interacted with other customers, that many of them were regulars. There were also a few different languages being spoken, no doubt other people had also been tipped off about the restaurant. Having established that we don’t speak Hungarian (I usually feel bad about not speaking the language but I find that Hungarians don’t expect you to know any of their language) we conversed mainly in German with a smattering of English from our waiter. The menu was in Hungarian, German and English so, although there were a few odd translations, we had no problem making our choices.
Hungarian food is, on the whole, hearty and beckons those with carnivorous tendencies, with pork dishes being most commonly found fare. The menu here at Margareta Etterem reflects this and should be a delight for most meat eaters. There are some fish dishes but given the location on Lake Balaton it should come as no surprise that they are all freshwater fish and I know that most people either love or hate freshwater fish. Personally so long as they don’t have that muddy taste freshwater fish that sometimes have I don’t have a problem but what I find off putting is the number of bones; all the dishes on the menu at Margareta use fillets of fish which is encouraging if the boniness puts you off, but I was starving and wanted something to tuck into not something to fiddle about with. The vegetarian options were more limited but there were some and I suppose you could choose a couple of meat free starters (there are savoury pancakes filled with cheese, and there's a roasted tofu dish among them) if something appealed. Judging by the response to my request for a nut free dessert later on, I’m pretty sure that you could ask for something to be rustled up if nothing on the menu appealed. There are several meat free soups but the bean soup, always foundon Hungarian menus, is sure to contain meat.So far on this trip we had found main course portions to be hefty and knew that having starters would just be plain greedy; we were hungry but we knew our limitations. It was just as well because both main courses were very generous. I had chosen larded venison fillets with a brandy and wood mushroom ragu (1850 HUF, £5.81) served with potato croquettes. The venison had been cut into strips and sautéed to perfection; the flavour was rich and deep but perhaps just a little over salted. there were loads of mushrooms in the ragu and they had a lovely flavour, slightly earthy but not too strong. If I'm honest there were too many croquettes but Himself helped me out and they were a great way to make sure I didn't waste any of the lovely juices from the ragu.
Last time we visited Hungary in 2003 Himself was not a meat eater but now he eats meat he has a whole new world of culinary temptations and decided that picking the mixed grill (1500 HUF, £4.71) would allow him to sample a bit of everything. The mountain of meat he was presented with comprised spare ribs, medallions of fillet mignon of pork, turkey breast and grilled sausage. The sausage was nicely spicy but not so hot that it over-powered the other meats. I'm not a big fan of ribs but Himself made short work of them so they must have been good while the turkey, so often a dry meat, was nicely cooked and had been flavoued with paprika, that distinctive Hungarian flavour. The pork was tender and fell apart easily, the flavour was excellent and it had just the right amount of charring from the grill. This was served with roasted chipped potatoes and a ragu of onions and peppers which was lovely and sweet and worked wonderfully with the meat,This was the fourth night of our holiday and I had so far not had the pleasure of a pudding but I felt sure that if i explained to our waiter that I am allergic to nuts, he could ask the kitchen staff to prepare me something nut free. Our lovely waiter understood the importance of my request and promised me something delicious, returning five minutes later with a plate of sweet pancakes filled with curd cheese and served with a warm compote of berries. I enjoyed my dessert very much; without the berries this would have been a slightly cloying dessert but the sharpness of the berries cut through the sweetness and provided a lovely contrast.
I couldn't eat this type of food every night (I'd go pop, I think) but I really loved the meal I had at Margareta Etterem. We ate well in Hungary on this trip and if you'd have told me after our first evening in Budapest that the food would get better every day I wouldn't have believed it. However, not only did the food become tastier, but the portions grew and the prices dropped. A bottle of wine made in the Balalon vineyards was very palatable and set us back only a fiver. (A half litre of beer would have cost about 94 Pence)We walked back to our room stuffed to the gills and ready for our beds but we'd had a jolly good dinner and I would recommend Margareta Etterem to anyone visiting Keszthely.
Bercsényi út 60, Keszthelyhttp://www.margaretaetterem.hu/
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