Essência – New Portuguese Restaurant in Budapest
Evelin Schmidt / August 2, 2020
Budapest has an abundance of restaurants serving international dishes: you can find everything from Italian to American, Japanese or even Lebanese cuisine. But until recently, it was lacking a key cultural element, namely the distinct gastronomy of Portugal. But that is no more!
Just a year after the tiny Lisboa Pastry and Café opened in Gozsdu Udvar, this summer brought us Essência, a gourmet Portuguese restaurant that combines the best of Hungarian and Portuguese cuisines into an unforgettable culinary delicacy.
Located right in the city centre, in Sas utca, the restaurant seems to be situated exactly where it belongs: in Budapest’s newly emerging gastro district.
Big spaces, high ceiling, blues and browns surround you as you step into the restaurant. You can immediately feel the Mediterranean atmosphere from the walls covered with the typical Portuguese blue-and-white azulejos, and the deep navy-blue walls that give the impression of being underwater. However, the soft browns and the bare brick walls suggest that there is more to this restaurant than just Portuguese cuisine. In fact, one soon discovers that nothing here is ordinary.
The concept was to re-create the childhood memories of well-known Portuguese and well-known Hungarian dishes, but at the same time present them together, thus creating something new and special. Although elegant and modern, there is a certain playfulness to the presentation, and certainly to the flavours themselves. The mission behind all this, as the owners point out on their webpage is to show their guests “what the essence of life and food means”.
Tiago Sabarigo and Éva Jenei – the creative minds behind Essência
Creating the perfect mix of two so seemingly different worlds of flavours requires two minds, each tuned to the tastes of their own countries. This is why the owners, the Portuguese chef Tiago Sabarigo and his Hungarian wife, Éva, are the perfect candidates for such a mission. As the full name of the restaurant also confirms (Essência restaurant – Tiago & Éva), this place is the fruit of both of their works. Their union is also reflected in the restaurant’s logo: what at a first look seems like a unified shape, later turns out to be consisting of two halves: a pine-cone on the left, and a tulip on the right. The former is a symbol of men in Portugal, while the latter stands for women in Hungary, thus together perfectly symbolising the “essence” of the place.
Tiago Sabarigo is the creative mind and hand behind the dishes. Having worked as a top chef for a decade in such famous restaurants as Gordon Ramsay’s Petrus in London, or the Michelin-starred Costes Downtown in Budapest, Tiago was ready to open his own restaurant. If you are lucky, you can even catch a glimpse of him in their open kitchen, as he is preparing your dinner. As for Éva, she had been working in the hotel trade until now, in such places as the elegant Prestige Hotel or Corinthia Hotel. The two of them collected the dishes of their respective childhoods and created something entirely unique out of it.
Two worlds of flavour
One arriving for dinner is given 3 tasting menu options to choose from, two of which are called “itthon” and “otthon” in Hungarian, respectively meaning “here at home” and “there at home”. The first one gives you a taste of Hungary, the second a taste of Portugal, the two “homes” of the owners. As for the third one, here is when the “essência” comes into play: it is the ultimate harmony of the two worlds of flavour.
Given the cultural and geographical distance between the two nations, one would not think how well Portuguese and Hungarian gastronomy goes together. In fact, there are many common points in the two cuisines, for instance the love of paprika or tomato. However, Tiago did not create a fusion kitchen. Instead, he opted for keeping the two cuisines separate, but side by side, thus perfectly complementing each other.
Here, one can find traditional Hungarian dishes – such as letcho or goulash -, as well as those traditional to Portugal – like codfish, gazpacho or octopus rice. But what may sound simple in principle is always given an ingenious twist. For instance, the Hungarian dumplings (called “nokedli”) look more like croquettes than dumplings, thanks to their elongated shape. On the other hand, the gazpacho is made piquant by the added grilled watermelon. As a side dish you may even be offered algae butter! The menu changes seasonally so that one can always be sure to get the freshest and most refined ingredients from both countries.
Apart from food, one cannot forget about the wines: Hungary and Portugal both being in the top 10 wine producers of Europe, a dinner without wine would have been unimaginable in such a restaurant. Essência offers an extensive list of both Hungarian and Portuguese wines, mostly originating from smaller wineries of the two countries.
Just by trying one dish after another, one can have the feeling of travelling back and forth across Europe. We recommend this restaurant to anyone who would like to experience something completely new and unique.