It is hard not to be predisposed to enjoy Építészpince (follow link for contact details and user feedback). What’s not to like? The “Architects’ Basement,” which occupies a part of the headquarters of the Magyar Építész Kamara (Chamber of Hungarian Architects), is relatively inexpensive, has a beautiful outdoor garden, and is near the center of town. It is one of but a handful of restaurants with atmospheric courtyard spaces in central Budapest – Fészek Művészklub Étterem is another that comes to mind – so it was a surprise that on a warm July night we were able to walk in without reservations and be seated immediately. Építész is not new; it has been open in the neighborhood of District VIII called the “Palace District” since I moved there over five years ago. But, somehow, its side-street location and basement dining room make it easy to miss. I recommend you don’t: it is a real treat for casual dining outdoors on a summers’ night.
One day I am sure I will be able to write the phrase Hungarian cuisine without qualifying it with the adjective standard. But that is what you get at Építészpince: renovated versions of the old standard Hungarian. Not that I am complaining. I have never really been a huge fan of many local dishes, but lately my tolerance for fat in its abundance is growing, and thus, I am beginning to really appreciate Hungarian versions of pork knuckle and goose leg, both of which I tried on a recent visit.
As an appetizer, the waiter recommended the non-Hungarian Holland spinach soup (Ft 550), which was pleasingly light with a nice citrus aftertaste. Even at some of Budapest’s finest venues (Klassz and M.) they tend to go heavy on the cream in their soups, so this breezier version was appreciated, as it really doesn’t take much to bring out the flavor of the fresh spinach, which is currently in season.
The mains were not so light, however. Lately, I am beginning to think you cannot go wrong by choosing smoked pork knuckle, even getting it directly from the butchers’ and gnawing straight from the bone would make for satisfying eating (what Hungary lacks in quality beef, it make up for in pork – something I am only recently coming to realize). All the better that the version of csülök at Építész (second from top) came on a bed of warm potatoes with spring and red onions, plus a side of creamy horseradish sauce. For Ft 1,650 (€6) it is a super dish, the most flavorful bites riding sidecar with a sliver of fatty rind.
The goose leg in orange sauce (Ft 2,200, above), though good, was less impressive. On paper, it seemed to have it all, but the orange sauce had cooled into a gelid pudding on the plate by the time it arrived, the meat itself was a bit dry, and the kiwi fruit garnish was totally out of place. The roasted potatoes wrapped in bacon almost saved the dish, but more attentive cooking would have mitigated the need.
Portions at Építészpince are built large, so dessert was skipped. Instead, a surprisingly strong and good espresso sufficed. By that time, the sun was totally down, the heat had settled, and the statues that surround the garden had taken on a ghostly appearance. You hardy knew you were in the center of the city. My guess is that Építész loses a good deal of its charm when you are forced to sit indoors. The food, however, was good enough that I am willing to risk it.