The restaurant known only as M. (follow link for contact details and user feedback) and its tiny District VII storefront made a quiet splash when it opened seven years ago, earning a following with its inventive comfort food, frequently changing menu, and complete lack of pretense. People who liked M., really liked M., and eventually it found its way onto the Chew “Top 33″ list of fine dining spots. Then it suddenly fell from grace with foodies in the know, and appeared all but closed for some time. There are reasons for all this, which I will get into later, but for now, I am happy to report that M. is back in a big, capital letter way.
Before I was even seated, M. just felt right. The three-tabled downstairs room is unstuffy, and the décor whimsical without calling attention to itself: there is a fan drawn on the ceiling, and table-clothes are cut from a roll of brown packing paper. (Note: the interior picture up top was taken several years ago, though you’d hardly know the difference.) The host greeted me immediately, following my lead as whether to speak Hungarian or English, and was totally comfortable with both, but had nothing to prove with either. Not long after sitting down, my dining companion and I were treated to a complimentary taste from the kitchen: on this night it was a garlicky dip on toasted bread. The menu itself is short, and on the Thursday I was there, featured a separate fish menu, with lots of seafood, including fresh oysters. But this being Thanksgiving, we stuck with mostly game and other terrestrial fare. I am no expert on goose liver: but I found the fois gras terrine with quince in aspic both rich and greatly satisfying, especially when coupled with a dry red Egri cuvee. Later, duck breast with a porcini mushroom sauce and potato gratin “dauphinois” arrived, and another main of suckling pig with beets and sage-roasted potatoes. Both were super, the portion of duck generous, and piglet meat lean but for a thin rind of fat around the edges like a layer of frosting. The service matched the atmosphere: totally casual, but there when you needed them. Also, tap water was given by the pitcher without charge, something that is a novelty in this city, but second nature at M.
The meal was not without a few misfires: the “far” cake (a flan-like cake made famous in Brittany) was rubbery, and felt like it had sat in a refrigerator too long; and I think I recognized it as the recipe published on epicurious.com not long ago. The wine list could use a bit of juicing up as well, as the selection was slim and not terribly satisfactory if you want a really fine wine with your meal.
But these are quibbles. M. is the kind of place Budapest is in short supply of: friendly, casual neighborhood-oriented dining. As for the prices, the two of us spent Ft 11,000 (€41) including a bottle of wine. I, for one, would welcome M.’s return to the Top 33. So, why isn’t it there? As mentioned above, M. has seen its share of turmoil. Founded and overseen by Miklós Sulyok in 2001, the place not only attracted foodies, but mounds of paperwork and red tape. Tired of the headaches, he gave it up four years later, handing it over to partners he preferred not to name. Without its founder, M. nosedived, luring more cockroaches and unpaid bill than customers, something Sulyok could not bear: he returned to the fold last summer, with a new team (of old friends) and, with little fanfare, restored M. to its former glory, giving me – and anybody else who loves casual fine-dining – but one more reason on Thanksgiving to be grateful.