When you work eight hours every day, it can be difficult to follow a healthy and environmentally friendly diet. The practices of restaurants near large companies – where food is often re-heated, cooking oil is re-used and the origin of the ingredients is suspicious – often forces people to cook something nutritious at home. Not to mention the ecological footprint of such restaurants! Although it is true that large-scale catering is much more energy and water efficient per meal than cooking at home for only one or two persons, but the additional effects associated with the operation of a restaurant often tilts the environmental balance towards home cooking. So if it is important for someone not to do too much harm to the environment, and at the same time eat healthy, one is forced to cook at home. Or not?
At the end of last year I was just thinking about starting to prepare meals for myself at home, when I discovered the “Új-Budavár” (New Budacastle) Restaurant with my friends. I’m not a gourmet type, so I always admire those who can discover such tastes in a slice of beef or in a cauliflower that are not even mentioned on the menu. I simply “enjoyed” the meal in the restaurant and I had to realize that I haven’t felt that way for quite a long time! By chance, it turned out that the restaurant offers a daily menu as well, with four courses, and – most amazingly – for quite a reasonable price. I did not really want to believe that such place exists, therefore I dragged my colleague with me the next day to see whether the menu will be as delicious and attractive as the á la carte choices. It was. Delicious, attractive, cheap. I started to like the place and so my colleagues and I have become frequent guests. Soon it turned out that we were among the first regular guests, since the restaurant opened in December. In the midst of the economic crisis, here is a small Hungarian enterprise that dares to combine quality and reasonable pricing!
A few times we’ve had a chance to chat with the owner too, because she comes out of the kitchen quite often asking the guests about how they like the food, where did they hear from the place and if they have had enough on their plate. This type of direct contact and kindness towards the guests was so unusual for me, that at the beginning I’ve found it rather strange. I’m not used to thinking that service providers (if not shooting for the Michelin stars) -besides filling their own pockets-, care about whether their guests are satisfied with the food or not.
The biggest surprise for me was when I’ve accidentally overheard a conversation between the waiter and one of the curious guests about the source of supply. It was suspicious for me already that the plum jam really tastes like plums, and the ham is not a disguised “Parisien” salami, not to mention the freshly baked real crusty bread and the fresh wheat sprouts that pop-up in each and every dish. It turned out that the restaurant buys everything from local producers, paying special attention to using basic ingredients that are free of chemicals.
I learned from the owner that her health-centered attitude is due to her personal beliefs and to adverse experiences with chemicals. They don’t use GMOs in the restaurant, all dishes are flavored with real spices – this applies also to vanilla, which is extracted from vanilla beans, rather than using the usual synthetic aroma.
The chef doesn’t use margarine and pays high attention to the temperature of the oil to avoid over-cooking, which he believes may cause cancer. He also offers advices over the restaurant webpage on what to eat to preserve our health. He also raises the dilemma of eating meat and suggests to have a portion once a day, preferably not in the evening.
For health purposes of the guests and employees, toxic chemicals are used only in very small quantity in the restaurant. Tablecloths, dish clothes and work clothes are washed with washing soda, and the owner uses a mix of vinegar and water for descaling and glass cleaning. Disinfection however cannot be done without chemicals. They use bleach for that, at least minimizing the different additives, scents and colorants that can be found in popular disinfectants.
The food here is very good, so I don’t think that there’s much leftover at the end of the day. The owner personally takes whatever can be recycled (glass, plastic, paper) to the selective waste bins. Water is generally served in resusable bottles, but according to my experiences, guests don’t get a dirty look even when asking for a jug of tap water with their meal instead. In the little restaurant, cozy halogen lighting saves energy, which is combined with candle light at dusk, giving it a particularly pleasing warmth.
It seems that others recognized the uniqueness of the place also, because the number of visitors has risen significantly in the last couple of months. We hope that it will stay that way, because such a brave and open-minded restaurant could be a great target for people who consider the environment important in their lives.
The article originally appeared in Hungarian, on 15th March, 2012.
Thanks to Katalin Hall for the awesome translation! :)
Photos: Új-Budavár facebook