Balatongyörök is one of the ribbon villages that have attached themselves to the parcel that is Keszthely. As you drive out of Keszthely towards Szigliget, you move from village to village, each one announced by a sign and a church with a graveyard. It reminds me a little of the St Julian’s in Malta, and the sequence of contiguous towns that wend their way around the bay to Sliema. Balatongyörök is noted for its szépkilátó (beautiful lookout). From the picnic tables that dot the sloping 140 m hill, once known as Chapel Hill, you can look out over the Balaton. To the left you’ll see a range of hills that peer down over the Tapolca basin: Badacsony is the most easily recognisable – the others confuse me, although I’ve been to the last three chasing wine: Szent György-hegy, Csobánc, Gulács, Tóti-hegy, Haláp, Somló-hegy, Kis-Somló and Ság-hegy.
Bear with me now as I digress. You could spend hours checking out street names in Hungary. Most of them are named after someone famous. Long on my list of names to check has been Eötvös utca in Budapest. It was here that I had my first home-cooked Hungarian meal many moons ago. It’s only now that I suspect it was named after Károly Eötvös. Reading up on his life led me to the famous Tiszaeszlár lawsuit and Opatija Café, both new to me. His connection with Balatongyörök, though, is that he wrote about the szépkilátó in 1855 when he penned his book Utazás a Balaton körül (Journey around the Balaton).
Sohasem felejtem el azt a pillanatot (I will never forget the moment)
Amikor ezt a tündérországot megláttam…. (I saw this fairy land)
Megálltam, mintha lábam gyökeret vert volna (I stopped, as if my feet had taken root),
Lelkemet ihlet, gyönyör ragadta el. (inspired my soul, captivated me with pleasure.)
Soha nem láttam még ehhez hasonló gyönyörű tüneményt (I’ve never seen a beautiful phenomenon like this before).
It really is a lovely spot. Stay there all day and you’ll catch a variety of reflections on the water.
Across the road, there’s the famous café, the Promenád Kávéház, with its enviable views and delicious confectionary. From there, you can walk up into the hills to the elevated lookout towers. The trails are marked and if you don’t mind a climb, the view from the top is said to be worth it. I’ve never been that curious.
Looking for somewhere to meet a friend for lunch, we picked on Balatongyörök as a half-way point between our village and theirs. Himself’s restaurant of choice was closed so I choose at random, not having a pin and a paper map to hand. Our destination, Hold és Csillag (Moon and Stars). Despite the Turkish allusions, the menu seemed representative of standard Hungarian fare.
There’s a sameness about Hungarian restaurants that reminds me of American diners. You have the staples. The standards. And some do them better than others. But there seems very little by way of effort or any desire to introduce some variation on the theme. Of course, when you hit the $$$ and the Michelin starred venues, it’s different. But the standard offer does little to excite me. [I was amused lately to hear Benedict Cumberbatch’s character in The Courier speak disparagingly about Hungarian food. I empathised. If it’s done well, it’s great, but it’s not done well often enough.]
If you’re into eating views, Hold és Csillag has it all. Set beside the szépkilátó you get a panoramic view of the Balaton. It’s gobsmackingly gorgeous. I was glad it was an early Saturday in December with busloads of tourists a dream of summers past and summers to come. The decor is bright and airy with some cool light fittings. Some of the chairs had nameplates on the backs and I wondered but our waiter, who told us he was relatively new, didn’t know the story.
I was driving. I asked for szódavíz (soda water) and when it was delivered in a carafe with a glass plate of sliced lemons, I felt my heart skip a beat. Dare I hope that this restaurant might be different? Obviously not Hungarians, we were given bilingual menus – German and English.
I like a little thought with my food. I was impressed.
Curious to see what their website had to say, I did a quick search while the others were looking at the menu. I’d already made my choice.
I wondered at the translated introduction:
Sloppy elegance and directness. Relaxed atmosphere and an aspiring kitchen. Bakelite plate and lanterns. Smile and happiness spiced with a little brazenness and humor…
The Moon and Star’s youthful and world-renowned team has set itself the goal of creating a place where it’s good to arrive, where it’s a pleasure to be and where it’s always worth returning, keeping in mind the specifics of the region. We believe that together with you, our dear guests and your feedback, we can become such a place. That’s why thank you for coming to us and being here with us.
Sloppy and elegance in the same sentence? Directness and relaxed separated by a full stop? World-renowned team? Now I was really curious. BA ordered the goose leg with cabbage and himself had a game stew with gnocchi. I’d decided to have my benchmark dish – rántott hús (wienerschnitzel). All three tasted as good as they looked. Although my egg and potato salad was a tad too wet for my liking, I had to restrain myself from running my finger around the plate to sop up the remnants. It’s been a while since I’ve had schnitzel cooked as well. It was delicious. 10/10.
I’m not great on dessert but when I saw the deepfried iceceam on the menu, I had to try it. I was disappointed. It wasn’t hot and the batter was more suitable for croquettes than dessert. That said, the berry coulade it sat on was a delicious complement to the vanilla icecream, and I’m not a berry person. The lads had the house Dobos torte with a salted caramel coating. Although they both complained their portions were too big, they left nothing for the birds.
Three mains, two (x2dl) glasses of wine, a litre of sodawater, three desserts, two cappuccinos and an espresso came to a shave more than 20 000 ft (including a 10% service charge). That’s about €55 or $62 at today’s rates.
Did I leave happy? I did indeed. And good and all as the food was, it was their attention to detail what will bring me back.
I’m big on protocol and etiquette. In a previous life, I gave workshops on the subject. My biggest bugbear in restaurants is when one party finishes their meal before the others and the waiter removes their plate instead of waiting for everyone to finish. In my book it’s unconscionable. It puts pressure on those remaining to eat more quickly and can ruin a good meal. I eat quickly. I try to slow down but I’m invariably finished first. I’ve asked waiters who try to take my plate to wait until everyone is done. I do it with a smile but some take offence, as if I’m telling them how to do their job. And I perhaps I am. But they should know, right? At Hold és Csillag they kept a watchful eye on the table and when the last fork was laid to rest, they came to collect. Not a minute before. That’s not what I would call sloppy elegance in any language. That’s impressive. And yes, I’ll be back.