peppers!

A table ready for people to be seated, outside on a sunny day, with the Hungarian National Gallery in the background. Courtesy of the peppers! website

The Marriott on Jane Haining rakpart is undoubtedly one of Budapest’s biggest eyesores. By and large, the magyars were able to resist Soviet-esque architecture in the city centre, with two main exceptions, the Hilton up in Buda castle, and this monstrosity. Its concrete and glass façade is more reminiscent of a World War II pillbox than a top class hotel.

Of course, all of that rather pales into insignificance if you don’t have to actually look at the building, and are instead on the inside, looking out. peppers! is the restaurant serving the guests of the hotel, but it’s actually also open to the general public. They describe themselves as ‘mediterranean grill’, which is a little misleading—there’s nothing particularly mediterranean about the food—but the grill is most definitely true.

While service in Hungary is something else that tends to be a hangover from the Soviet era, it’s clear that peppers! is catering to a more international audience. The whole experience is exactly what you’d expect from an upper-class eatery, with well-dressed waiters and waitresses taking your coat, showing you to your table, and courteously both attending to your needs and getting out of the way when they’re not needed.

This review would be incomplete without mentioning the bucket of bread. While you’re scanning through the menu and waiting for your food, the waiter or waitress will deliver to your table a bucket of thinly sliced ciabatta, and a slate, with a hefty portion of room-temperature butter and sea salt. For free. This—I write this without a word of irony—is exquisite. The butter is creamy and rich, the bread is fresh, and often still warm, and overall the ensemble is delicious.

When it comes to the mains, the fare is typical grill restaurant style—some house burgers, a few different types of steak, spare ribs, etc. However, the meats they offer are a cut above the standard, with options for organic ribs and farm-reared chicken taking them to the next level. Rather few restaurants in Budapest offer these as options. They certainly don’t skimp on sides either, with a wide variety of choices including an option for organic vegetables.

The food lives up to the expectations the Marriott clearly strive to set. It is cooked beautifully, and presented well when it is served. The steak is exactly as you ask for it, so be warned. I like my steak medium rare, but have become accustomed to ordering véres or angolos (bleu or rare, respectively) as Hungarian chefs struggle to believe you actually want to see a bit of pink when you cut the steak open.

The only downside of the meal comes at the end. On a piece of paper. Towards the bottom.

On a Western salary (particularly of the sort that would justify staying in this hotel), peppers! is an absolute bargain. For those of us earning local salaries, the 4000 HUF burgers are eye-wateringly expensive (for reference, a Big Mac is 1350 HUF, a third of the price). It’s just out of the ‘why don’t we go out for dinner tonight?’ bracket (although they do have a reasonably priced lunch menu).

The good news is that this means it’s often a bit quieter and more intimate, so an ideal place for a special date or for a celebration.