In the heart of Budapest is the second restaurant in the country to gain a Michelin star (the first was Costes in 2010). The building also houses the Gerbeaud confectionary and coffee shop, a fixture of the city since the late 19th century. Onyx opened in April 2007 and gained a Michelin star in 2011. Szabina Szullo is executive chef, having previously worked at the Gerbaud House and cafe. Her sous chef Tamás Széll came 10th in the Bocuse d'Or competition in 2013, helping the Hungarian team to its highest ever position in this tough international competition.
The main ground floor dining room exudes luxury, with onyx features, marble statues and grand chandeliers. It is carpeted, with widely spaced tables and classical music playing in the background. A further dining room extends inside the building, with a total 55 customers capable of being seated at once. The cooking style is a modern take on Hungarian cuisine.
At lunch a three-course menu with a trio of choices at each course is the only option available, but in the evening there is a lengthier selection of dishes on offer. A basket of assorted breads and pastries was excellent, with a very nice miniature dill roll and the various bread slices having good texture (easily 15/20). The wine list arrived on an iPad and covered around 300 different labels, with a broad selection from Hungary. Example bottles were Villa Huesgen Schiefer Riesling 2011 at 11,900 Ft for a wine you can find in a shop for 8,181 Ft, Lascombes Grand Cru 2010 at a chunky 99,000 Ft compared to a retail price of 30,543 Ft, and the glorious Szepsy 6 Puttonyos 2006 at 69,000 Ft for a wine with a UK retail price equivalent to 37,306 Ft and a local retail price of 24,900 Ft at a nearby shop. Many restaurants in Hungary barely mark up their wines, but as can be seen these mark-ups are pushing in the direction of London levels.
Roast shrimp came with baked Padron pepper, goat cheese and Gruyere cheese crisp with a red pepper velouté and "long pepper" on the side. Long pepper is a spice well known in ancient Greece and Rome but has only recently become used much in modern European cookery, a little like black pepper but with a slight numbing sensation similar to Sichuan pepper. I found this a rather odd dish. The components in themselves were fine: the shrimp was lightly cooked, the Padron pepper was pleasant, while the pepper veloute could have done with a lot more spiciness for me but was decent enough. However I could not understand the logic of mixing goat cheese in with pepper and shrimp, flavours that have no obvious place together in a dish. It was as if the different elements had somehow got lost on their way to other dishes and were served jumbled together (13/20 at best).
For my main course, a beef stew involved meat cooked sous vide and topped with buttered noodles, a rich meat sauce and a little roll containing pickled radish marinated in rice vinegar. This was a much more successful dish, the beef tender, the noodles delicate, the sauce enjoyably rich and nicely balanced by the sourness of the vinegar from the pickling (16/20).
Dessert was woodruff (a sweet smelling herb) ice cream with rhubarb granita, chocolate crumbs, malted brown bread crumbs, blueberry, red fruits, marinated rhubarb and sour cream. This sounded better than it tasted the crumbs too hard (more rocks than crumbs), the rhubarb oddly lacking its usual tartness, the flavours blending into one another and the fruits not having the distinctiveness you would expect (13/20 at best). Coffee was fine.
Service was excellent, the staff attentive and efficient. The bill came to 17100 Ft (£40 a head) at lunch with just water and coffee to drink. In the evening, sharing a bottle of wine, a typical cost per head might be around £70. I found this a rather frustrating meal, with one genuinely good dish but a couple of less successful ones. I suspect that the kitchen can deliver when it has a mind to, shown by a brief taste of my companion's (off menu) modern goulash featuring beef ravioli and a classy consommé that was every bit as good as my best dish. However I can only write about what I ate, and was unable to try anything from the a la carte menu, this being lunchtime. If I come back here I will make it for dinner and sample some different dishes.