I am enjoying blogging as a hobby. People regularly ask me how I can afford to dedicate any time to testing & writing recipes, reviews and produce videos for my YouTube channel. Cooking and discussing food is my passion and so I don’t consider it work necessarily. However one thing I do struggle with is taking note of a restaurant’s features in order to write a review for my blog. When food is on the table I can too easily get engrossed in what is in front of me, and coupled with a burning desire to ask the chef directly how it’s prepared, I forget to take note of the potential charms of the space, service, price etc. I therefore ask your pardon if these reviews can sometimes appear basic, but I assure you the food has been analysed in detail.
Making the effort to note down your experience eating out is even more challenging when you’re on holiday. It therefore takes an especially memorable restaurant experience to convince me to write a review about it when I’m abroad. Like my review of hip Athenian taverna Ama Laxei, there was no way I could go on without shouting about Mazel Tov.
This time we’re in the trendy and cosmopolitan 7th district of Budapest’s Jewish Quarter (specifically the Pest side). As the name suggests, Mazel Tov is an Israeli / Middle Eastern eatery in one Budapest’s notorious 'ruinpubs' this side of the capital. It doesn’t seem quite right to describe it a restaurant, but a cultural space that’s very much integrated in the local music scene. Hosting weekly live music events, Mazel Tov is very much a project that has taken it’s Israeli inspired theme, menu and location to integrate with the community. Its impressive open and airy spaces make it perfect as a trendy meeting point, restaurant and events venue and it plays a key part in the Jewish Summer Festival to give one example.
Crucially, though, this was the finest Middle Eastern meal I have ever eaten (reservations are essential). I many have never actually been to the Middle East, but I have lived in London…
Firstly decor, and you instantly get the warehouse, re-constructed factory vibes. As I say the space is impressive because it's so vast, and this hits you square on as soon as you enter. Mazel Tov is a hive of activity and is exciting. I didn't know where to look. You have the kitchen and stacks of these wonderful pickles lined up on your left, long recycled factory lamps hanging from the ceiling, the ceiling itself a charming image of wooden panels that have been fitted to the original shape. Then there’s a lush green from the abundance of perfectly proportioned plants hanging high from the walls that reach down to authentic mediterranean style tiles. The whole floor is covered with different shaped wooden tables and wrought-iron chairs.
The atmosphere is, well, Hungarian because this place is a local hotspot. As we sat down on one of the park style benches at the back of the space, I noticed the groups of trendy looking twenty, thirty & forty somethings socialising around us. It was a place where you could rock some new sneakers you’ve just bought and they’d be noticed.
During my evening at Mazel Tov there was a relaxed music set going on with an eclectic range of hits, including George Ezra’s Budapest (relevant) and Elvis. Slightly random but inoffensive and chilled.
Food & Wine
Something I really took from my experience at Mazel Tov was the chance to sample some local Hungarian wine. We ordered a couple of bottles of Gál Tabor 100% Pinot Noir, from the Gal Tibor winery in the the northern Hungarian region of Eger. This is a proud winery determined to emphasise Hungarian grape quality and purposely restricts its portfolio to only 3 varieties of wine. The wine we drank was thin and slightly fruity and accompanies red meat very well. From what I could see the innovative looking lemonades were popular around us. After scanning the menu I wouldn’t mind trying some exciting mixes including watermelon & papaya or grenadine with lemongrass.
While food isn’t kosher (which I do feel would add a suitable charm) it’s good. Really good. My knowledge of Israeli cuisine is still fairly limited, but the concise menu included all the staple flavours and ingredients I have read about from Ottolenghi and partner Sami Tamimi. You can find marinated kebabs and grilled meats alongside creative variations of hummus and tahini-based sauces and dips.
We started things off light but varied with some warm pitta breads served with homemade hummus, handcut chips, a regular salad and a grilled aubergine, tomato, red onion & parsley salad with a mint / tahini sauce. The pitta was fresh, the hummus was creamy and had lashings of tahini (which I love, I consume tahini in someway almost everyday) and the salads were zingy. With Greek Cypriot heritage and a love for Middle Eastern food, this starter was familiar, comforting and it didn’t disappoint.
I was in one of those moods where my stomach was an empty pit and no break between starter and mains was very necessary. Thankfully the food arrived soon after and it was bliss. I opted against the popular chicken shawarma (Iranian style kebab) chosen by the rest of the gang. I’ve always had a love of offal and particularly liver but don’t get to eat it often. The Jerusalem Mix, on top of the groovy name, was what I saw as a heightened chicken shawarma with kidney and liver added into the mix. The mound of meat nestled on top of the wonderfully fresh pitta we had for starters (which was perfect to soak up the meat juices) and was served with the same mint / tahini sauce, a homemade pepper salsa and a beetroot salad. The dish was garnished with pomegranate seeds and fresh coriander.
The main reasons why I enjoyed this dish so much was because the meat was cooked perfectly, it wasn’t dry. Then it was hearty. I naturally demolished the plate but really did feel full up afterwards. Finally it was a no frills meal that was presented with care and the rich purples, green and reds were striking to look at for those briefs seconds before I got stuck in.
Price & Service
Excellent throughout. First because it was so cheap for what we consumed. 2 bottles of wine, a solid starter, main, and shared desserts came to around £17 a head. Our waiter was cool and knowledgable about the menu, and spoke fluent English which was obviously a plus.
I really, really liked Mazel Tov. It’s the type of venue that has inspired me in other cities like London, but hasn’t left me wincing at the bill and thus gives you the opportunity to order an extra dish here and there to really appreciate the exciting menu on offer. It’s a hub of cool and well thought design that welcomes bikes and dogs, and the food is high-quality Middle Eastern cuisine coupled with hearty Hungarian portions and careful presentation.