Anyone into food problably knew something about Gundel’s restaurant here in Budapest. It was and is probably the most expensive restaurant in the city. If you have not heard yet, the renovator of Gundel’s and the more charming less expensive Owls Nest, George Lang has died in New York. Sorry to break it to you so abruptly, but yet, we all have an expiration date somewhere. There is a lovely tribute to the man in Restaurant Insider if you care to read it, click here.
According to the reprint in Chew.hu, “While best known as the proprietor of the Café des Artistes in Manhattan, he later made headlines for bringing back to life (with the backing of cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder) Budapest’s venerable Gundel, which had fallen on very hard times during the communist era. I wasn’t initially going to write any tribute-like post in honor of Lang, because, at least in his later years, he didn’t seem to be a force for culinary good. He not only let Café des Artistes go bust (it has since reopened as “Leopard at des Artistes”), but he also presided over/agree to the sale of Gundel to the Danubius hotel group, which from day one seemed intent on returning the place to its pre-1990 squalor. One could even say that both places, as well as his career as a whole, were always slightly more about PR than food. And those Gundel-branded wines… well, let’s not even go there.”
I could not have said it better, so I had to quote it. When I was writing my books, when I had opportunities to speak with chefs, a common theme of Budapest restaurant life was the demise of Gundels. It only survives on reputation from glorious days of the past and current day patrons who effusively pour on accolades to hide their shameful waste of money.