It’s no surprise that I freakishly adore food. So when Jodon announced that he was going to treat me to an evening at a Michelin star restaurant, you can imagine how I reacted. I was beside myself to say the least. I love long, drawn out dinners with multiple courses. I pour over each episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix as if I was there: I salivate, I cry, I completely envelop myself in the story. It’s crazy. But for all my love of food, I have never been to a Michelin Star restaurant. And let me tell you, it’s a totally different experience than just “going for dinner”.
We arrived at Onyx, for our 6:30 reservation, just as they were unlocking the restaurant doors to open. We were greeted by three smiling staff members, helping us with our coats and bags, hanging everything up and ushering us toward our table for the evening. We were the only ones in the restaurant. It was so uncomfortably quiet. Just us and a plethora of staff at our attendance. We are certainly not used to this much attention, and we awkwardly smiled as we made our way across the room. My chair was pulled out by a fourth server, and pushed back in as I sat down. I went to place my purse on the floor by my feet, when another man came out of nowhere.
“Excuse me miss, a little seat for your purse?”
He placed a small, velvet cushioned stool next to my chair for my purse to sit softly upon. A chair. For my purse. A freakin CHAIR for my purse.
I looked up at Jodon and whispered “Oh my god, my purse has it’s own seat at the table. What is happening?”
The little chair, and the now six staff members around us, and the empty, quiet restaurant were too much for me to handle and I started giggling. I am so not meant for classy restaurants.
I looked down at the plethora of utensils and plates and glasses in front of me. Each one sitting in perfect position on the crisp white tablecloth beneath. As I contemplated the perfection of it all, a woman came over to offer us water and leave us with the menu.
There were two options for dinner. The 6-course, Hungarian Evolution menu, and the 8-course Chef’s Menu. There was also the option for a wine pairing with each menu. The food descriptions were vague at best.
“What do you think ‘violet, pine, blueberry’ means?” Asked Jodon quietly to me.
“Who knows” I giggled. The silence made everything funny.
Suddenly a man came around the corner dragging an entire cart full of alcohol. It was as if he brought the entire bar selection to us.
“Would you care for an appertif? A glass of wine perhaps? Something to excite the palate before dinner?”
We ended up with a glass of Hungarian sparkling wine to start off what was to be an epic, 4-hour food experience. We ended up choosing the 8-course chef’s menu with sommelier recommended wine pairings for each course. Go big or go home, we figured. But it was much more than eight courses. We had three amuse bouche starters, a small frothy soup to cleanse the palate, a beautifully plated beet salad with violet flowers on top and a massive selection of freshly baked breads before the first course even came out. Each dish put in front of us was more impressive than the last. Even the bread was amazing! There were about 12 different flavours of still warm bread placed in front of us: homemade rye, sourdough, chili bread, wild garlic loaf, cheese bread, squid ink bread (Jodon’s favourite), bread with dates, bread with paprika, traditional hungarian rolls. The list was endless. “Bread guy” as we called him, was so enthusiastic about each new flavour. He described each one, making sure to emphasize his favourites. The breads were served with spoons of butter and pâté and pumpkin seed goat cheese as spreads. It was sensational. And when we had finished the massive bowl mid-meal, Bread Guy came back with an entire cart of more fresh-out-of-the-oven breads to fill up.
“Which was your favourite?” “You must try this new one!” “More?” “Let me fill this!” He tittered on about each new loaf, and filled our bowl with more bread than the two of us could ever stomach. It was amazing.
By the time our first course came, with it’s proper wine pairing of course, we were already half full. A decadent looking asparagus salad with chervil and elderflower was placed in front of us. Two waiters worked as a team to describe the dish.
“And as you see, the salad is topped with shaved apples…” they went on and on. Jodon never heard any of it, although they always explained the dishes to him alone. I never knew how to react when they’d finish their description. Do I grab a fork and dig in, do I smile politely, do I thank them and bow? There is so much more etiquette to fine dining than “start at the outside and work your way in”, and I was completely unaware of it until now. I ended up giving a half smile, a whispered “thank you” and a super awkward head nod than was part “I understand” and part “Yes, Mr. Miyagi, I am your Sensei.” It was weird. Every single time.
But we dug into the food regardless. Our spoon clashing loudly on the side of the bowl with each scoop.
“I feel like they could have done a better job picking the dinnerware. This bowl is so loud!” Said Jodon as he clanged his spoon noisily on the side again.
I snorted a laugh. ” I feel like I’m eating out of a bell!”
And we agreed that was EXACTLY was it was like. Try eating soup out of a bell and see how quietly you can do it. Even the slightest touch of the spoon let out a ring across the now crowded restaurant that proved we were even more out of place than we looked. I found this even more giggle worthy and I was only two glasses of wine in.
As the restaurant filled, and we drank more wine, we felt slightly more comfortable with the insane amount of people we had waiting on us. It was still strange to have a man come around and scrape the crumbs off the table after each meal.
“Sorry, we’ve made a mess” said Jodon apologetically as he scraped away a few crumbs.
“No, no!” Said the man emphatically, “It is good. The bread makers get very sad if I don’t find any crumbs on the table!”
And it was equally unusual having my napkin perfectly folded as I returned each time from the ladies room. But the courses continued: sturgeon caviar with cucumber soup, ground lamb wrapped in crispy kale, trout marinated in grape seed oil with wild garlic and horseradish. Each flavour was a tastebud explosion!
At the end of each course, the waiter would ask how we liked the dish. I made it my personal mission to never use the same descriptive word twice.
“It was wonderful, thank you,” “Absolutely sensational,” “This was fantastic”
I was doing fairly well until I was asked again by the sommelier about the wines.
“Superb!” “Phenomenal,” “Extremely delicious”…. by the time the main course came, I had already needed to use at least 18 descriptive words. Jodon laughed each time I politely responded to the server, he couldn’t wait until I slipped up and used the same word twice. This game got significantly more difficult as we each finished our 5th glass of wine.
“The goulash was exceptional” I said as I did my classic awkward nod as if my waiter was royalty. As one point the sommelier surprised me and asked me about the wine before I had a new word in mind.
“Ahhh, GOOD!” I said, unusually loud and high pitched. It wasn’t good. It was great. But I’d used “great” already so I said good, but I said it LOUD and I said it HIGHER so as to emphasize just how GOOD it really was. I’m a loser. I realize this.
Jodon has exactly four descriptive words when it comes to anything.
“OK” (The go-to for most everything)
“Good” (Anything from a 6 – 8.5/10)
And “Very good” said super regularly, without any high-pitchness or over emphasizing. Sometimes, to my horror, even with a shrug and half nod. Michelin star restaurants are “Very good” in his books. And that is all.
Our main course was a rare venison steak with black pudding and an apple, celery mash. It was mouth-watering (a descriptive word, I realize now, that I never used). At this point I was stuffed to the brim and feeling tipsy. The wine we were drinking was all Hungarian, from different regions of the country. I had never had Hungarian wine before Budapest, but it is top notch! To be honest, if Jodon hadn’t told me the wine was “very good” in Hungary, I’m not sure I would have categorized Hungary as a wine nation at all! But I’d be sorely mistaken, because not only is their wine excellent, but they were also the inventors of the famous summer sipper, the spritzer! Fun fact.
After the venison came an apricot sorbet with mango and vanilla sauces and small spots of white and dark chocolate.
“This is your pre-dessert before your pre-dessert” said the server as he placed it in front of us and started his description. Was I getting drunk? Did he just say pre dessert to our pre dessert. Turns out this was just another course that wasn’t even included in the menu. So it was a little palate cleansing dessert to prepare us for the next course, which was in fact the pre dessert to the actual dessert. It was confusing, but too delicious for me to contest. So I ate it dutifully with my favourite awkward thank you bow.
Then followed our pear and thyme pre dessert, set in a cold chamomile tea. “Outstanding”
And finally our “real” dessert, with the very confusing caption “violet, pine, blueberry”.
I’m still not entirely sure what this dessert was, but it was beautiful. Thin, frozen dark chocolate shavings in a nest beside violet, house-made ice cream. Freeze dried blueberries that popped with flavour, pine nut crumble and white chocolate spatter presented in a modern work of art. Holy crap.
“I am so sad for this dinner to end, but also SO happy this is the last course” I said to Jodon, leaning back in my chair, happy that my dress was stretchy.
“I’m so full” he agreed as we sipped the last of our late harvest Tokaji cuvée (I don’t recognize ANY of the grape varietals here in Hungary) sadly happy to not be served any more food.
And then Bread Guy came back.
“Hello” he said dragging a giant cart full of small chocolate treats, “May I offer you some chocolates to finish the dinner?” And he continued to describe each of the 15 or so different chocolates and creams and crunchy cookie-like desserts to us. Oh my god. There’s more! Knowing I’d never be able to choose I asked if he would just pick his favourite and I would have that one.
“Yes, thank you” he said, picking up a plate and some tongs. Proud to be picking out the best of the best for us. By the time he finished we had six different desserts on our plate. I was expecting him to choose ONE and offer it. But he picked and prodded through them and kept mutter “maybe this” “you must try these” “This one” as he placed each one on the plate. “Any more that I missed?” He asked with a smile
“NO!” We both said, a little too emphatically. Six was more than enough.
And low and behold, the chocolates were just as delicious as everything else we had had that evening.
The bar cart was brought back around and we were offered coffee and liqueurs and or anything we wanted to accompany our post-dessert. But it was all too much. We had been sitting at that little table for over four hours just the three of us: Jodon, myself, and my purse, still perched politely on it’s velvet chair beside us.
But it was not over.
With the bill came two white boxes with the Onyx insignia and a violet ribbon. “A treat for tomorrow for you both” said the server as he dropped off the bill.
“They’re even feeding us tomorrow?!” I exclaimed “This is insane”
I have always known that Michelin starred restaurants were “a cut above” other restaurants, but I had no idea what I was getting into when the staff unlocked the front doors for us four and a half hours earlier. It wasn’t just dinner; it was an experience. It wasn’t just service; it was knowledge. There was even a staff member on hand who was a connoisseur of mineral water, in case any questions arose. A mineral water expert! HOW DOES ONE EVEN GET THE TITLE OF MINERAL WATER EXPERT???
It was hands down the best dinner of my life, with no close seconds. And I consider myself the luckiest girl in the world to have been treated to such an occasion. Jodon’s a keeper.