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A stylish, inventive take on Hungarian dishes at Turul Project in north London

A stylish, inventive take on Hungarian dishes at Turul Project in north London

It’s not often that you hear of a cool new Hungarian restaurant opening in London, but now that there is one, that feels like rather a shame. With a wine culture that is increasingly being recognised here for its extraordinary quality and variety, and a culinary tradition that has absorbed many influences from its eventful history, Hungary seems like a country that should be better represented on our food scene. Turul Project in north-east London certainly makes the case better than I can.

Having started out life as a series of pop-ups and supper clubs in 2018, and this is its first permanent incarnation under its owner István Ruska and head chef Levente Koppány. It’s an attractive spot prominently located just outside Turnpike Lane station, in a charming, airy Art Deco building that was once part of the station itself. The bar at the front is open for coffee in the mornings, doubling as a wine bar and shop with a wide selection of Hungarian bottles, and there’s a deli attached to the restaurant as well. Open and simply decorated, it comes with friendly staff and a welcoming air of informality. Frankly, if you’re anywhere in the neighbourhood at any time of day, you can find some reason to stop in.

But if you’re not in the neighbourhood, you should still come. The restaurant is well worth the trip from practically anywhere, with its short, original menu designed to put a fine dining spin on Hungarian dishes and produce. Don’t expect the hearty stews and soups you might associate with Hungarian food: while there are plenty of traditional ideas in the background, these are precise, refined arrangements of beautifully cooked things. A starter of goose liver paté made with the signature Hungarian sweet wine Tokaji Aszu was light and whipped into fluffiness, accompanied by a bite-size piece of toasty brioche and tiny, delicate roundels of apple and cabbage. It was as if paté had been reinvented by fairies.

If the main courses were made by otherworldly creatures (this seems unlikely as the open kitchen is in full view of the diners), they were of an earthier variety. Hare is not a meat you often see on menus, but it features here in a tribute to vadas, the Hungarian hunter’s stew that can be made with all kinds of game. Although its flavours point firmly towards the countryside, the artful arrangment of a trim little fillet, a tiny, madeleine-esque dumpling and carrots collapsing into themselves, make it feel like the most elegant of dishes.

The menu of Hungarian wine is another reason to come; dry white Tokaji made from the furmint grape has been on the radar over here for some time now, but Turul Project has a long list of other wines you probably won’t have heard of. I tried a white Juhfark that was pleasingly punchy and refreshing and a red wine of the blend known as ‘bull’s blood’ – as rich and vibrant as it sounds and a perfect foil for game. And of course, you can’t take on pudding at this restaurant without a glass of sweet Tokaji. There’s plenty to choose from, including an unusually light wine made from yellow muscat, which went perfectly with the generous, pillowy walnut dumpling that finished the meal.

I don’t live anywhere near Turnpike Lane, quite the opposite in fact, but I’m already planning another visit, if only to try the monkfish ‘Paprikas’ I didn’t get to on the menu, and to work my way through some more of the wine list. István and Levente have covered all their bases here, creating a neighbourhood restaurant that should also be a destination; a place for special occasions, casual drinks, and everything in between.

Turul Project, 1, Turnpike Parade, London N15 3LA, turulproject.com

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Published at Fri, 18 Jun 2021 14:29:41 +0000