Babel’s story began in 2008 when founder and owner Hubert Hlatky-Schlichter set out to revolutionise the city’s culinary offerings. High-end restaurants weren’t commonplace in Hungary in the early 2000s, and Hubert wanted to change this by creating an extraordinary place that fostered happiness and exposed diners to an eating experience unlike any other. This would be delivered in a unique set-up, where everyone in the restaurant— whether working or visiting— played an equal part. This concept, in turn, gave rise to the restaurant’s emblematic name.
“The name Babel came from a biblical myth that meant to explain why the world’s people speak different languages. The descendants of Noah, who still spoke a single language, went to the land of Shinar and wanted to build a city and a tower tall enough to reach heaven: the tower of Babel, where earth meets heaven. So the restaurant became Babel, where everyone speaks the same language, the language of gastronomy. Everyone who is in our restaurant is equal, we are the same, we are one, we are family,” explains the brigade of bright and brilliant chefs that work as a unified team in Babel’s kitchen.
In 2015, the restaurant moved from its original address to its current location on the historic March 15 Square. Set in the Piarist High School building, adjacent to the oldest church in the city centre, this is where Babel came into full form, winning its first Michelin star in 2019. Constantly evolving but maintaining its dedication to showcasing the best of Hungary, this is a restaurant that is entirely in tune with its locale, from both a heritage and produce perspective.
“The restaurant started with a very technical menu, à la minute cooking and a very intrigued approach to ingredients. The menu was built on the best quality ingredients available, which determined the evolution of the menu. We also added some Hungarian specialities based on the founder’s experiences and the country’s gastronomic history.
“We always keep in mind to display the cuisine and cultural heritage of the former monarchy through modern thoughts and elevating them to an elegant level. Our menu changes seasonally, from month to month, following the season of the best ingredients. We are influenced by the old monarchy, which gives us a greater territory and a wider variety of food to experiment with.”
“Our tasting menu changes and evolves seasonally; currently, most of our food goes back to the past. As this is our heritage, we try to refine it and present it in a modern robe. We currently have four courses on our menu at the restaurant that are based on dishes from our childhood, reaching back to our parents and grandparents’ heritage and longer.”
One such creation is the Layered Potato. Usually a Sunday-lunch staple in Hungary, it references the casserole-style dish’s usual flavours but is presented in an elegant, bite-sized snack at the restaurant. Featuring potato, Hungarian sausage, and egg squeezed into a brick-dough tube, capped with sour cream and topped with beloved Hungarian Mangalica pig bacon and vinegary cucumbers, it’s a modern take on a local classic — a notion that Babel carries throughout its menu.
The Casino Egg (or deviled egg, as many know it) is another reinvented traditional dish that made its way onto the menu. “The founder really wanted to see this dish come back to life in a different perspective,” explains the Babel team. “His spouse’s family always makes casino eggs for family gatherings, which, of course, don’t look like the dish created in Babel, but all the flavours are in it. There’s the Russian salad at the bottom and the creamy egg yolk hidden under a wonderful, light egg-white cream. And as they did in the really old days in famous hotels in Hungary where they used to serve these, we added caviar on top for this refined dish. Well, we added a lot more caviar.”
The two dessert dishes also hold a special sentiment for the chefs. In particular, Semolina, is a trip down memory lane. A breakfast dish that most Hungarians had in their childhood, this creation is reminiscent of the cream of wheat porridge topped with all manner of delights, from chocolate powder to apricot jam and cinnamon. But at Babel, it has been reimagined as a masterpiece. The semolina gives a firmer consistency with a puck-like shape, and apricots and apricot jam are added for a punch of flavour. A finishing touch of cornflake-milk ice cream brings the child-like joy —it’s the flavours of your youth elegantly presented on a plate.
Still, among all these innovative creations, the Eszterházy, the last course on the menu, remains the team’s favourite dish. This feather-light walnut and cream dessert is the restaurant’s pièce de résistance, bringing sweet and salty together in perfect harmony.
“For us, it is something really traditional to have a cake when we celebrate any event that brings us joy. In this case, we celebrate each restaurant guest’s support and love for fine dining. This is how the idea to have a whole cake as a ‘petit four’ was born. We picked this famous Hungarian cake because the founder of Babel and his family grew up in a close friendship with the Eszterházy family and because it’s a heavenly, well-created cake.”
This idea of honouring the guest is central to Babel’s hospitality philosophy. It’s showcased through every facet of the restaurant, resulting in an experience that is welcoming and memorable and sees guests leaving with a full heart.
“Our guests are the most important to us; everything we do is for them. We provide a whole dining experience for each guest. We would like them to feel like we gave them an unforgettable memory, not just a good time and a full stomach. We hear back from guests that they can’t really pick a dish or a moment as their favourite because it is a whole event from entering the restaurant until they leave. The goal is that everyone should want to come back,” adds Babel’s team.
Even the restaurant’s interior, albeit luxurious and refined, recalls the idea of a living room where guests can feel at home and comfortable, with no dress code to abide by or stuffiness to wrangle with.
“Within the walls, which have been preserved in their original condition and show the traces of the great floods of Pest in 1838, the owner Hubert Hlatky-Schlichter and the interior designer Annamária Dékany dreamed about a specific atmosphere: creating a timeless, elegant but relaxed space, also known as the most beautiful fine-dining
“Preserving and creating traditions, returning to nature, recalling memories, and relocating them into our world today, are all evident in the kitchen and the dining room. It feels like a beautiful, cosy living room. This is because we want our guests to feel comfortable, like they would be at home with family and friends. We have a wooden shelf on the wall with pictures of the events in Babel, books, plants, vases, and sculptures, just like in most homes. The open-kitchen concept is represented as well, with an oven inside the room and a little modern fireplace.
“We don’t have a dress code; we love individuality. We just ask our guests to pay attention to each other and our restaurant with their attire. This way, we think we can create a great family atmosphere. It’s a familiar ambience: your home, your living room, where you make all your nice memories with family and friends and where you celebrate big events. A place where you don’t feel different, where you feel comfortable. That is what hospitality is all about.”
Creating a thoughtful space that still ignites all the senses yet honours the locale’s heritage through fine food explains why Babel not only has a Michelin star but has also been awarded as part of Hungary’s Top 10 Restaurants on multiple occasions and been named the International Restaurant of the Year 2017 by Decanter.
Even with all these awards, global recognition doesn’t drive the brigade behind Babel, though. Instead, it’s all about the joys of working as a team to deliver their guests the highest quality dining experience possible. Inspired by each other and with unbounded mutual respect, they create magic in the kitchen.
“Working together inspires us. Each member of our team can add their own ideas. The region’s seasonality and characteristics inspire us with the stories and personal experiences behind the food. When we create the menu, our team members are equally involved, from the first step to the last, continuously testing through small refinements to achieve the perfect end result. All team members receive equal respect, which gives us unity and holds the team together.
“Thanks to our larger team, compared to other fine-dining restaurants in Hungary, we receive a lot more impulse and new information every day. We are thankful for this because we have many more opportunities to develop creative food and preparation methods. With us, teamwork means helping each other in all circumstances.”
The Babel team also gets particularly inspired when Consultant Chef Daniel Berlin visits. A renowned Swedish culinary master, Berlin worked alongside Hubert Hlatky-Schlichter during the conception phase of the restaurant and now continues to consult the team on its menu, assisting in refining the cuisine and keeping Babel on the cusp of gastronomic excellence.
“The greatest honour for us is that Daniel Berlin is our Consultant Chef, and we can learn from him and work with him. Daniel is one of the defining figures of the Babel family, and we love it when he is home with us. Not only does it affect us, but it contributes to the gastronomic development of the whole country through our work, as Babel inspires many people. He showed us a new direction, a new mentality. We are really proud to be able to work with him.”
Of course, having Berlin as part of the Babel team already puts the restaurant one step ahead of many of the dining establishments in Budapest and Hungary as a whole, but what else sets Babel apart from other eateries in the city?
“Budapest is a really metropolitan city, and Hungarians love to go out, eat amazing food and have a great time,” says the Babel team. “The culinary circle of different kinds of food is huge in Budapest; there is something for everyone. That’s why there are so many restaurants. If we specifically talk about Michelin-starred and fine-dining restaurants, then the list gets a lot smaller, of course. This would be one part that sets Babel apart from others.
“Another one would be that our Babel team operates as a family, and that family is Babel itself. We, therefore, believe in the importance of human quality in the selection of team members, in addition to hospitality and professional knowledge.
“We decided that we want to be the best workplace for our team, where professional development is as important as quality time outside of work and having time to recharge is a possibility for everyone. That’s why we’ve introduced revolutionary changes in the world of fine dining to achieve our goals. We work a normal number of hours and have free mornings or nights and a whole weekend. Our restaurant doesn’t have twelve to sixteen hours of exploitative and burn-out shifts. In return, we expect the maximum from our team during their shifts and when they create for our guests.
“It is possible to study, travel abroad and go on paid leave; you can live a full life by overcoming the usual professional disadvantages. So we’ve created sustainable working conditions in a livable way, where we can work together for a long time and work in this profession even at an old age.”
Always looking to the future, Babel remains at the forefront of the fine-dining scene in Budapest. This trailblazing identity stems from one fundamental principle: to always be better than yesterday. The team is constantly evolving, growing and learning so that it can achieve its goals.
“We would like to go for the second and then third Michelin star,” says the Babel team about their dreams for 2023 and beyond. “We believe we have what it takes; the team, the spirit, the knowledge and most of all, the motivation. To fail is not an option.
“We want the best dining experience for our guests, that they talk about us with passion and a smile and always wish to come back for the new menu no matter where they might live because Babel is definitely worth a trip to Budapest.”
So if you haven’t been yet, or even if you have, take a tip from the Babel team and pack your bags for Budapest, where you’ll be treated to hospitality of the highest order and food of the finest calibre.