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A more casual side to Japan | Ensō, Budapest

Ensō offers a refreshing surprise in Budapest downtown: it’s not only the menu that will make us return to the city’s latest Japanese pub and ramen bar, but its atmosphere, too. Instead of the usual Far Eastern minimalism, here we see wabi sabi all over the place, giving a casual and friendly vibe to the restaurant.

The team of Konyhakör just put another place on the map: the group known for their pop-up dinners organized in extraordinary locations found their permanent place in the building of Patyolat in District 8. The venue is already iconic in itself, and Ensō boasting a pan-Asian-Hungarian fusion kitchen and combining the philosophy of wabi-sabi and the industrial aesthetics of Berlin also seems to share this feature. One of the founders, Beni Tenner introduced us into this exciting world in the days following the opening.

How did you find Patyolat?

Beni: Our first studio restaurant was a 16-person table in the window of Gerlóczy Restaurant – this was a true French jewelry box, which we outgrew over time. Then we were looking for a place where the catering kitchen and the storage room could fit, and which could also be expanded to host larger events. And of course we also had a budget, and Patyolat checked out all the boxes.

The entire house has many faces: there is a café at the entrance, and a rooftop terrace will also open in the spring. In addition, Patyolat also rhymes with Konyhakör’s philosophy of always searching and adding new spots to the map. 

You created the style of Ensō in the spirit of wabi sabi. For those who are not completely familiar with this term yet..

Wabi sabi is the Japanese name of the kind of disorderly order, a way of life focusing on turning away from cluttering our lives with objects that we already pursued before the concept really entered the public domain. We have been promoting a different operation in our relationship with objects for years now. Earlier this comprised the vintage-mismatch-ceramics taken out from grandma’s cupboard, which, by the way, matched Konyhakör’s events and the diverse themes of the dinners perfectly. 

In this case, the challenge was how not to try to seem more or different than what we are, while we knew that if we had our own place, we would have to show the brand ideas we are known for and which we love, by the way. 

Wabi sabi, this way of handling objects freely helped us create the visual identity of the restaurant.

The majority of the objects are Hungarian design products. Where does this attraction of yours come from?

I started collecting ceramics relentlessly in the first and second year of Konyhakör – I was out for all kinds of collections and editions. What’s relevant from the point of the restaurant is our visual heritage from the seventies and eighties. This way the tables paint a very exciting picture, portraying a true cavalcade: Zsolnay industrial ceramics, wedding plates, vases by Géza Gorka, Japanese ikebana bowls manufactured in Hungary… And a single piece from almost everything. 

How do you think Ensō fits into its environment, District 8?

I think our profile does not differ too much from the environment, especially if we consider that we made a reasonably priced, friendly place, not a fine dining restaurant. We kept the prices low, and the vibe evokes a loud, bohemian Japanese pub – with brilliant food. 

By the way I had no preconceptions regarding District 8. On the contrary, many out of the map programs, parties and Patyolat itself also fulfilled an important role in the capital’s cultural life over the past eight years. Our choice of place was quite deliberate: as we move on the map from District 5 to District 7, everything becomes busier and louder. So that we can give the city a form of catering in which we believe in, we must distance ourselves a bit. But not too much: let’s not forget that we are one centimeter away from the geometrical heart of the city, so this is not a place where you have to come out. All in all I think 

District 8 is cool, it pulsates like crazy and is extremely vivid. And we enjoy this very much.

Your menu is quite exciting, too: how should we imagine the fusion of Japanese and Hungarian cuisine?

We know Hungarian cuisine from the gut and cherish it very much, and I think Dávid (Dávid Ruff, Ensōs chef) and I don’t make too many mistakes in it either. We have already covered many Hungarian themes with Konyhakör, and of course in addition to the dishes, all of our industrial artworks, ceramics and glasses were made in Hungary. 

At the same time, Dávid and I have both been interested in the pan-Asian melting pot. Before he joined Konyhakör in 2018, Dávid worked in several Asian-style places, including Beszálló and Fáma. 

The approximately 25 dinners organized by Konyhakör in each year resulted in a colorful set, perhaps this is why I started to figure out the clear direction of gastronomy that interested me the most. And I ended up choosing ramen and fried rice – I am a huge rice-fan, I eat it all the time. This is not a rice bar (yet), but a ramen bar. Back to ramen, we realized that we hadn’t eaten a ramen here in Hungary that would have satisfied us completely, and so we made one that will be one of the best.

The menu contains 3-4 flagship dishes: duck ramen, Korean chicken waffles, chirachizushi and quail eggs. And the rest of them are blends, which means that we combined the Hungarian dishes we like the most with Asian meals with a rich history: lecsó with seaweed, sushi rice and quail eggs, or cheese-sour cream home-made udon pasta in citrus sauce. This whole pan-Asian-Hungarian fusion is a playground for us, in which Dávid and I like to play very much. However, all this has no bearing on ramen: ramen is ramen.

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Photos: Milán Rácmolnár | Web | Behance | Facebook Instagram

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