Premium quality and vast professional expertise spiced up with some novelty from time to time—we visited one of the latest hot spots of Budapest, the realm of VAJ located on the corner of József körút and Rákóczi tér. Their repertoire offers authentic home-made favorites made of locally sourced ingredients, including cottage cheese bundles and various rolls, but one can also find sourdough bread and crescents, complemented with French classics and Scandinavian pastries, without unnecessary frills.
VAJ currently operates as a bakery and a cafe—its concept was dreamt up by the Markó brothers, Áron and Kristóf, and their friend Zoltán Faisztl. As also stated by the founders, VAJ was brought to life by consumer needs, or their change to be more accurate: the demand for high quality bakery products is growing so rapidly that the current players on the market are not able to satisfy it any longer. Rákóczi tér and Budapest’s District 8 is a neighborhood that has an apparent shortage in this area, so it proved to be an ideal place to launch their joint business.
„This is a revolution”
The members of the founding trio complement each other well: Áron and Zoltán are in charge of running VAJ, while Kristóf represents the baker profession—leaving the world of fine dining behind, he was longing for new impulses and finally ended up choosing breadmaking.
“We build on Kristóf’s talent and his many years of experience in foreign fine dining kitchens: he is our jackpot. What he learned in Switzerland and France about work organization, loadbearing and kitchen technology we turn to good use on the corner of Rákóczi tér,” Áron highlighted.
As the name of the bakery already gives it away (vaj means butter in Hungarian—the translator’s note), the founders are very fond of butter: it became the principal ingredient to almost all products available in the bakery. “We use a lot of butter and we hope more and more people will follow our lead,” Kristóf said. „This is a revolution,” Áron added.
Of course, VAJ is more than just butter: it’s also about good hospitality, preciseness and attention to details. “A good product is inevitable, but it’s the small details that can really make a difference and make a place stand out among the others. Luckily VAJ has a team where these things come naturally to everyone, which is great,” Áron continued.
The solid foundation
In addition to traditional Hungarian treats, VAJ’s selection also features hand-made and long-fermented sourdough breads, crescents and rolls, French puff pastry, various sandwiches and Danishes. The goal was to lay down a solid foundation: their repertoire keeps expanding with new treats every day.
A core principle in VAJ’s creed is that the peculiarity of the dishes served here does not come from the use of unnecessary sprinkles, adornments or sprouts. “There is a tried-and-true method for most things—these don’t need any extra complication or reinvention, they just need to be done with care, using good ingredients. Of course there are always things to finetune and improve, but care and consistency are key aspects in this case as well. We follow the same idea in the case of our hot meals and breakfasts. A ham and eggs should be what it is: simple, fresh, made of the best ingredients to perfection. It is this simple perfectionism that I am intrigued by the most,” Kristóf explained.
The majority of their ingredients come from Hungarian small producers. As Zoltán also highlighted: “there are many types of produce in which Hungarians excel and offer premium quality. Flour and butter, however, are delicate matters, and in these cases, we only buy from Italian and French producers”.
Not only do they stick to the best ingredients, they also strive to make most things in place: their Danish comes with home-made vanilla cream and apple compote—they already started to experiment with preservation and fermenting their own pickles before opening VAJ, which is expected to have an even more pronounced role with the arrival of the spring.
In addition to the freshly baked pastries, breads and crescents, VAJ also has a deli counter. The products offered in the counter, for example, eggs, pumpkin seed oil or coffee are also used in the kitchen in one way or another. The counter’s repertoire has been selected by VAJ’s team with the greatest care, and they also highlighted a few of their favorites at our request, including the Heppenheimer eggs, the Rex Ketchup and the Kockás Rudi.
The place where you feel at home
The sophisticated repertoire is complemented by a sophisticated and clean interior and visual identity, once again reflecting the taste of the founders. Even though the interior is still very much in formation and continuously changing, to welcome guests with a clean yet homely and friendly interior, with the transparency of processes in the focus, was laid down as a key criterion when outlining the overall atmosphere of the place. The guest area is only separated from the kitchen with a translucent plexiglass, allowing guests to see the bakers shaping the rolls and allowing the makers and the consumers of the bread to form a direct connection.
Zsuzsi Linka’s graphics make the atmosphere of the bakery even more loveable and memorable. Breaking away from the traditional rustic visual world of bakeries, in addition to the colors and motifs of butter, lovely heraldic animals also received a central role in the interior.
They always have bread
… and more. VAJ considers its mission to make sure that customers on their way home after work can also buy fresh bakery products even around half past six. This results in somewhat more leftover than usual, which VAJ’s team donates to children and families living in poverty through Oltalom Egyesület.
The founders’ plans don’t end here: as soon as the restrictions are lifted and the guest area can be opened, the audience can expect more and more novelties to come. They’ll launch their kitchen, hot dishes will be served, brunch season will officially begin, and we can also expect to see more and more confectionery products and cakes in their repertoire. They also prepare with a gin menu for the evening hours.
Photos: Balázs Csizik