Turul Project London restaurant review: an unforgettable ode to Hungarian cuisine
Goose liver, hare croquettes and bread dumplings - this is fine dining, Hungarian-style
Ever since Hungary joined the EU in 2004, hundreds of thousands of Hungarians have left central Europe to make the British Isles their home. As a result, London is often described as the “second-largest Hungarian city”, with only Budapest boasting a larger Hungarian population.
Despite there being more than 200,000 Hungarians living in the capital, according to Euronews, you can count the number of Hungarian restaurants on one hand - something that Highbury-based, Hungarian-born István Ruska is trying to change.
In June, Ruska celebrated the opening of his first permanent restaurant, Turul Project, located a stone’s throw from Turnpike Lane station in north east London. Turul Project, which started its life as a pop-up in 2018, puts a modern, fine dining twist on traditional Hungarian dishes and features an extensive Hungarian wine list.
“There is no Hungarian food scene in the UK and Hungarian fine dining has never been attempted outside of Hungary - not anywhere in the world,” Ruska tells TheWeek.co.uk. “After working in London hospitality for 16 years I wanted to open my own restaurant and I thought it would make sense if it was Hungarian and something new and exciting.”
The restaurant is a stunning Art Deco building that was once part of the station, with a bottle-green, walnut and cream interior. Turul Project doubles as a wine bar; those not keen on the rather hefty fine dining price tag can opt for booze and bar snacks. The main menu is seasonal, although Ruska reminds me that most Hungarian food is “very hearty and heavy, so it’s hard to take a particularly summery approach with it”.
For those unfamiliar with Hungarian food, the menu does need some translating (“Tokaji Aszú” is a sweet wine, “Paprikas” is a traditional sauce with pepper, tomato and paprika powder, for example), but the friendly staff are more than happy to oblige. Being talked through the lengthy wine list - which was full of names that are unfamiliar outside of Hungary - was also useful.
I opted to start with goose liver pâté, which was served with the softest, sweetest brioche roll, fermented red cabbage puree and jellied granny smith apple. The acidity of the apple and savoury flavour of the cabbage perfectly countered the richness of the liver; Ruska described it to me as a “very traditional Hungarian special occasion dish” - and it certainly felt like one.
My dining companion, Charley, chose the fermented cucumber velouté with smoked trout, dill cream and caviar. The bright green fermented cucumber juice - which was poured over the fish at the table and had been pickled for up to three weeks with salt, pepper, raw garlic, dill and a piece of bread - had an umami-like quality to it. “This dish isn’t traditional - we’d never have soup like this in Hungary - but it contains flavours that a Hungarian person would recognise,” says Ruska.
Next up was monkfish “Paprikas” served with what I can only describe as a slice of lasagna, made using curd cheese, sour cream and a smidgen of lard. Traditionally this dish would use catfish rather than monkfish (which isn’t common on menus in land-locked Hungary), but the two fish have similar consistencies. The Paprikas sauce, which started life as a stock made from the monkfish offcuts, had an unusual, almost Thai curry-like flavour - one I wouldn’t have usually matched with fish but seemed to work in this context.
Charley went for the hare with a traditional bread dumpling, mainly out of curiosity - how often do you see hare on a London menu? Butchered in-house and presented almost like a sausage, the hare didn’t look particularly appetising on her plate - but its rich gameyness was flavourful and extremely filling. The highlight of our whole meal was the accompanying hare “croquette”, made by rolling a confit hare leg in panko breadcrumbs before deep-frying it. The hare was served “vadas style”, in other words, with a sweet Hungarian sauce made from carrots, mustard and vinegar. “It’s a very rustic, old dish,” Ruska explains.
We were almost too full for dessert, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try a traditional Hungarian “Ludlab” chocolate torte (the name meaning “goose foot”, for reasons Ruska wasn’t too sure of). The rich chocolate was offset by a deliciously sharp sour cherry sorbet, with accompanying fresh sour cherries cooked in honey pálinkas (a fruit brandy). We also sampled a walnut dumpling served with walnut ice cream - a dish “you’ll find in every Hungarian household”.
Before visiting Turul Project, my knowledge and experience of Hungarian cuisine began and ended with goulash. Having the opportunity to try so many new flavours and flavour combinations felt exciting; for a summer with foreign holidays pretty much out of the question, tastebud travelling is surely the next best thing.
Also exciting was seeing this style of restaurant in Turnpike Lane - an area known for its superb Turkish, Indian and Pakistani cuisine, but not for fine dining (Hungarian or otherwise). “The diversity of this part of London was crucial to Turul Project’s concept,” says Ruska. “You don’t get up in the morning and say ‘I fancy a Hungarian’ in the same way you would with an Italian or tapas or sushi, so being in an open-minded area with a big demographic mix was essential. We want everyone to get a sense of what Hungarian food is like.”
Turul Project, 1 Turnpike Parade, London, N15 3LA; turulproject.com
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