I'm a Melbourne girl, born and bred, and new resident of Geelong. Fantabulous adventures await as I explore my gorgeous new city and the stunning Surf Coast. But don’t worry—I’ll be crossing the bridge regularly to get my Melbourne fix.
Published October 26th 2015
A little piece of Hungary in Melbourne's east
Where are you headed for dinner this weekend? The local Thai restaurant? Chinese? Maybe Indian, or perhaps a take-away pizza? That all sounds pretty run of the mill doesn't it…so do you want to do something a little wild and crazy and eat a little outside of the box? Then I suggest you book a table at Korona Csárda Hungarian Restaurant in Wantirna. Yes, Hungarian—in Wantirna. I have no idea whether Wantirna has a large Hungarian population or not, but that's irrelevant really, for Korona Csárda is certainly a one of a kind experience (at least in these parts anyway).
Korona Csárda restaurant has been in its current location for six years, but you'd be forgiven if you had no idea it was there. It's hidden at the back of the Hungarian community centre on Boronia Road, just before the entrance ramp to the EastLink tollway. The restaurant and community centre are set quite a way back from the road, and as you whiz past down the hill you really only catch a glimpse of the car park and fairly non-descript community centre building.
The restaurant is hidden at the back of the Hungarian Community Centre.
But head up the long driveway, follow the signs around to the back (don't let the seen-better-days concrete and overgrown neighbouring vacant land adjacent to the centre put you off) and the Korona Csárda restaurant is tucked away on the ground floor of the community centre. The picture windows with the heavy tie-back drapes are a dead give-away to the restaurant's location, and the front entrance is by way of the Puskás Beer Garden—what a delightful way to enter a restaurant!
The beer garden is only the beginning of this bámulatos Hungarian experience (thank you to Google for translating the word 'marvelous' into Hungarian—apologies in advance to any Hungarian readers if I have got it wrong!). As soon as you step into the front counter area it feels like you've stepped out of Wantirna and into somewhere, well, in Hungary.
There are Hungarian groceries for purchase, Hungarian trinkets and knick-knacks everywhere, fresh flowers and red and white striped drapes on the windows. A beautiful carved wooden archway takes you into the dining area, and the wonderful staff glide you over the parquetry flooring, welcoming you warmly in thick Hungarian accents. The entire dining area is filled with bits and pieces from Hungary, and we spent the first few minutes in awe, looking around and absorbing it all—I'm sure our faces looked like those clown heads at the amusement parks and side show alleys, just moving from side to side, mouths slightly open, as we took it all in. How meglepő that all this was hiding away in the back of a community centre, in suburban Wantirna.
Our host Zsolt (who goes by 'Zach'—much easier to pronounce) knew it was our first time at Korona Csárda and dining on Hungarian cuisine, and was eager to help and explain any of the items on the menu. Oh, and did I mention it's a buffet? Yes! A buffet. Everyone LOVES a buffet, don't they? Especially in such circumstances when many of us would really have had no idea what to order if it was an order-off-the-menu type deal (except for goulash. Everyone would just be ordering goulash.).
The restaurant is only open on Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday lunch, which is when we'd decided to come and try it out (why have a boring old sandwich or left-overs from Saturday night's take away for Sunday lunch when you can indulge in a Hungarian buffet?!) and we were interested to see who our fellow diners would be. The big table just near us was filled with older people, who were clearly Hungarian, and were chatting away to each other in their native tongue, the wait staff enthusiastically joining in. We found ourselves watching them a little to see what they were eating, and how they were eating it—the appetisers on the buffet were especially foreign to us, and we had no idea if we were combining the various offerings correctly or not. But that's part of the fun of experiencing new cuisines isn't it?
We watched our fellow diners to see what they were doing as they helped themselves to the appetisers
Zach had given us a brief rundown on the delicacies available on the table laden with appetisers, so we grabbed some plates and launched in. Most of the appetisers were cold, and consisted of salads, cold meats, vegetables, numerous dips, as well as hard-boiled eggs and various crackers. There was one hot dish though, and it was incredibly delicious—a big cast iron pot of steaming hot potato soup. It was brimming with chunks of potatoes and other vegetables, laced with paprika, and pieces of Hungarian sausage bobbed up and down in the broth, giving it even more flavour.
The soup really flared up our appetites, and we watched in anticipation as the wait staff filled up the bain-marie with the main courses. Pickled vegetables and sauerkraut kicked things off, then we moved down the table to the plump cabbage rolls and dishes of goulash and stews bubbling away in the big serving trays. There was roast pork and creamed spinach, rice and crumbed vegetables, and of course, a mountain of schnitzel. At this point I was kind of wishing I hadn't filled a portion of my stomach with the soup (as delicious as it was), as I just wanted to try everything! And whilst I wasn't able to find room in my rapidly filling stomach to taste it all, I gave it a pretty good shot (my biggest concern was trying to leave enough room for dessert…).
After our mains, we'd decided that Hungarian food was pretty damn good. And with the large television hanging high up in one corner playing promotional videos for Hungary, we've added this intriguing country to our list of must-visit destinations. And for those of you who may actually be in a position to travel to Hungary in the near future, the wonderful Zach also operates Korona Concierge from the same premises, and can book and arrange your dream trip to Hungary, Central Europe or indeed anywhere in the world.
Korona Csarda is the perfect place to be inspired to take a trip to Hungary.
Whilst keeping one eye on the television watching idyllic visions of Hungary, I had one eye on the dessert table. I wasn't sure what constituted Hungarian dessert, but surely anything from that region of the world would be delicious—cakes, pastries, anything laden with sugar and flour and butter surely! Well, I wasn't disappointed. Out came platters of crepes, rolled up with a light fruit filling, truffles, and an array of delightful looking cakes, all cut into tiny squares (the perfect size to try a piece of everything!). And try I did—my belly was bursting, but I had one of each (all in the name of research of course), and each was more sigh-worthy than the next.
The desserts were the highlight for me (no surprise there), and I'd go back in a heartbeat just for them alone. As for the rest of the food? The cabbage rolls and goulash were a standout, but it was really the whole experience—from the Hungarian-themed décor, to the service from Zach and his team, to enjoying the simple thrill of trying something new—that made our visit to Korona Csárda so enjoyable. We'll hopefully visit again soon, especially to see some of the live Hungarian music that features regularly (check out the website for upcoming events), and who knows, perhaps we will actually visit there one day for ourselves—and I'll be searching for tiny cakes and fruity crepes just like the ones at Korona Csárda.