Monday, 4 April 2011

Hungarian Pancakes: Putting The Gay Into Soho

By Cat McGovern

Whenever I make my way through Soho, en route to China Town, I always pass through Greek Street. I’ve often scurried past the Gay Hussar, had a little giggle, then carried on my way.

But when I learnt that the Gay Hussar was a Hungarian restaurant, I was still a bit stumped about what I would be eating there. The words pancakes and goulash were thrown about, leaving me intrigued yet not particularly informed.

I am the first to arrive from our lunchtime dining group. The restaurant is practically empty. Despite this, it’s a small, cosy venue with beautiful wooden fixtures, and caricatures on the wall of famous people who have dined here. The white tablecloths and lovely staff impress me, as do the plump red chillies adorning each table. Our group trickles in slowly and we’re warned that it will soon fill up dramatically with groups of men.

This comment becomes abundantly clear around 1pm when the older sort of gentleman, dressed in finest suits, take up residence throughout the restaurant. Quite remarkable! It’s as if the Gay Hussar is an unofficial gentlemen’s club that I have rudely gate-crashed. These men are loud and very old fashioned. They seem slightly unimpressed by the presence of females in this obviously male environment. This, in turn, makes me feel a little out of place, seeing as the only girls here are part of our little lunch gathering; I self-prescribe Pinot Noir to calm my nerves.

The theme of the day is pancakes, in all shapes and sizes, and the first offering is chicken based. The pancake is soft with a light tomato sauce and a great big dollop of sour cream, my favourite. It’s a hearty and comforting starter and we all agree: it has glorious flavour.

The guy opposite me decides that he is going to be brave and takes a big bite out of one of the chillies. As he happily chomps on it, the other boy on the table follows suit. Unfortunately this makes him go as red as the chilli and he desperately grasps his wine glass. The bold chap also comments on the variety of uses for chilli, be it for cooking or for other means. That’s all I’ll say about that.

As we all glug on glasses of wine, the conversation swiftly turns to the subject of drinking and how much. The answer: lots. There are eight of us at the table and we’re on our 4th bottle of wine by 1.30pm. Perhaps there’s something wrong with this picture, I suggest. We all look at each other and laugh uproariously, then take another swig.

The main makes its appearance and we are unsure of its contents. A sort of crispy pancake - like the Findus creations you had as a kid - stares back at me and we’re told that this is in fact veal goulash or Rantott Borjus Palacsinta. The thick gravy and crushed potatoes make this dish a winner, as does the sauté spinach accompaniment. Who knew that savoury pancakes could be this yummy?!

As we bloat out over a crepe style dessert, filled with warm runny lemony goodness, I sit back and realise I have had a good lesson in Hungarian cuisine and chillies. Even though I still don’t really know what goulash is, I will definitely be having it again soon within the company of this semi-secret men’s club. Perhaps next time I will visit with a group of ladies and start gossiping and drinking white wine in that grand cackling manner that we are famed for? Or maybe I’ll take my boyfriend for protection and wear a dress...


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