London Foodie A-Z: H = Hungary
Who knew that the letter H on my challenge would prove tricky to do. When I started looking for restaurants, I quickly realised that Haiti was a no-go, and I couldn’t find any Honduran restaurants. But I wasn’t too worried because The Gay Hussar in Soho was the most famous Hungarian restaurant in London….only it closed down last year!
A plea for help went out on Facebook and one of my friends suggested a lovely pub in Cricklewood that had a Hungarian chef….only it had just switched to become an Irish bar! Starting to despair that I might have to skip H, I came across The Rosemary. An organic Hungarian restaurant in New Cross and, on closer inspection, it had great reviews plus a colleague confirmed that it was well worth a visit. So off to New Cross it was for lunch with some friends who just happened to live around the corner from the restaurant but who had never been there.
Sitting on what is essentially the main road from London down to Kent (the A2), the restaurant looked lovely from the outside, all adorned with flowers, and the inside did not disappoint – the décor being a rustic, peasant look with wooden tables and chairs and comfortable booths. Flower pot lights hung from the ceiling, and a large fish tank sat next to the counter with an ingenious aquaponics water system (just ask – it’s brilliant) that channels water from the tank through pipes to water the plants dotted about that provide some of the vegetables for the menu.
We were greeted by the owner, Mihaly Herczeg, who showed us to a window booth and perused the menu, which was in both Hungarian and English (thankfully). The dishes are all traditional Hungarian fare and are cooked fresh on the premises, including the bread, using the finest ingredients. I wanted to try a proper goulash. As a Brit, it doesn’t get more Hungarian than that! However, it’s not on the menu as a main course and, although we tend to think of it as a hearty main course, in Hungary goulash is often a starter served as a soup. I was worried it would be too filling, but Mihaly helpfully offered me a smaller portion so I would have plenty of room for my main course.
I was expecting a thick stew, but this Gulyasleves (goulash) was much lighter. A delicious tomato-based broth with vegetables, pasta and succulent chunks of beef. I was pleasantly surprised and am not ashamed to say that I mopped up every last bit with the rough brown bread that came with it. My friends enjoyed their starters of Rantott brie afonyaval (breaded brie with a blueberry condiment), which weirdly came on a bed of chips, and a Hortobagyi husus palacsinta (pancake stuffed with chicken and smothered in a tomatoey sauce).
Whilst one of my friends opted for Lazac steak with rizibizi (salmon with a pea pilaff), which looked gorgeous, myself and my other friend both went for the Ciganypecsenye steak burgonyaval (Gypsy roast). No one’s really sure why it’s called a gypsy roast, and it certainly doesn’t consist of cooked gypsies, but this pork steak dish was wonderful. Two thick slices of pork cooked in spices and topped with crispy bacon, served with paprika potato wedges and a side order of cabbage salad – this is Hungarian, so there has to be paprika!!
I was glad I’d had a lighter starter as the gypsy roast was very filling……but not too filling that I couldn’t squeeze in a dessert of Csoki Mousse. An amazing concoction of creamy chocolate mousse on a layer of thick strawberry puree – ahhhh! My friends both went for the Somloi galuska (a toffee trifle), which was not stodgy at all with light and fluffy sponge.
The meal was complimented by a decent Hungarian red wine, which was recommended by Mihaly, and I liked that he didn’t steer us to the expensive wines but suggested a light red at the cheaper end of the wine list. And what a wine list – extensive doesn’t really cover it. Over 70 Hungarian wines – white, red, sparkling, dessert, and…..orange? I have no idea what orange wine is, and was enjoying my meal so much that I simply forgot to ask – good excuse to go back another time though!
One of my friends wasn’t drinking though, so asked for a Coke. At which point, Mihaly shook his head and said “No. We don’t serve coke. We have Hungarian soft drinks”. Actually, it was refreshing to see an authentic restaurant stick to its principles and serve only the types of drinks you’d traditionally get rather than the mass produced sugary crap that so many of us drink. My friend ordered a pear juice (luckily, one of her favourite drinks) and said it was fresh and tangy. A bottle of water (with a picture of Mihaly adorning it) was brought to the table without the need to ask, and I finished off the meal with a pear grappa.
The Rosemary (http://therosemary.london/) may be the only authentic Hungarian restaurant in London (well, at least that I could find), but it’s wonderful. A lovely atmosphere, great food, and a knowledgeable and friendly owner who seriously cares about reproducing delicious Hungarian dishes, using quality and organically farmed ingredients, at reasonable prices. On a Sunday lunchtime we didn’t really need to book in advance, but I understand they get very busy in the evenings, particularly when they have live music.
As they say in Hungary: Jo étvágyat!
#lifeofaguide #LondonFoodieAZ #Hungary #TheRosemary #Goulash #GypsyRoast
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