Samuel Muston: Cosy and cheery - I see why Gay Hussar regulars are in a stew
Samuel Muston is deputy editor & food editor of The Independent Magazine. He writes a weekly food column – On the Menu – which appears in The Independent on Friday and i on Monday. And also travel and general features. Follow him on Instagram at @smuston
Thursday 05 December 2013
When it was announced that the Gay Hussar restaurant in Soho was to be closed up and sold by its owners, Corus Hotels, its dedicated clientele were disconsolate. How, they asked in various newspapers and magazine columns, could this monument to Hungarian food and late 20th-century Labour politics be lost to the property spivs?
Could something not be done to save a place where Aneurin Bevan, Michael Foot and Lord Mandelson dined and plotted? Was this really to be the last goulash?
In despair, and not a little jest, Mark Seddon, the former editor of Tribune, suggested that its regulars might all club together, buy it and save the place for culinary posterity. It would be like John Lewis, but with fish dumplings.
And lo it came to pass. A group of regulars, calling themselves the "Goulash Co-operative", started a campaign to raise enough cash to buy the lease. At the time of writing the co-op – which is chaired by Tom Watson but also boasts Lord Ashcroft among its members – had submitted a sealed bid for the property, though it has yet to receive an answer from the owners.
Now, perhaps you are sitting there on the bus to work shaking your head thinking: "Hmmm the Left really has run out of ideas." Why, you may be thinking, when we live in a country in the midst of a culinary summer, with decent new restaurants popping up like dandelions, are some people attempting to spend their hard-earned dosh on some old stager that reached its peak food-wise in 1978? The answer is simple: Familiarity.
When it comes to dinner, Aesop was quite wrong – familiarity seldom breeds contempt. Quite the contrary, in fact. It can very often be a prescription for unalloyed bliss.
Of course, the thrill of the new, the unending search for better, finer, tastier food can be a great driver. But sometimes, the steam runs out. And that sense of "why have Christmas, we had that last year?", begins, quite frankly, to do your head in. At times like that – times when the hangover seems to be terminal – you want somewhere where everyone knows your name, or at least where they won't give you a funny look if you haven't combed your hair.
Once, that would probably have been that now endangered animal, the local boozer. Today, though, it's more likely to be your local gastro pub, cafe or curry house.
My own local joint, Floyd's in Dalston, is like a cuddle with kitchen. It is a lovely well-decorated, expertly staffed place with a menu that changes as often as the weather – and is a 15-minute walk from my house.
It is everything that a hungover/knackered/ generally jaded person could want – cosy, warm, cheery. Just walking in there, I feel soothed. No one rushes you, there is no pretence or fuss, you can drink all the wine you want. It is my own personal Gay Hussar. If it were to absent itself from my life, I would be sad and would happily open my wallet to preserve it.
So I wish the Goulash Co-op well. It is an unusual proposition, but perhaps more of us should ask not what our local restaurant can do for us, but what we can do for it.
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