British children turning their noses up at what’s on offer in the school canteen might wish they were in the small Hungarian town of Szentendre. Only 20km north of Budapest, this former artists’ colony is a picturesque stop for tour groups trudging along its cobbled streets past pastel-coloured cottages. What those tourists don’t expect is the sight of about 100 children trooping into Aranysarkany Vendeglo restaurant over the lunch period. The children do this five days a week, as this small restaurant doubles as an upscale school canteen.
Three years ago, the town’s school population grew so quickly that administrators realised they couldn’t feed the pupils in its limited dining area. Then the father-and-son team of Attila Mahr Senior and Junior stepped in and, helped by subsidies from the state, offered to feed the children a set menu every day. One of the shifts of about 30 children files in while I’m having wonderful mousse-like goose liver and bacon. My heart sinks at first, as I wait to be deafened by the din. But there’s no need to worry: the children are well behaved and not making the sort of noise you would expect from a group of seven to 14-year-olds in a confined space.
I ask Attila Senior about the pitfalls of having to keep a large section of his restaurant free for school dinners. He just smiles and says that: a) he’s training these children’s taste buds to appreciate really good food; and b) the kids just might want to bring their families on occasion, and he’s raising the next generation of customers.