Thursday, 23 January 2014

Changes at the Gay Hussar

Much to the dismay of its loyal clientele, the Gay Hussar, a 60-year old Hungarian restaurant on Greek Street in London, is up for sale. In a last-ditch effort to save it, Gay Hussar faithfuls formed a consortium – the Goulash Co-operative – to buy the restaurant, but they lost the bid last month.

I had dinner at the Gay Hussar once after I got a raise, and though it is more expensive than the restaurants I usually eat at, it was worth it just for the atmosphere. The interior is elegant but cosy, the service is courteous, and the shelves of political biographies and the framed political cartoons on the dark-wood walls bear testimony to the restaurant's place in 20th-century British political history. The restaurant's quirky charm is perhaps a legacy of its founder Victor Sassie, who was quite a colourful character.

The Gay Hussar is your quintessential relic, a London speciality. In the 60 years of its existence, 'gay' has taken on other connotations, and culinary tastes and diets have undergone many changes. But at the Gay Hussar there was never any question of a name change, and the menu and recipes remain faithful to the original, so much so that the food tastes unfamiliar to some Hungarians; the recipes have changed in Hungary but the Gay Hussar is in a time warp. "The menu has changed," insists Edwin Passus, 92, who has dined at the Gay Hussar for half a century. "They changed the typeface once."

I happened to be walking around Soho this week, and took the opportunity to photograph a section of the aforementioned menu.

The fonts appear to be Monotype Corsiva for the Hungarian text and Cambria for the English, neither of which, to my eye, is consonant with the Gay Hussar's character. Most people go with the easy alternative of using fonts distributed free with Microsoft Office, but it would have been cool if the menu used, say, Janson which was actually designed by a Hungarian (and which I like more than either Monotype Corsiva or Cambria).