Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Goulash Archipelago

I first went to the Gay Hussar about fifteen years ago, and it rapidly established itself as one of my favourite London restaurants.
I liked its lack of airs and graces and the maître d's complete disinterest in extracting additional revenue from his customers. I appreciated its workmanlike atmosphere and its focus on traditional cooking rather than style and presentation. I relished being in such a political atmosphere, even if the politics weren't my own; the walls lined with Martin Rowson cartoons and first editions of the great political biographies. I even enjoyed the almost inevitable probability of eating your goulash alongside a dinosaur of the Labour Movement, over the years I have found myself sitting alongside (and often chatting happily with) Michael Food, Tony Benn, Ken Livinstone, Frances Chambers and Jeremy Corbyn. Perhaps it was the death of the old Labour movement which precipitated the demise of the Gay Hussar - with Nu-Labour's apparatchiks preferring the soulless simplicity of The River Café to match the soulless simplicity of their political roots. 
Over the years I have dined there with friends, colleagues and political co-conspirators. I recall taking CCHQs Chris Scott there for lunch to discuss how West Kent could help in the Boris re-election campaign. I organised my best friends Stag Night dinner in the private upstairs dining room, 12 of us sitting around the same table as Nye Bevan and Jenny Lee once did.
On one occasion I lunched with friends on the same day that Decanter Magazine were there to write an article on Hungarian wines. We were asked by the maître d' if we objected to having our photograph taken, which might then be published. We didn't mind at all, but when the magazine was published we weren't in it. I thought nothing more until six months later when I received an email from an colleague, "Just been onto the Gay Hussar website to book a table - only to find four photographs of your ugly mug stirring back at me. Enough to put my off going. Urgh!"  I hurriedly logged on and there I was - spread like a attention seeking d-list celebrity across every web page and in various states of mastication. The photographs were there for three or four years but were taken down when the new website was launched; I am grateful however to their webmaster for sending me the screengrab (above). The lady next to me is one of my oldest friends from Southampton, Ben Davies. And, for the record, I still have and occasionally wear that tie!
For some reason, and I don't know why, I stopped going about two years ago. I didn't make a decision to stop going there - it just sort of happened. I suspect my increased responsibilities and workload in Kent resulted in fewer long lunches in Soho. And now, according to the press, the Gay Hussar has fallen victim to the Age of Austerity.
Or has it ?
Earlier today Steve called me from the car. He was listening to Iain Dale on LBC, who was interviewing someone (he couldn't remember who) who was putting together a consortium of private investors to buy the lease and keep it open.  So we have emailed to say, "count us in." The sums are small and it's worth a punt to save a piece of history. And if all else fails, it will be lovely to walk past in years to come, point to a shiny new branch of YO! Sushi and say, "that was once the Labour Party's staff canteen, and I owned a small piece of it."

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