As you might expect, Hungarian ex-pats are among the regulars. “There has been a great increase since Hungary joined the EU [in 2004],” explains manager John Wrobel.
“We can bet every evening there will be one or two Hungarians here. They’re nearly all young professionals who bring their friends and colleagues.”
But it’s not just Hungarians that frequent the restaurant. The Gay Hussar has long been a haunt for the great and good of London’s political world.
Peter Mandelson popped in the other day for cherry soup and crispy roast duck. Portraits of famous diners by political cartoonist Martin Rowson adorn the walls, among them Michael Foot, Alastair Campbell, Glenda Jackson, Jeremy Paxman and Greg Dyke.
The Gay Hussar menu hasn’t changed much over the years. Customers come for the staple dishes, which include chilled wild cherry soup, crispy roast duck, beef goulash soup, stuffed cabbage, and chicken in paprika sauce.
“In some cases cuisine in Hungary has evolved, but this hasn’t evolved much,” says Wrobel.
“This is very old-fashioned Hungarian cuisine,” adds assistant manager Gizella Suke. “It’s very hard to find a traditional Hungarian restaurant in Budapest now.”
The staff are another constant. The Gay Hussar has had the same chef for 25 years and, after 23 years, Wrobel is a Soho institution in his own right.
Hungarian food can be difficult and time-consuming to make – stuffed cabbage can take six hours. But once prepared, a dish could last a Hungarian family a week or more, and many dishes improve with time.
“Customers would call and say ‘How old is your stuffed cabbage’,” laughs Wrobel “meaning not that they wanted it fresh, but that they wanted it at least three days old!”
Read more about the history of the Gay Hussar at www.gayhussar.co.uk