Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Hungarian - Bridge Rd, Richmond

Hungary has always seemed a fairly unassuming country to me. On my first backpacking trip a few years ago, the extent of my knowledge of this land was borne predominantly out of their love for paprika, a substandard national football team (in my view), and my mid-90s Dos computer game 'Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?' Yet, in spite of not knowing a whole lot about this country - other than that Carmen and her gang were once spotted by the riverfront by a talking parrot - I still found myself feeling a strong pull to visit it. I'm glad I did, it's an incredible place steeped in history.

More or less, the same can be said about The Hungarian in Richmond - give or take the "history" comment. Hungarian cuisine is not renown for its vegetarian fare, perhaps the big attraction of this place was that they offer a variety of vegetarian takes on Hungarian classics. That, and they have a very playfully written menu. Under the option "Hokkien Noodles with Bok Choi and Soy Sauce", you'll find the description "We don't serve this on any day. Sorry, this is a Hungarian restaurant". Honestly, do yourself a favour and just look up the menu online. If that doesn't pique your interest in this place, then I can only assume you're a Mad About You fan.

So, what to eat? Well, don't expect extravagance. What you will get here is simple, hearty Hungarian fare. Think lots of paprika, sour cream, bread, cheese, dumplings, and pickled cabbage salads. If you're of Eastern bloc heritage, it'll be a nostalgic trip for your tastebuds back to your childhood in the Soviet Union. At least, it seemed to be for my Polish padre. To start out with, we opted for two appetisers: the Meatless Chevabs
with chive yoghurt, and Lángos - described as "unchallengedly Hungarian". The Chevabs are sausage-shaped concoctions, consisting of zuchini, carrot, potatoes, bread and various herbs, served with a chive yoghurt - although I suspect it was really sour cream, not yoghurt. As well as an appetiser, there is the option to have this dish as a main, and it would not be a bad option. A problem I often find with vegie burgers/patties etc. are that they can taste a little like a mush of whatever the maker could smash into them. The Chevab does not re-define cooking in any particular way, but nor does it aspire to. The 'sausages' are well-constructed - not mush - and complimented very well by the chive yoghurt/sour cream. Simple,
tasty. I could have eaten many more of these. However, that would've made for a fairly mundane review. The Lángos is another simple Hungarian classic. Snap-fried, dense flatbread covered in sour cream and shredded cheese. Warm hearty hand-food, perfect to keep you going on a cold winter morning.

For mains, there are plenty of veg. options amongst the more expected Hungarian fare. There's the Hungarian Vegasagna (Megazannya) - a Hungarian take on the lasagne; a Veganoff - a mushroom/green vegetable stroganoff; and several other dishes such as the Chevabs and various soups and large salads. However, what I elected for on this occasion was the V-Sztrapacska (try saying that 10 times quickly!), with a side of pickled apple-paprika stuffed with pickled sauerkraut. Sztrapacska - a central European dumpling dish - actually originates from Slovakia. The Hungarian take is to make noki-dumplings - egg-pasta dumplings. Put together with salted sheep cheese, sour cream and oil, it is a rich, filling carbohydrate-hit. Be warned however, the serving sizes are exceedingly generous, which makes finishing with an empty plate in front of you no mean feat! Such an effort is made doubly hard if you also take in the stuffed paprika as a side, which, in retrospect, was perhaps not the wisest decision. Whilst I love pickled foods, I tend to prefer more tart options - such as French cornichons - to the sweeter pickled salads. The peppers here are very densely filled and oozing with sweet pickle juice. Basically a meal in themselves. The peppers themselves may or may not have a real kick to them, it's a 50-50 shot and you'll only know by tasting. The ones with a bit of spice provide a nice counterpoint to the pickled sauerkraut, however, for me, they probably did not work all that well alongside the Sztrapacska.

For the meat-eaters amongst us, the options are far more vast. In particular, the Goulash soup comes highly recommended - I seem to specifically remember the comments "it's delicious" and "I like soup" from one diner. Both good indicators. The wine list could probably do with some work - there is only one Red
offered, served out of a Green, White and Red painted barrel situated next to the door - however I'm more of a beer person anyway and the food is well-suited to pint of Soproni or Dreher. The daggy red and white chequered tablecloths and constant blare of Hungarian folk music add a nice touch of authenticity, and the pics of past and present Hungary adorning the walls allow your mind to transport itself out of Melbourne and into landlocked central Europe. An enjoyable place with bubbly European wait staff, the perfect winter retreat to load up against that Soviet Melbourne Winter we've become accustomed to.

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