GRACE AND FLAVOUR
A Soho stalwart faces closure, and
For reasons involving sentimentality and schadenfreude, the editor dispatched me this week to Hungarian stalwart the Gay Hussar on Greek Street, to document its final days. The Gay Hussar’s last hurrah, as it were. Sixty years of serving goulash to politicians, artists and passing trade. ‘Oh, it’s ever so sad it’s closing. What an institution!’ foodies have whined, people who haven’t darkened its doorway for years, instead filling their faces at 10 Greek Street, Burger & Lobster, Barrafina, Koya, Arbutus and well, absolutely anywhere else but there. My shrift is short for Londoners who moan about change, lamenting a time when Spam fritters and smallpox were de rigueur.
And obviously, at one point, the Gay Hussar was de rigueur, but now it is the opposite and, sadly, a restaurant can’t pay its bills with the love of folk who think it’s really charming that it hasn’t been turned into a Starbucks yet, but never want to eat cumbersome plates of veal goulash beside a dusty library of political biographies. Or want to dine in a restaurant where the table snacks are whole red chillies and the walls are groaning with cartoon sketches of male politicians like one big looming tribute to centuries of chuntering British patriarchy. Or want to visit a restaurant where the carpet has seen better days and the clientele consists of tourists with no idea of London restaurants and diners humouring an elderly relative who still demands to eat there. If the Gay Hussar wishes to survive, which I believe it does, it needs to work out how to keep elements of its glorious, scurrilous past, then sharpen them up and make them affable for 2014. Just a few doors down on Greek Street is The House of St Barnabas, an ancient Grade I-listed building titivated and rejigged to make a glorious club and restaurant. It is terribly old but prettily new. London loves these places. The Gay Hussar could be a gorgeous, battily mad, imperfect yet raffish feeding and watering hole, steeped in history and juicy anecdotes, evoking the sense