My late Grandfather was Hungarian and spoke only a little English, filling my childhood memories with comical communications as we acted out what we were trying to say to one another despite the very obvious language barrier. Granddad moved over to England many years ago where he met my Irish grandmother and together they started a family.
However my father and his siblings spoke only a little Hungarian in return for their English upbringing and after my grandparents separated when I was a child my grandfather retired back to Hungary before he passed away several years ago. Weakened by each generation, I know nothing about my Hungarian heritage and as a result has been passed down to me and my children which is why I was so excited to discover The Rosemary Hungarian restaurant in London.
Four years ago London’s finest Hungarian restaurant, The Rosemary, opened its doors in New Cross Gate. Hungarian chef Szabolcs – who has over fifteen years of experience studying in Hungary – has been at the restaurant since the very first day that it opened.
With a background in agriculture, the restaurant owners had an organic farm in Hungary which flourished and allowed them to set upon having an organic garden certified in London where all of the produce is now sourced for The Rosemary restaurant, as well as other local organic ingredients.
Their ethos to provide organic for that is healthier for diners, environmentally friendly and empowering the local farmers. And it seems that high quality food and farming runs in the family as the next generation have gone on to become grape farmers and winemakers.
The Rosemary restaurant features an innovative aquaponics system which allows organic plants to be grown indoors without soil or the need for manual watering. A system of pipes and plants adorning the restaurant walls grow fresh lettuce, tomatoes and chillies using recycled water from an aquarium. The eco-friendly water system is the same ph as drinking water which is beneficial to the good health of the fish whilst also contributing towards the growth of the plants and is fascinating to observe.
A cultural hub for the London Hungarian community, The Rosemary hosts regular live Hungarian folk music nights and concerts along with wine tasting events to showcase their selection of over 76 different Hungarian wines – half of which are organic and some biodynamic. Compiled with the expertise of a sommelier, the restaurants wine list boasts the most famous Hungarian wines from every region of Hungary.
The Rosemary’s authentic Hungarian menu features traditional delights including hortobagyi pancakes, goulash, hen soup, beef stew, chicken paprikash, stuffed cabbage and ratatouille – a first for myself and my boyfriend as we both came to experience the culture and cuisine for the very first time, myself a vegan and my boyfriend a keen carnivore.
The exterior of the restaurant is a cascade of traditional Hungarian flowers with beautiful red, white and pink geraniums brightening up the entire street with their glorious bursts of colour. I found myself smiling at the sight of such a warming floral display and upon entering the restaurant we were met by a sense of homeliness, nature and serenity.
With the furniture and pottery all being handmade, I lost myself in deep discussion with the cheerful owner Mihaly as I admired the plentiful woodwork, floral displays, authentic textiles and trinkets which adorned the restaurant. I wanted to absorb, understand and soak in every last drop of Hungarian culture and in an instant I already felt as though I were home.
The uplifting smell of the kitchen delightfully filled the dining room and we ordered a bottle of wine whilst enthusiastically perusing the menu; unsure of what to order or if such tradition food would be to our liking, after all it’s unlike anything either of us are used to. Confirming my vegan dietary requirements I ordered a bean soup to start followed by a mushroom stew with rice and a chocolate fruit pudding for dessert. My boyfriend had goulash to start followed by a gypsy roast main and a creamy chocolate dessert.
A flavour that was apparent throughout our dishes was paprika which is a powdered red spice with a deep red-orange colour and is made from dried pepper fruits providing a sweet and peppery taste. My bean soup was hearty and delicious, incredibly moreish, the bright orange soup was filled with generous chunks of potato and carrot with a slightly earthy fruity taste that balanced beautifully with fresh crusty bread and spicy authentic dipping sauce.
My boyfriends goulash was similar in appearance, only his contained succulent pieces of beef and vegetables and although he found the initial flavour unlike anything he’d ever tasted before, within just a few spoonfuls he adored it.
Moving onto the main, I had the mushroom stew with white rice and love how rich and flavoursome it was. I’m a big fan of Indian food and curries and I base most of my meals around rice and vegetables – but I’ve never had them this way before. The mushrooms were beautifully succulent, juicy sweet and soft in a paprika based sauce that tasted similar to gravy and left me licking my lips after my last mouthful.
My boyfriends gypsy roast consisted of a perfectly cooked pork chop with hand cut paprika wedges and a decorative rind of fat which we were informed is a delicacy in Hungary. Whilst he gave the fat a try and found it pretty tasty, it’s a little indulgent for his regular gym diet and so he put the rest of it to one side and enjoyed the meat and potatoes instead, something he thinks that I’d be able to recreate at home for him on a special occasion.
We finished our meal with the chefs recommendations of a vegan chocolate fruit pot and a creamy chocolate bake along with a glass of dessert wine and it went down a treat! Perfectly balanced, light, fruity, uplifting and just the right proportion of food and drink to feel comfortably content and wholesomely nourished. Good quality, delicious, loving food that leaves you smiling inside and out. For food that we knew so little of, we are both delighted to have experienced and enjoyed a mutual appreciation for Hungarian cuisine despite our contrasting vegetable and meat based preferences.
I can imagine past generations of my family in Hungary breaking bread and sharing wine, chatting merrily as they gather around a big table as a stew bubbles away on the stove and the children play. Visiting the restaurant, sampling the authentic cuisine and admiring all of the trinkets, craftsmanship and history has finally given me the roots into my heritage that I’ve always been so curious about; well worth a visit if you should find yourself in London and in need of a taste of home.