362 Bridge Road Richmond, VIC 31210421 993 132
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat, 6-10pm; Sun, noon-10pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||Mastercard, Visa, eftpos|
I had a Hungarian grandmother who taught me funny songs, card games and 100 ways with pancakes. She would have found plenty to like at The Hungarian. The restaurant is a small and homely mum-and-pop operation with folk artifacts, zillions of photos, and a menu full of chatty jokes that wore me down, groan by groan. One dish is called ''Meat with Meat'', capital letters are used with ABANDON, garlic cream is ''obnoxious'' and dieting is pooh-poohed with delight. I arrived as a hard-bitten critic and was soon a jelly-kneed victim of humour.
Hungarian food is big on slow-cooked meat, grills, preserved vegetables, such as cabbage and cucumber, and carb-loading with potato, rice, noodles and dumplings.
The langos (billed as Hungarian naan) are a crisp, tasty rendition of the garlicky fried-bread snack loved by Hungarians worldwide. Goulash, the iconic Hungarian stew, is available with lamb, venison or traditional beef. It makes all the right moves: the slow-cooked fillet collapses into thick gravy with a back-of-throat paprika hit. Partnered with nokedli (egg-pasta squiggles) it's perfect winter fodder. Cabbage stuffed with pork, bacon and sausage is an intense, smoky endurance test; doggy bags are provided.
Not every dish was up to grandmother's standards. The chicken schnitzel was massive and crisp, but the meat was dry and there was a lack of herbage or seasoning to elevate it from merely filling. The beef cevapcici were dry meaty bullets. Hungarian isn't a feted cuisine in vegetarian circles but there are quite a few meat-free (and vegan and gluten-free) dishes.
The restaurant is popular with a misty-eyed Hungarian diaspora and stodge-lovers too. Unfortunately, the service didn't keep up with the custom when I visited.
When the ''No Dieting in this Zone'' sign failed to make me giggle, I knew I'd been waiting too long. However, seen from a glass-half-full-of-fruity-shiraz perspective, a digestion break makes dessert more likely.
Crepes are stuffed with traditional ingredients, including plum jam and sweet cheese, and fusion flavours such as ''Bounty''. Old school wins. Frozen, flaked chestnut cream is deliciously creamy but also light due to its snow-shower consistency.
I would go back to The Hungarian, hungry and in the hope that the exuberant, sure-footed tone of the menu was a consistent part of the dining experience too.
Rating: three stars (out of five)