Thursday, April 30, 2015

Budapest Dining Room & Tavern Celebrates 60 Years

Restaurateur Marika Hayek and The Grand Budapest

Restaurateur Marika Hayek has been delighting patrons with her hospitality, humour and dependable Hungarian cooking at the Budapest Dining Room and Tavern, in one incarnation or another for 60 years. Recently, Hungarian Consul-General Dr. Stefania Szabo celebrated Hayek’s landmark achievements as a successful business owner and pillar of the London community. Hayek is no stranger to such fanfare. She is greatly admired and well-loved by her many friends and customers.

Hayek arrived in Canada in March of 1957. She was part of a wave of Hungarian immigration to Canada that occurred after the 1956 Hungarian revolution against communist rule. Between 1956 and 1958, an estimated 200,000 fled to the west to avoid Soviet reprisals, leaving  their possessions behind. Around 38,000 Hungarian refugees arrived in Canada. About 6,000 of these refugees arrived in Ontario. Hayek was among them. All were admitted and accepted into Canadian society within a two-year period. The impact of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the mass of emigration of Hungarians who consequently arrived in Canada forms a watershed moment in Canadian History, which helps to put Hayek’s formidable achievements into perspective.

A trained cook in Budapest, Hayek was drawn to the hospitality business when she arrived in London. Initially, she was employed by Mosky's Delicatessen on Dundas Street at Waterloo.  Always thinking ahead, Hayek bought the building that housed Mosky’s even before she purchased the delicatessen from its owners. That transaction included the Giant ice cream shop next door. In 1968, she and her husband merged the two storefronts into one premises. Ripping out the interior they refurbished the basement and main floor areas to build the present-day Budapest Restaurant.

A formidable hostess with an aptitude for the business and exacting standards, the fledgling restaurateur embodied the height of Eastern European elegance and sophistication. By the early 1970's, the Budapest had become one of London’s most popular dining destinations

Photographs and mementos line the walls and the bar.

Over the years the Budapest has evolved but its interior remains virtually unchanged by time. The Gypsy-style aesthetic has become both an anomaly and anachronism. But the décor is classic Hungarian. The restaurant with its plush red velvet valances and curtained alcoves, red and gold wallpaper, comfortable arm chair seating, and quality furnishings evoke old-world tavern charm. 

For decades Hayek’s routine has been to rise before dawn, have breakfast, exercise, and until just recently, swim laps in her indoor pool. She has always liked to arrive at the restaurant early in the morning to begin her workday. Hayek says, that everything on the menu is made in-house, and she still has to oversee and help prepare a wide variety of authentic Hungarian foods for which she has built her reputation.

Always on hand, with a gracious "please come in, my lovely peoples" or "my lovely ladies and gentlemen" she charms her patrons effortlessly, engaging them with her well-rehearsed repartee. Dispensing risqué banter and a devilish sense of humour she attracts a long list of local luminaries and a loyal clientele of long-time regulars, whom she knows by name. 

Customarily, Hungarian cuisine revolves completely around meat, cream and pastry and is no friend of dieters, arteries, or vegetarians. The menu at the Budapest reads like the Magna Carta, offering a large selection of properly made hearty Hungarian dishes. Enjoy homemade goulash, cabbage rolls, deep-fried pierogis, chicken or rabbit paprikash, beef stroganoff, Weiner schnitzel, the popular signature platters or the stuffed pork — the spätzle and Hungarian gnocchi are also delicious — be sure to save room for the palacsinta.

The Budapest Restaurant will delight Hungarian food fans, but even those inclined to moan and dismiss the restaurant as an anachronism, might want to take a closer look at its unique charms.

Budapest Dining Room & Tavern
348 Dundas Street.
(519) 439-3431

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