AS A kid, you no doubt had a favourite auntie and uncle – you know the ones, cheery, brilliant cooks, who always give hugs and a cheeky bit of extra pocket-money.
But as you grow up, that idea is lost, resigned to cosy Enid Blyton novels and those terrible BBC Sunday-evening TV dramas.
Still, if you’re hankering for some genuine hospitality, fantastic hearty food and a real family atmosphere, you couldn’t do better than Goulash.
This tiny (28-at-a-push seater), snug and unique restaurant – Scotland’s only Hungarian – is welcoming, with hosts who treat you as family rather than paying customers. And the wholesome fayre is as enjoyable as the incredibly personal service.
I went for the vadas palacsinta to start. I know what you’re thinking. Firstly: “What is that?” and secondly: “How do I pronounce that?”. Well, it was minced game in a pancake with a vegetable-based sauce. And as for the pronunciation, don’t worry, Zoltan and Rylla Dragan, the enthusiastic owners, are always on hand for a makeshift lesson in Hungarian. Once I’d got my tongue around the order, I got my mouth around the food. And the rich game mince and smooth, slightly-sweet gravy balanced perfectly, and all was swiftly polished off with some bread and butter.
Equally, a vegetarian platter starter – was a tasty combination of vegetables in a potato patty, with an onion ring and cheese-filled jalapeno pepper on the side. This was complemented by a creamy mayo with a hint of garlic.
Obviously in a place called Goulash, there’s only one option for the main – beef porkolot (or, if you want, the goulash). Incredibly tender chunks of beef served in a deep, paprika gravy, came with unbelievably light Hungarian pasta. Strictly, they were more like flour gnocchi than pasta but served to mop up the sauce.
A mushroom goulash was a slightly different affair. The sauce, lighter, so as not to totally kill the mushrooms, was tangy and snappy without losing any of the paprika heat and smokiness. Also served with a little sour cream, it felt more indulgent than wintry.
It’s recommended you have one of two salads to compliment the goulash – either a kaposzta or mixed pickle, with gherkin and yellow peppers.
We went for the sauerkraut-like kaposzta. But while sauerkraut is big and brassy and violently vinegary, Goulash’s pickled cabbage was wonderfully refreshing and crisp, with hints of fennel and mint.
We didn’t get dessert, being too stuffed from the mains, but they were as you’d expect – all nuts, honey and pastry, strudels and pancakes.
And if they’re anything like the rest of the meal, well, you know your auntie always baked the best cakes. Still, not wanting to let the sweet tooth down, a couple of sneaky Hungarian coffees were had, and they’re almost a dessert in themselves. Black coffee, a little rum, lots of demerara sugar and some whipped cream make them irresistible.
In a city awash with formal, impersonal and stuffy dining experiences, Goulash offers a lot more.
There’s no pretension, just down-to-earth cooking and a dining experience that is as close to a hug as you’ll ever find.