I came to the Gay Hussar for gags about the Labour party; to find some wreckage of its glory days. Except the Labour party doesn’t have glory days — only tiny breaks in the blue space-time continuum when a) it isn’t eating itself and b) it manages to convince a country of snobs that voting Labour doesn’t mean they aren’t posh or mightn’t, at some vague point in the future, become posh. Now it has spat out a leader who makes David Cameron look normal. ‘Beaker from the Muppets,’ says my boyfriend, when Ed appears on TV. ‘Not the face. The expression.’ And the Gay Hussar is Labour’s canteen. The food, I should remind you, is Hungarian.
So here it is, the same as it has always been — a gaudy red chocolate box, a little battered, as if a deranged grandmother has hurled it across the room and stamped on it. It clings to the end of Greek Street, ready to fall into Soho Square. I walk in, armed with a reservation I do not need. The Gay Hussar is emptier than a TUC conference in Dubai — not so much Gay as Desiccated and About to Sell its Body Parts at a Discount. The waiter looks surprised to see me. It is like the time I went to the Varna Town Museum. They were so amazed to have a punter, they threw a party and served champagne.
Inside, the walls are covered with Martin Rowson cartoons. I like Rowson: he paints souls and his squashed and stretched faces bespeak rotting. There are books too — real books, not painted ones — and Peter Mandelson’s biography My Days as a Christopher Lee Impersonator is actually facing outwards. Since I am on Peter Mandelson, I would like to say that, contrary to the report in Private Eye, Peter Mandelson did not make me cry during the election campaign. You do not have to be a Peter Mandelson-ologist to realise he cries himself to sleep quite often and I almost never do.
The menu is proper Eastern European food; that is, it could, if it wished, rise and shoot you in the face. It is stews, soups and 1,001 things to do to a pig. In Romania, they think pigs are a vegetable. On the table is a bowl of fat red chillis. Maybe Neil Kinnock should have had a Labour chilli, not a rose. It might make people think Labour is hot. I have invited a right-wing friend for comic effect but even he is wilting. He arrives and sinks into a polemic about the evils of inheritance tax. Say something interesting, I tell him. OK, he says. This restaurant — and he looks around — is Conservative. His evidence, I believe, is the presence of a tablecloth and the absence of single mothers (‘sperm bandits’) wearing Burberry and beating their children with sticks. You don’t have to be a Tory to use a tablecloth, I say. He pouts, sucks down some red.
We have goulash soup and duck foie gras; then a schnitzel and a venison stew. I had fresher food in Bulgaria but I didn’t get to pass a photograph of Gordon Brown looking wracked on the way to the loo in Bulgaria. I ask the waiter — does Ed Miliband come here? ‘Yes,’ he says, ‘And his brother too. But never at the same time.’ Tories come here too, he adds; and they are very friendly with Labour. ‘I have been here 16 years,’ he says. ‘Meetings. Always meetings.’ I stare at the promotional material. The Gay Hussar has included a very detailed floor plan. I don’t know why. The pudding is almost inedible and the waiter takes it off the bill unasked, because he is probably a socialist. I like this restaurant with its soggy potatoes and its memories, clinging, like a ghastly metaphor, to the past.
The Gay Hussar, 2 Greek Street, London W1D 4NB, tel: 020 7437 0973.