“ Traditional Hungarian restaurant in city of Szombathely. „
Szombathely is a funny old town; partly this is because it's in Hungary, a country I like a lot, but which often defies comprehension. I knew of the town by name only and didn't know anything else until I picked up a promotional brochure for the "Via Urbum", a joint tourism venture between the respective municpalities of Maribor (in Slovenia), Varazdin (in Croatia) and Szmobathely. The Hungarian tourism people had done such a good job of highlighting Szombathely's charms that when I recently needed a destination for an overnight stop en route from Bratislava to Maribor, I immediately thought of the town.
We ate at Godor* on a warm Saturday evening in June having found the restaurant in a rather convoluted way. When we arrived just after lunch the tourist office was closed and wouldn't re-open until Monday morning; we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the town, and hoped to spot somewhere suitable for dinner while we were out and about. Cafes and cake shops are in plentiful supply in Szombathely but restaurants are harder to find. The town's website had a tourism section which listed plenty of local attractions, but in spite of their being obvious plans so to do, nobody had yet managed to do any work on the eating and drinking section. Fortunately Tripadvisor had a handful of entries for restaurants in Szombathely and we decided to check out Godor, the nearest to the town centre, and the one with the most glowing review.
Godor is situated on the edge of the town centre core, a few footsteps from the Bishops' Palace and the cathedral. It's housed in the deceptively large cellar of an old town house. I knew from the moment we went in that I was going to like this restaurant. There's an 'olde worlde' charm that isn't heavily manufactured and a warm and friendly atmosphere. Although the dining space is large, the tables are arranged so that you have some privacy, but still feel part of the restaurant as a whole. Dummy windows placed at intervals along the walls were decorated with folksy curtains and cute window boxes while shelves and ledges around the restaurant groaned with the weight of jars of pickled vegetables and fruit, and jams. Hungary is, I think, one of those countries in which you can get away with bringing the country to the city; people often have little weekend homes in the countryside and anyone with a garden has a vegetable plot. In the UK, by contrast, town centre restaurants that try to give the impression of a country inn tend to look pretty naff.
I'd already had a peek at the restaurant's website which had been quite amusing because someone appeared to have used auto-translate on the menu. My Hungarian vocabulary extends to no more than about fifteen words so I was never going to be able to order without some assistance. Fortunately, the restaurant does have menus in English and the descriptions of the meals make much more sense than those on the website. This is a menu to make you smile, though perhaps not if you're a staunch vegetarian (although there are enough vegetarian options to give a reasonable choice); a lot of these dishes have comical, quaint names, some of which are ones they've invented for the menu, others appear to be traditional Hungarian dishes.
This being Hungary the menu is heavily oriented towards carnivores but there are fish dishes too, and veggies can either put together starters and side dishes, or choose from the small but varied selection of meat free dishes. Pork dishes dominate and there are stews, steaks, skewers and roasts. There are four fish dishes but each one is a different way of preparing and serving pike perch so if you don't freshwater fish, tough! You can take your pick from such delights as 'Burning devil heads', 'Favourite of the scabby sib' and 'Chicken stripes, the way Uncle Sawney Likes It' (sic). There are six different pork trotter dishes, and pork in almost any style imaginable.
I was determined to choose something Hungarian and after much deliberation I picked one of the pigs' trotters dishes. This was one of many dishes on the menu that could be ordered in a smaller portion if desired and I was fully intending to ask for the smaller plate but I was so busy making sure that our waiter was certain which dish I was pointing at that I forgot to request the smaller size. I much prefer it when restaurants have menus where the translations are immediately below the native language so that even if the staff don't understand the translation, they'll at least know it in their own language; as it happened this particular waiter spoke pretty good English so I needn't have worried about getting the wrong meal.
Anticipating a leisurely meal we ordered a litre of red wine (we did this without thinking and should have thought that a litre was a bit excessive for two when eating only one course each but at about £2.25 for a litre of very decent house red we weren't complaining) and nibbled on some bread while we waited for our food to arrive. Aware that Hungarian meals tend to come in big helpings, we skipped the starters, a move we were pleased to have made when the food arrived. It is said that Hungarians will eat bread with bread, so great is their passion for the stuff, and the bread we were brought was really good; there were several different types, all of it fresh and very tasty.
The pigs' trotters had been smoked, then battered out and crumbed schnitzel style. They looked delicious and the first bite was great but I soon knew that I'd struggle to eat more than half of the portion because they were so salty. The crumb coating was crispy and well seasoned while the trotters were surprisingly meaty; I think I'd expected them to be somehow a little gristly or chewy and while you couldn't compare them to a steak, the quality was really excellent. The trotters were served with a little dish of what tasted to me like horseradish sauce and while this tasted OK, the dish really needed something more like a sauce to add some moisture. The trotters were served with French fries, a modest heap of boiled rice and a cursory salad garnish; I don't really get the rice AND chips thing and would have preferred one or the other. This dish cost approximately £5.00.
Himself had agonised over the menu which admittedly did offer a large number of interesting choices. Finally he chose the mixed pork and liver. On the menu this was called "Pigman's Roast from Vas", Vas being the name of the region that Szombathely is in; below this it said "Grilled pork chop with fried pork liver. We hope you can manage it. If not, you can say 'That's a dirty swine'." Hilarious!
This dish was presented as a great mound of sautéed pork and pork liver strips with a pile of sauteed potatoes. The pork was less salty than I'd imagined it would be and the liver melted in the mouth, it was all beautifully seasoned with just the right amount of paprika and black pepper. The price converted to approximately £4.75.
After managing about half of the pigs' trotters Himself kindly offered to swap which was a blessed relief as the trotters were quite hard going; I'm sure I'd have managed much better with the smaller portion and I'd have preferred just a side salad instead of either of the accompaniments. By the end both plates were cleared but we couldn't have contemplated a dessert. We didn't see many desserts going out to tables so I assumed that most people were too full after the huge mains. For those who do fancy a dessert, sweet pancakes are available as always in Hungarian restaurants.
Godor seems like a very popular restaurant and when we visited the clientele was varied and included families, groups of teens, courting couples and one or two elderly people, some dining alone. Service was fast and friendly and I was impressed that all the waiters who came to our table could speak good English. Judging by the framed, signed photographs on display in the foyer, this is the in place to dine in Szombathely; there were pictures of goth bands, sports stars, politicians and numerous other people that I am sure are household names in Hungary, though each and everyone was unknown to me.
Godor offers hearty Hungarian cooking at excellent prices in a comfortable and cosy environment. It's not exceptionally well presented or innovative food but nobody here seems to mind and the steady stream of customers arriving when we were dining would point to its popularity.
Hollan Erno utca 10 - 12
*The restaurant's full name Godor Vendeglo translates as 'the restaurant of gourmands'