It’s an early Friday evening in the city and nestled between a fried chicken takeaway and a pub sits Csikós Csárda, a Hungarian restaurant proudly showing its red, white and green livery.
Owner, Peter Kurucz, leads me to the window seat, the walls adorned with dried peppers and mini flags, and over a plate of rántott sajt with homemade tartare sauce, he tells me what inspired him to open his own restaurant.
From a young age, Peter remembers watching his dad with childish curiosity as he cooked large hunks of beef outside in the clay oven. It was this that sparked Peter’s passion for food.
“I learnt to cook from my father, he used to cook huge manly cuts of beef outside in the summer,” said Peter.
Born in the Hungarian town of Muzsla, which is around 50 miles north of the capital Budapest, Kurucz spoke of its stunning scenery: “It’s a beautiful place, I loved waking up and seeing the mountains.”
As the son of a farmer, he was used to growing up around food. His father owns acres of land: “He has cherry, peach and apple orchards and fields of corn.”
After a hard day’s work on the farm he relaxed by going fishing in the river. “I fished for carp and would clean it and eat it straight away; I’d make a soup from the fish.”
When he was a young boy he helped his father run the family farm but Peter had bigger plans and went away to university to study business.
After graduating he set up his own business and employed a small staff who designed houses.
Soon after Hungary joined the European Union, Peter moved to Liverpool with the vision of a restaurant still in the back of his mind: “It’s been my dream job to open a restaurant.”
He worked in a factory and a year later moved to Manchester where he found a better paid factory job and saved money to open the restaurant.
Peter often visited friends in Preston and it was in the city that he met his girlfriend, who he now lives with.
Most of December was spent looking for the perfect place and by the New Year he had found the right one: “We did everything in the last month or so, we hired the chef and then got the place ready.”
The Old Bull Inn on Church Street is now home to the only Hungarian restaurant in the Northwest. “I chose this location because it’s in the centre and there are so many people walking past.”
Keen to get started straightaway Peter set about ordering everything he needed for the restaurant from tables to decoration. “Choosing what should be on the menu was the easy part.”
The name Csikós Csárda, meaning horseman’s inn, is popular in Hungary where it’s synonymous with good old fashioned home cooking.
The menu is a reflection of this and Peter found it easy to decide what to put on it, because he knew he wanted to serve traditional Hungarian cooking. “I’ve never wanted to cook anything else, it’s always Hungarian food.”
Tradition is important to Peter and he is eager to keep recipes authentic and believes that good quality produce will make great tasting meals.
Rántott sajt, a fried cheese dish, is one of the meals on offer.
His dedication to excellence means that he sources his vegetables, meat and cheese from Lancashire farms.
The handmade cheese used in the rántott sajt, is from one of Peter’s favourite county farms, though the exact location is a closely guarded secret. It tastes delicious.
I asked him what his favourite dish was on the menu: “The beef stew because it’s a really hearty man’s meal.”
If you’re not a beef fan though don’t worry: “I’d suggest trying one of our special soups, the smoked shank bean soup, or the pork stew, both are really good,” says Peter.
Stuffed from my marvellous rántott sajt, Peter offers me a dessert of chocolate pancakes. I accept, after all it would be rude to say no.
Caters for everyone
The customers at the table behind us are tucking into another Magyar classic, chicken soup. “It has a beautifully clear golden liqueur,” says Peter. “It’s different to a lot of other soups because it’s thin and doesn’t use cream. It’s made with whole carrots, cubes of potato, chunks of chicken and with a little pasta.”
The restaurant caters for everyone, meat eaters and vegetarians alike. But is he worried that being situated in the middle of night clubs, pubs, curry houses and kebab shops mean that people will stay away from the unfamiliar and opt for quick fish and chips?
“No, because Hungarian food is healthy, we don’t use any saturated fats, we use the best ingredients and get the most out of the natural flavour of the food,” he says.
Peter plans to adapt the menu and add more traditional classics, so forget your chippy tea; you won’t go Hungary with the delights at the Csikós Csárda.