Scottish pub celebrates three years in Budapest

'I'LL never forget the look on my Hungarian chef's face," laughs Patrick McMenamin, "when I asked him to cook a deep-fried Mars Bar for the first time."

Sitting in his own corner of Scotland, 1,500 miles outside our borders, the 48-year-old from Dalry is the first to acknowledge that opening Hungary's first Scottish theme bar was never going to be a smooth experience.

"Thankfully, most of the expletives were in Hungarian," he chuckles, "but once he composed himself he told me that he didn't spend three years at catering school to learn how to stick a Mars Bar in batter."

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Teaching irate Hungarian chefs how to make Scotland's other national dish is just one of the challenges Patrick has faced, after deciding to give up his 25-year career as a youth worker and move to Budapest.

Despite never pulling a pint before, Patrick set up The Caledonia pub, which will celebrate its third birthday later this year.

Ironically, the first customer to walk into Budapest's first Scottish bar was an Englishman, but it was an encounter that was to prove fortuitous for both parties.

"He walked up to the bar and asked to taste one of our Scottish beers so we served him a Belhaven," said Patrick.

"The first pint we poured was perfect and it turned out our first customer was Ken Goldie, manager of the local expat football team Budapest Celtic and he asked us to sponsor the team."

The large number of Scottish expats in Budapest is the key to The Caledonia's success. The city is a key European base for international companies such as oil firm Exxon Mobil, cash machine maker NCR and financial firm Deloitte. Tesco is also a major player in the city.

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It wasn't long before the pub started to attract some of these expats, and Scots coming from further afield such as Tranent-born actor Gordon Kennedy.

"Gordon plays Little John in the current BBC production of Robin Hood, which is filmed over here.

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"Gordon was very popular and could often be seen holding court in the corner of the pub. One of his favourite stories was when he tore a ligament while filming.

"The Hungarian paramedics didn't know what to make of him because he was still dressed in costume, fully decked out in rags with twigs in his beard, and the hospital thought he was some kind of tramp."

Before he opened the pub Patrick was part of the team that created the Young Scot card in the 1980s, and was latterly the president of the European Youth Card Association.

It was during a convention of other European youth card groups in Amsterdam 14 years ago that he met a young Hungarian girl called Zsuzsanna Bozo, now 34, who was involved in setting up a similar scheme in Hungary. It didn't take long for love to blossom.

"She's a very positive person, she's always coming up with new ideas, and I loved her enthusiasm from the start," recalls Patrick.

"We started seeing each other, which wasn't easy with me living in Edinburgh and her living in Budapest.

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"The flights were very expensive – you would spend 400 to get out there, very often with a connection or two along the way, so eventually she came to live with me in Edinburgh and we got a flat above the Roseburn Bar."

However, this was as close as Patrick had ever come to a pub, save for drinking in one, until the day he decided to up sticks and open one in Hungary.

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"It was Zsuzi's idea actually and another example of her fantastic flashes of inspiration.

"We spent the next few weeks taking as many photos of the pubs in High Street and The Grassmarket as we could, to try and replicate the feel of these places."

"We opened on 1 September 2006, and if anything the place was too clean. You could see your face in the polished floor and it took a wee while to get the place looking just right, but I think we've cracked it now."

An interview with Patrick McMenamin is on the BBC iPlayer as part of the BBC Scotland's Euro Season: Euro Scots series, which comes to a close on Tuesday at 11:30am - 12noon.

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