Restaurant for a rainy day
The Polish meal: Tatra
Time Out London
The Polish meal: Tatra
While Polish food inevitably reminds me of my childhood, I’ve
only relatively recently begun to experience it in a restaurant setting.
The idea of a Polish restaurant was rather a novelty when I first
encountered one; six years later I’ve been to a few, and I
thought the opening of a new one would merit a 202 Meals visit.
Polish restaurants open in London less frequently
than one might think. There has long been a Polish community in
the city; Polish shops and restaurants have been around since shortly
after the second world war. (Daquise, in South Kensington, claims
to be London’s
oldest.) But while the number of shops (and shop aisles) dedicated
to Polish food has undoubtedly mushroomed in recent years, the restaurants
have been slower to spread.
I heard about London’s newest, Tatra, from my father, who
heard about it through the Polish version of Friends Reunited. It
opened very recently—you can still smell the sawdust in places—and
falls into the upmarket bracket of Polish restaurants abroad, like
Patio Restaurant down the road, and very unlike the traditional Polanka
in Hammersmith. The décor is modern rather than cosy, and
one gets the feeling the restaurant is trying to appeal not just
to Poles. If the other diners were anything to go by, it is succeeding.
The limited menu left me a little apprehensive, especially as some
staples were conspicuous by their absence: for example, placki (potato
pancakes), kopytka (potato dumplings), and kisiel (a unique dessert
somewhere between jelly and custard in consistency). Pierogi, the
most famous Polish dumplings, are only available as a starter. But
the quality of the food more than made up for this; that it was attractively
served did not go unnoticed either.
From what I’ve read in the British media, it seems impossible
to write about Polish cuisine without using the words “stodgy” and “hearty”.
With those out of the way, I can go on to say something less hackneyed
about what we ate.
Before ordering, we received a plate of
rye bread and smalec (a spread made of pig’s fat and pork)
on the house, which would have disappeared much more quickly had
we not kept some aside for the latecomer. I was glad that health
was not a concern at the front of any of our minds.
We each picked a different starter. My rosół (chicken
soup) was good but nothing special, while Matthew’s marinated
herring with apple and beetroot salad was a little better received;
Andrea and Alex shared pierogi z kapustą (dumplings filled with
sauerkraut and mushrooms), and kluski leniwe (cheese and potato dumplings).
The pierogi—large, and fried, rather than boiled—and
leniwe, were so good that Andrea declared she could eat another portion
as a main course. Little did she know what her actual main course
had in store for her.
The roast duck, to Matthew’s and my disappointment, was off,
so we ordered leczo and trout, respectively. Leczo (described on
the menu as “goulash”) is a spicy beef stew, served with
yet another kind of dumpling. The Polish-style trout—fried
with almonds—was served on a bed of delicious and very Polish-tasting
salad (dill is the flavour I most identify with eastern European
cuisine). Andrea and Alex warmed themselves up with bigos, a “hunters’ stew” of
sauerkraut, mushrooms and plenty of smoked meat with potatoes. Andrea
and Matt are very keen sharers, but I dare say the liking they had
for their respective dishes made them regret the decision to share
even a little bit. I think it’s fair to say that all four of
us were happy with our choices, and in some cases, with each other’s.
Full though we all were, the desserts looked
far too good to pass up—with the unusual result that everyone ordered one. Alex
enjoyed some fusion cuisine in the form of crème brûlée
with vodka-soaked cherries; I was torn between this and the pancakes
filled with cream cheese and raisins. in the end both Andrea and
I went for the latter. Matthew’s disappointment that his poached
pear with chocolate sauce did not contain vodka goes to show how
much we were expecting after all we’d eaten thus far.
I hope Tatra stays around and does not go the same way as Zamoyska,
an upmarket Polish restaurant in Hampstead that closed a few years
ago. An encouraging sign was how busy Tatra got towards the end of
our meal. It is not necessarily the most traditional, and certainly
does not have the widest selection, but it is well worth trying,
especially for newcomers to the cuisine.