With the rich choice of world cuisines available in London, can Polish cuisine measure up and make itself heard? With the launch of Ognisko, Alexander Larman thinks it’s in with a fighting chance
Polish cuisine has, it’s fair to say, largely been overlooked in London. It isn’t hard to see why. In a city where exciting and fresh cuisines are prized, there’s something about the old standbys of beetroot, dumplings and herring that seems rather staid. Yet there’s one restaurateur, Jan Woroniecki, who seems determined to make Polish food as desirable as any French, Italian or Lebanese dish. With the splendid Ognisko, he has set the bar pretty high indeed.
The first thing you notice is how gloriously opulent it all is. Set in The Polish Hearth Club, visitors have a choice of sitting inside in the soaring 18th Century dining room or, in clement weather, outside on the terrace overlooking Prince’s Gardens. On our visit, the air of gaiety was increased by some sort of end-of-term fun by the students at nearby Imperial College; far from detracting from our entertainment, it added to it, although this might have been assisted by a generous carafe of horseradish and honey vodka, homemade on the premises and with a potent kick.
We ate extremely well, both in terms of quality and quantity. Appetisers of fried dumplings and pork crackling were enormous and delicious, though too much for anyone without the hardiest of appetites, and starters of pierogi dumplings and smoked salmon blinis were of an exceptionally high standard, and at decent prices for the area. Were you of an impecunious nature, such as the students gambolling in the park, you could easily have a substantial meal here for about £20 a head. But this would be to miss out on the piece de resistance, the three-pork wonder that is the choucroute. Many places have tried to pull off this delicate combination of sausage and sauerkraut, but few have achieved the rich complexity that this dish had. It was a true carnivore’s dream.
Time and sated appetites meant that we didn’t manage to have a pudding, although the tempting-looking selection included such treats as chocolate mousse and vodka marinated cherries. But we’ll hopefully return, and Wornoiecki can be congratulated for having made Polish dishes feel as vital a part of the Kensington dining scene as any fusion or small plate concept. Na zdrowie!
55 Exhibition Road SW7 2PG; ogniskorestaurant.co.uk