Sausage and gherkins come more readily to mind than gastronomic delights as stereotypes of Polish food, but Ognisko is forcing diners to reconsider their perceptions.
Warsaw, after all, was dubbed “the Paris of the East” in its heyday, and Ognisko does its best to recall those glory days of the early 20th century.
It has both the premises – an elegant South Kensington townhouse – and the pedigree; the restaurant started life as a Polish officers’ club which became a hangout for hundreds of emigres nostalgic for their native nosh and the company of their kinfolk after World War II. The building eventually fell into decline, but now an entrepreneur with pukka Polish heritage has taken on the challenge of waving the gastronomic flag for a younger generation.
Jan Woroniecki has already successfully purveyed the cuisine of his ancestors at the now defunct Wodka and at Baltic in Southwark. He’s doing Polish with panache at Ognisko in a long dining room which is beautiful and romantic by night, although the dining terrace beyond overlooking a grassy square is an irresistible attraction when whether permits. The bar in front is lively, its list packed with great cocktails like Blood And Sand, which proves to be a Scotch and cherry herring, rather than vodka, concoction.
Of course there will be vodka, inevitably, enjoyed as a shot by those opting for starters of traditional “schmaltz”(smoked) herring or smoked salmon and keta (salmon caviar) with blinis, or black oscietra caviar. Of the mains, one of the great joys is being able to get a confit goose leg at any time of year, here served with red cabbage, and well-prepared veal is another staple.
There are nice bits and pieces like radishes and cream cheese or pork crackling to nibble even before the appetisers arrive, elegant fruit-based desserts and, inevitably, dumplings for those who cannot countenance a Polish meal that does not include a portion of pierogi or pelmeni.
It’s a shame there are not more wines of better quality available by the class, but given that Polish food is best accompanied by spirits, there’s a pleasing choice of vodka by the shot, and cocktail lovers will appreciate being able to get their favourite tipple by the jug – five shots for the price of three at prevailing London drinks prices.
Where can i found out more about Ognisko London?
55 Exhibition Rd, London, UK SW7 2PN
Tel: 0044 207589 0101