You don’t go there for it’s beauty. You are either there in business, visiting a polish mate of yours, using a cheap offer on Wizz Air or Ryan Air flights for a weekend gateway, or you are an absolute enthusiast of the modern history and want to see the phoenix city that has once burned and then was reborn from ashes. What all visitors need - is to eat! Let me tell you then where, what and how!
For centuries invaders tired to crash our spirit, but we only drunk more of it. And with the spirit grew our courage. Although we didn’t manage to establish a great ‘eating out’ culture, we have never forgotten what great food was. Polish cuisine is a big cauldron where the Slavic, German and Jewish foods are mixed together. We have always been great farmers, we have known how to feast in the past, and we have learned how to rely on home cooked humble meals during the centuries of life under occupation. We have always been good drinkers too - but you must have heard a thing or two about it. In recent times many Polish young people migrated in search of work, quite a few of them ended up in hospitality. We have finally learned the modern cooking techniques and brought it back home. Many truly passionate chefs trained in UK, France, Denmark or USA are now coming back home and open amazing modern restaurants.
All that background makes Warsaw a very exciting city for real foodies. Here you will find amazing traditional restaurants serving food cooked like in royal kitchens in baroque, small and extremely cheap ‘milk bars’ where you can get simple ‘home style food’ cooked by big mummas in polyester aprons, soviet vodka bars opened by soviets and still doing quite well, some of modern vodka with prices you won’t believe possible, exciting farmers’ markets with produce you have never heard of, modern food halls with top quality bars and diners, street food markets, modern jewish restaurants, europe’s best genuine pho, finally - great modern restaurants with world class cooking and michelin starred chefs.
serving silver plates of nobility
Reaching farthest in our eating history you will find whole roasted game birds, venison, bison, deer, wild boar - all diced up and cooked up in stews, game pates, beef tatar, offals, amazing hearty soups and big roasts. And when I say big, I mean big - whole suckling pig, whole lamb, whole wild boar…and there are restaurants where you can try it all. For those who don’t eat meat - don’t worry, we have great choice of fresh water fish and you will usually find some of our domestic catfish, zander, pike perch, carp, trout and crayfish on the menu. The restaurants are usually located in old villas, or in basements of old town tenant houses. They are usually over decorated with too much gold, flowery tapestries, heavy wooden chairs, thick white table cloths, heavy silver cutlery, poor wine lists and good selection of polish home made fruit vodkas, we call ‘nalewka’. Your waiter won’t be very chatty but will bring you the food you ordered.
The ‘Milk Bars’ are a product of socialism. They were something like a typical old school British ‘caff’, in the sense that they were mostly acting as local diner for students and working class. And since in communism everyone was either a student or a working class, there were plenty of those. Each one with the same menu, same vinyl table cloths, some of them with aluminium bowls and plates once screwed to the table and alu cutlery chained down. Nowadays no one chains the cutleries, dishes are served on usual china plates, and there is very few of the original bars left. The menus are still sometimes displayed on small paper pieces fixed with black rubber bands to huge perforated ply wood boards. The tables are still laid with the vinyl table cloths, and the bars are still self serviced. Best ones are usually found around universities. If you don’t know what to order - read the section on traditional polish dishes. Some of them have been opened for years but are now modernised and look quite cool - such as ‘Prasowy’. Beware there is usually no alcohol on sale in a typical milk bar.
Average prices for breakfast: £0.80 - £1
Average price for starter: £0.80 - £1.20
Average prices for mains: £1.20 - £1.50
Average price for sides: £0.40
Bar "Złota Kurka” - Marszałkowska 55/73 Bar ‘Prasowy’ - Marszałkowska 10/16 Bar ‘Bambino’ - Krucza 21 Pod Barbakanem - Mostowa 27 Bar Familijny - Nowy Swiat 39 Bar Lotos - Belwederska 2, entrance from Chelmska Street (don’t mix up with Vodka Bar Lotos, or Restaurant Lotos) Bar Mleczny Zabkowski - Zabkowska 2 Bar Mleczny ‘Biedronka’ - Grojecka 79 Bar Sady - Krasińskiego 36
Although they don’t really serve milk in milk bars, they do serve vodka in the other ones. Vodka Bars also originate in soviet times. Here people met after work for traditional shot or two, or …. a bottle. You have probably heard that Russians, Ukrainians and Poles drink vodka like no others and what we mean by it, is that we don’t use mixers. Traditionally we chase a shot with something to eat and this is how vodka bars were born. There is usually a short menu, a kind of an extract of the milk bar menu, but with the emphasis on foods that are a perfect match to a chilled glass of delicious highly alcoholic water of life. You can give it a go in original vodka bars, which are very few left and hard to find. Easier you will find either traditional old school restaurants or the modern ‘bistro bars’ which follow the same concept as the vodka bars.
Average price for a shot: £0.40 - £1.20 Average price for a side dish: £2 - £4
Places - Vodka Bars Bar Lotos - Belwederska 2 - entrance from Chelmska str Cafe Amatorska - Nowy Swiat 21
Quite unappealing interior design but the bar has been opened for over 60 years now! Urban legends tell it was the first popular ‘gay bar’ in soviet Warsaw. Nowadays it is a meeting place for Warsaw artists, journalists and elderly gentleman with a class of the past époque who sit quietly and read newspapers while sipping on cheap brandy. Bar Kawowy Piotruś - Nowy Swiat 18
Just opposite Cafe Amatorska, this one has also been around for many years. Unlike Amatorska, Piotrus was a place of hang outs for ladies of doubtful manners, who offered services to eager man in Poznanska str. You can still see some of them there, and you can get a shot of vodka for 2 zl ( 40 pence)
Farmers’ markets were always the place to buy food, especially in times when supermarket shelves were completely empty and the cues for bread stretched for miles. In nineties we had a small revolution in food sector when international brands came with the massive food supermarkets and people were taken by it, just for a brief moment though. Very quickly people have realised the quality is not the same. Recently farmers’ produce trade booms in the city. Apart from traditional seasonal fruit and veg, the amazing thing to buy are smoked meats, sausages, breads, cakes and home made preserves. Most exciting and centrally located is ‘Hala Mirowska’ - one of the original trade centers built in 1899. Other one, opened on Wednesday’s mornings is ‘forteca’, located in an old Warsaw’s citadel - here not only you can taste or buy amazing, mostly organic stuff, but you can also do a little bit of sight seeing.
Warsaw’s food markets are not the places to go for street food. Although we have discovered the passion for a paper plate or styrophoam box filled with goodness, we have managed to organise ourselves quite well. In Summer there is amazing place in an old train station, called ‘targ nocny’ and it is literally a night market with plenty food and booze stalls. Opened whole year round is ‘targ sniadaniowy’ - breakfast market opened on weekends.
Lastly, a newest thing in the city is pimped out old food hall building ‘Hala Koszyki’. It is similar to ‘Hala Mirowska’, but modernised and turned into a very interesting concept. Inside you will find many restaurants, delicatessen with a great choice of european products, a big central bar, chocolate and tea shop, an ice-cream parlour with unusual flavours, few wine stores, few cafes. Good place to buy some foodie souvenirs!
The revolution in polish modern cooking started really with Wojciech Amaro getting first Michelin Star for Poland. Before we had many passionate cooks who had no technique, knowledge or experience or educated chefs with not that much interest in other than Polish cuisines. Amaro was the first chef educated by the world’s best (Alain Ducasse, Yannick Alleno, Ferran Adria) who decided to go back home and open his own restaurant. He opened ‘Atelier Amaro’, hired front of the house management with experience from best venues in Europe and in 2013 was recognised by Michelin Inspectors. It was kind of a call for many professionals still working abroad to come home, finally we had hope to create something great and earn good money in our field at the same time.
Another big name for Warsaw’s gastronomy is Daniel Pawelek. He used to manage ‘The Grill’ at The Dorchester - straight from this job he landed in Warsaw opening its first proper steak restaurant. ’Butchery and Wine’ is now a leader in supporting polish cattle breeders and greatly contributed towards development of polish beef quality. Daniel has also shown some good wine bottles to Warsawians and expats living in the city. Now he runs six restaurants, each one of which are a great experience.
Fine dining scene has grown tremendously as well, more and more places open each week and many have amazing menus. One of the traditional restaurants which have always been among the best in town is ‘Belvedere’ located in a beautiful old conservatory build in the middle of Royal Park Lazienki. They are also one of very few restaurants experimenting with molecular cooking - and the result is decent. Just please forgive the service, they are not quite there yet, but if you focus on beautiful surroundings and quality of food you won’t be disappointed.
Places - casual dining:
Butchery and Wine - Żurawia 22
best place in Warsaw for a steak, great wine list, and the asian spiced black pud is to die for!
Rozbrat 20 - Rozbrat 20
modern brasserie, good service, good wine list and the food heavenly! Head Chef was trained by Tom Aitkens and you can taste the skill and inspiration!
Brasserie Warszawska - Górnośląska 24
Simple food cooked to perfection, great service
Kieliszki na Hożej - Hoża 41
wine plays the lead here, accompanying food is as good though!
Ale wino! - Mokotowska 48
great but simple wine bar with restaurant, very good wine selection and food that goes so well with it
Places - fine dining:
Atelier Amaro - Agrykola 1
first michelin starred restaurant in Poland
Senses - Bielanska 12
michelin starred restaurant near 'Old Town' - great interpretation of traditional Polish cuisine, quite expensive as for a meal in Warsaw, the interior design is absolutely horrible and staff trained in old french style (other words - not very friendly)
Belvedere - Lazienki Park
great location, fantastic historical building, interesting food concept, tasty plates but sadly, again quite a let down in service, wine list although with some good selection of Polish wines (skip the reds, but some of the whites are worth trying), quite chaotic
Nolita - Wilcza 40
a new player in fine dining scene, so far so good - food is bloody tasty
Concept 13 - Bracka 9
great location, very impressive dining room, decent service and well cooked food.
For those who can’t imagine life without chocolate and sweets in general, we also have some showstoppers. First and foremost is the amazing, small and modern patisserie shop Odette. You will get there a decent cup of tea and great selection of pastries. Then there is the Wedel chocolate shop. Wedel was the biggest and best chocolate producer in Poland, who started making his silky bars of milk chocolate in 1851. In 1999 the factory was bought by Cadbury. You can visit the original E. Wedel shop and chocolate drinking rooms in central Warsaw. Please bear in mind the drinking chocolate here is very thick, usually also finished with whipped cream. Another place to visit is another patisserie, this time a very traditional one. A. Blikle opened his first coffee shop in Warsaw’s Nowy Swiat in 1869 and it still attracts many. He became famous thanks to his doughnuts stuffed with rose hip jam and orange peel. A must try! Finally, there is few really good ice cream shops around the city as well. The most famous one was ‘zielona budka’ (green booth), founded by Zbigniew Grycan with a flagship parlour in Pulawska Str. Although the company since has sold the trade mark and rebranded as ‘Grycan’ you can still enjoy the best ice cream cups in the original parlour. The best of the modern shops is ‘Jednorozec’ (unicorn) where the ice cream are made daily, in many unusual flavours.
E. Wedel - Szpitalna 8
A. Blikle - Nowy Swiat 35
Grycan - Pulawska 11
Jednorozec - Narbutta 38/32
Not only polish food
Last but not least - I have a small surprise for you, as Warsaw is quite a unique place to taste some of Europe’s best jewish and Vietnamese! How, you might think! Well, there are the two stories:
Everyone has heard of holocaust and the tragedy of Jews during WWII. Not many of you might have known, that Jewish minority was actually a coherent part of polish society for more than thousand years. Poland was one of the very few European countries that not only did not expel Jewish in medieval times but have granted them freedom of religion. If you are intrigued by this - you need to pay a visit to the amazing Museum of Polish Jews ‘Polin’ (they also have amazing kosher restaurant there). But lets focus on food! Quite a lot of traditional Jewish dishes are rooted in polish cuisine and the other way round. Perhaps the Jewish are not as many as they used to be in Poland nowadays, but their culture is still present here, and that goes for the restaurants as well. The style might be slightly different to Ottolenghi or Palomar as the restaurants in Warsaw focus more on the traditional cuisine of polish Jews rather than modern Israeli cooking, but you won’t be disappointed!
And the Vietnamese! Yes! We probably have Europe’s best Pho! How is it possible? Let’s not forget what Poland and Vietnam had in common for so many years - communism! And that means we had quite good relations with each other at least from the political point of view. And when Americans were conducting their massacre on Vietnamese in seventies, Poland was taking loads of war refugees and giving them homes. Most of them ended up in Warsaw. For many years they were running cheap Chinese fast food kiosks, but most of them were trading cheap Chinese goods on open air markets. And where ever they had their stalls, they always had small restaurants serving the most genuine Vietnamese food. At one stage they were ‘busted’ by young Warsowians who by now have traveled the world and were able to tell the good from the ugly. And the Vietnamese restaurants bloomed in Warsaw. Let’s not forget how great of a hangover cure pho is!