NOPI is an amazing place, but would you expect anything less from Yotam Ottolenghi? Yes, I’m one of many enthusiasts of his food, his cookbooks and his culinary philosophy. Tons of vegetables, phenomenal mixtures of flavours, skilful use of herbs and spices, all with hints of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Sounds like a perfect meal for me.
Ottolenghi has several places in London. So far, I’ve only been to this one, but there’s no way I’m stopping here. The restaurant has two levels - the upper floor is a bit more elegant, the downstairs - more casual and cosy. I don’t like thick tablecloth and uncomfortable chairs, so, just in case, I booked a place downstairs, at the common table and facing the open kitchen. But the upstairs looked very friendly as well, it’s a dose of elegance that even I could handle. The interiors are fairly simple, filled with warm light, flowers and golden details.
A fairly large section of the menu consists of small dishes, perfect as starters for one or even more perfect for sharing. I love composing a feast of small dishes, that way you get to try more. And I wanted to try pretty much everything at NOPI.
Making decisions was tough, but it had to be done eventually. My friend and I started with burrata with blood orange and coriander seeds. It’s safe to say that it was the best burrata I’ve ever had, creamy and perfect. We loved scallops with apple and yuzu puree, sweet potatoes with feta, tangy roasted eggplant and the okra salad. The venison with blackberries was spectacular: tender, seared to perfection and flavourful. The menu changes according to the seasons, so the dishes may differ, but I’m sure everything they ever serve is perfect. And burrata, one of the signature dish created by Ramael Scully, is always there.
I’m being overly enthusiastic, but it really is a delightful place with delicious food, stellar service and convivial atmosphere. Perfect for an evening of wining, dining and talking. So try it out yourselves whenever you have a chance! Not surprisingly, NOPI is rather popular with hungry Londoners, so make sure you have a reservation.
Oysters and beer? Some might find it rebellious and disrespectful, but it's not even a new idea. The tradition of pairing dark beer and oysters comes from 18th century, when oysters were a cheap and popular snack in taverns, mainly eaten by the working class. In the early 20th century, most of oyster beds were destroyed. The scarsity increased prices and oysters became an expensive delicacy, served with a glass of champagne instead of a pint of beer.
London’s Oyster & Porter House serves both oysters and beer. It is situated right next to the Borough Market, so the culinary competition is enormous. It’s a proper oyster bar, with a selection from France and Ireland, as well as Spain, Japan and New Orleans. The food menu changes daily, depending on availability of fresh fish and seafood. You can try Cornish crab, shell-on Atlantic prawns or a delicious beef, Guinness and oyster pie. The traditionalists, who only pair oysters with bubbles, shouldn't be disappointed - there's a wine and champagne list available.
I can now officially confirm that dark beer and oysters are a match made in heaven, especially if it’s an oyster stout we’re talking about. Some modern oyster stouts are simply beers that go well with oysters, but some breweries remain faithful to the tradition and actually add a handful of oysters to the barrel.
A half dozen of oysters and a glass of stout always make a perfect lunch.
The Breakfast Club is by far one of the most popular brunch spots in London. Every Saturday and Sunday morning (ok, early afternoon) you will see hungry Londoneers, craving coffee, Mimosas, poached eggs and maple pancakes and queuing in front of each of six locations of the restaurant. The wait is at least half an hour, but, personally, I don't mind waiting for food (unless it's in a heavy rain, which is not that uncommon in London). You could always try and outsmart the system and come for a midweek breakfast or lunch. But that would be spoiling the fun, wouldn't it?
Pancakes and berries, with maple syrup and vanilla cream
Huevos al Benny: poached eggs, chorizo, roast peppers, avocado, fresh chillies, spicy hollandaise on toasted English Muffin
During the first visit, A nuż widely charmed us with a lovely patio, a perfectly prepared cod and an extraordinary service. It soon turned out that our waiter is also the owner of the place and that he simply likes people. He says there’s no other way if one wants to be in the restaurant business.
Adem Drężek opened A nuż widelec together with his brother, Sylwester. They come from a family with strong culinary traditions - their mother runs an inn and a restaurant in Masuria. They have over 10 years of experience in gastronomy themselves, but none of them is a chef. They used to work in restaurant management, but cooking has always been a great passion. Today Sylwester is responsible for the kitchen and the menu. Adam still is a manager, but whenever a spare moment occurs, he puts on an apron and cooks as well.
A nuż widelec serves unique, but rather simple dishes, all based on ingredients of great quality that don’t need a lot more to shine. They get fish straight from Masurian lakes - another brother (there are seven) buys them from local fishmongers. Exotic fish and seafood arrive from the largest European market in Berlin. When it comes to meat, some is local, but lamb always comes from Ireland, beef - from the US.
Brothers are full of ideas. They have a small smoking hut and each Thursday you can eat (or take home) freshly smoked fish. It’s another element of the family tradition - their grandfather used to prepare smoked fish from Masurian lakes. On Saturdays there’s a live cooking station with fresh seafood: mussels, shrimp, squid, scallops. Another upcoming project includes a cooperation with Ogród Szambala - a local supplier of organic and ecologically grown vegetables with maximum nutrients. There will be a special menu based on their crops every Friday. The restaurant is tiny, but there will be enough room for a little regional deli shelf with Masurian goat cheeses, fish pickles and preserves and homemade savoury pastries.
Plans for the future? They will start with a winter patio - when it gets too cold to sit in the lovely outdoor garden, there won’t be enough room for all the guests. And if everything goes according to the plan, Drężek brothers will open another venue next year. A larger one, based on regional cuisine, with a huge deli section selling regional products from all over Poland, Latvia and a few other places. They promise not to surprise us with an Italian pizzeria anytime soon. They will stick to what they do best - promoting great regional products.
There are many versions of the story of Wars and Sawa, the legendary characters to whom Warsaw owns its name. One of the folk tales has it that Wars, a fisherman, and his wife, Sawa, lived in a tiny hut standing at the shores of the Vistula River. One day a hunt was organized in the area and Prince Ziemomysł, the owner of the estate, got lost in the forest. He wandered around until he reached the fisherman’s hut. Wars and Sawa made the stranger welcome, offered him a delicious meal and a place to sleep. In the morning the grateful prince said, You didn’t hesitate to take in a stranger and save him from hunger, cold and wild animals. Therefore this land will forever be called Warsaw, so your kindness can never be forgotten.
If Prince Ziemomysł had felt as welcomed as the guests of WarsandSawa café, I fully understand his urge to honour their hospitality. Had he visited Powiśle (which literally means near-the-Vistula) during the asparagus season, it’s possible that he would have granted a fair part of his estate to the warm-hearted pair as well. Pearl barley with asparagus, thyme and a refreshing hint of lemon that we had for lunch was worth at least a few hectares of good land (and yet a vegetarian lunch special costs only 12 PLN).
Marcin Sekuła, a co-owner of WarsandSawa, agreed to meet us and talk about seasonal food, renovations and plans for the future.
What’s the idea behind this place?
My wife Iga and I have been together since the freshman year. We both had always known that we wanted to open our own business one day. A nine-to-five office job didn’t seem a good fit for us. While Iga was working as a barista at Chłodna 25, we had this idea to open a coffee house. It was a very vague concept though, we didn’t have any specifics in mind yet.
It was this building that found us, not the other way around. It was an unused, deserted place and we had to renovate everything ourselves, together with the owners of Alchemicus, a ceramic studio, who are now our neighbours. We had to start from scratch: there was no electricity, no running water, no heating, even no floors.
We finally opened WarsandSawa after nine months of wearying renovation works. We didn’t have a strategy, everything was done romantically and spontaneously. We were exhausted after the works and so eager to have the place opened that we didn’t even organize an opening party. All we did was open the door and wait for our first guests. It was hours until they came. At one point I thought that we were completely insane, that no one was coming. But someone came.
We had spent our last money on supplies for the coffee house. We didn’t have any cash, just food, beverages and coffee. On the first day we managed to make enough to shop for the next day. We worked hard through the summer and WarsandSawa was becoming more popular.
It’s not that easy to find you.
That’s right, the place is rather hidden, no one will just walk in from the street. But once people have found us, they tend to come back. The majority of our guests are regulars. They’ve been coming for so long that we became friends. I can’t always easily tell apart my friends from the university and people I met here.
We’re not at all surprised that people are coming back, the food is delectable, hearty and homy. Was that your vision from the beginning?
In the beginning we didn’t plan on having food at all. What we had in mind was a typical coffee house. We were going to serve coffee, cakes and a very limited selection of snacks. All we had were two simple courses for lunch each day. It soon turned out that people come for our food, not just coffee and cakes. We started adding new positions to the menu, slowly transforming into a small restaurant.
Who does the cooking?
We cook ourselves. At first it was mostly Iga. I admit that I was more timid. Having prepared the first few dishes, I would hide in the kitchen and franticly watch people’s reactions. In my worst-case scenario, they screamed with revulsion and broke plates. Luckily that never happened. They looked rather pleased and often complimented the food.
While it was Iga who was supposed to cook, I grew to like it and even got a little addicted. I never though that I would run a restaurant, this idea never crossed my mind. But I always liked cooking. I cooked a lot at home, I cooked for friends, I always happily agreed to the ‘I cook, you clean’ agreement. I was raised by my grandmother, who taught me how to cook, we even made jams and marmalades together each summer.
There are many vegetarian options on the menu. Do you eat meat yourselves?
We do. But we like vegetarian food too; plan-based dishes can be very tasty and very healthy. I find them easier to prepare too and they are definitely less troublesome from the logistics point of view - finding the right suppliers and managing the storage takes a lot of time and planning. Our lunches are always vegetarian, but on the regular menu you will find seafood, chorizo, salami. Our food is simple, homy and seasonal.
Where do you seek for culinary inspirations?
We usually start at the market or grocery store. We take a look at what’s in season, pick one vegetable and create a dish around it. Now, with all the spring vegetables, it is much easier. Winter demands more brainstorming.
What are your plans for WarsandSawa?
We are going to expand the place a little bit. There are two additional rooms that we can incorporate to get some extra space.
We also plan to have more happenings of various sorts. You can expect more cultural events in the winter. We’ve had a concession to serve alcohol for a while and, as we all know, alcohol goes well with culture. Apparently, people can’t imagine a vernissage without wine.