Restaurant U Kucharzy w Arsenale, Warsaw, Poland
If you were in Poland during the nineties and the first years of our century, you needed good Polish friends to find restaurants and inns which served edible food. Perhaps my Polish friends would protest, but at that time there wasn’t any culture for good food and even any interest in wine. Of course some homemade basics – a pickled herring with potatoes with some fresh dill – could have been delicious, but in general you got only heavy on meat (99% pork) and flavors which were the clear opposite of piquant. As in every other country in Eastern Europe, you would have expected that after the wall came down there would be a huge “hunger” for new flavors, for foreign influences in cooking and some new tasting experience aside from vodka, beer and salty water. For whatever reasons it wasn’t like this for many years: one of my first foreign food experiences in Warsaw was bad Mexican cuisine (another problem is that I am not a big fan of Mexican food in general). It was frightening to see how my friend from Warsaw enjoyed this bad fast food and some cheap red wine from Chile.
Maybe eight to ten years ago, there were some entrepreneurial, imaginative and simply smart hosts who had the vision to combine real traditional Polish cooking with some fashionable locations. Since a lot of Polish tradition has been almost eliminated – first by the Germans in 1939, followed by Russian and then communist government, it is amazing to see how this new generation of hosts revitalized some almost dead memories of the charm and flair of 1920s Warsaw, and of other metropolises in Poland.
One of the most convincing concepts has been created by Adam Gessler, who established a restaurant called “U Kucharzy” in the souterrain of former Hotel Europe. (http://www.gessler.pl/). This place had many smaller and bigger rooms (some of them so small that they only sat 4 people at a single table) but you could also be seated close to the open kitchen. Some of the cooks were pushing trolleys through the seated guests and serving the food directly at your table. They were cutting ham, arranging salads or preparing one of the best tatar steak in the world: on the wooden board on the top of the trolley a real piece of beef gets cut until it turns into tartar, you make the choice what items you like to be mixed into it, for instance of course egg, herbs, capers, onions etc. The quality of the meat must be great, but the talent for cutting is impressive, too. No machine would be able to cut meat this way: the cubes of meat are so small that it becomes a tender pulp with a male consistence. Just fantastic.
Today this restaurant has changed location due to the renovation of the Hotel Europe. Now it is in one wing of National Museum of Archaeology in the center of Warsaw. The kitchen again is the first main experience, and it is visible from almost all sides. When you enter the place on the left is a small bar to wait until you get your seat. On the right you have to pass a big part of the kitchen to enter the main eating hall. If you are alone or only with one friend, you may ask for a place at the bar along the kitchen and while you wait for your dish you watch the chefs cooking your and others’ dishes.
The food is a very nice combination of traditional Polish meat cuisine, some good fish and, in particular, a lot of different but really classic side dishes as carrots, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and brussels sprouts.
Last time I was there I hadn’t made a reservation, so we had only one hour at the bar. As a very friendly compensation, the first thing I got was a nip of Polish vodka. I ordered steak tatar. It became a rich and nice hour!
For other places in Warsaw have a look also at: https://avdwineandfood.wordpress.com/2015/07/04/belvedere-restaurant-warsaw/ and https://avdwineandfood.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/brasserie-warszawska-warsaw/.