Warsaw meets Knightsbridge: the venue has decorum without being stuffy, the dishes are orthodox and traditional, the Polish staff do their home country proud.
‘A smart Polish restaurant – isn’t that an oxymoron?’ was the question from my date. But Ognisko Polski has been smart and Polish since 1940, when the Polish Hearth Club was founded in the very grand embassy-style building near the Science Museum, to cater for expat Poles. The venue has great decorum without being stuffy; it’s a great place for business meetings or taking extended family out for lunch (bar food is served all afternoon). The new proprietor is Jan Woroniecki, best known for his mission to modernise Polish food in (now defunct) Wódka restaurant, and in Baltic, near Tate Modern.
The revitalised Ognisko has not airbrushed history out of its Polish cooking. The dishes are orthodox and traditional, but the Polish staff do their home country proud.
The baskets of breads could have paved the road from the Baltic to the Carpathians – there were generous amounts of pumpernickel and a dark rye bread, both dense and flavour-packed, served with pickled gherkins and butter. Barszcz (borscht) is a dish that originates in the Ukraine, but has been readily adopted throughout eastern Europe; this Ukrainian version was rich in beetroot and other complex flavours, with the smetana (sour cream) served on the side.
Wheat flour dumplings are part of national cuisines in a northern arc from China through Russia to Poland. The Siberian-style pelmeni here had a more delicate dough than usual, but the filling packed a punch, comprising earthy-flavoured black pudding (kaszanka) with apple and cinnamon. Rabbit and prune stew with kopytka (potato dumplings, like gnocchi) was another hearty, wintry dish that filled out the ribs. If all this sounds too meaty for you, there’s also a vegetarian version of kulebiak made with braised sauerkraut and properly bosky wild mushrooms inside the pastry case.
The elegant bar was packed on our visit, filled with East Europeans tippling vodka and very pleased to see the old Ognisko revived and improved. As well they might.
We are just a stone's throw from London's most famous landmarks. The Science Museum, Natural History Museum and Royal Albert Hall are just a few minute's walk away, as is Hyde Park, Knightsbridge and Kensington High Street.