As some of our less cuddly politicians have repeatedly observed, quite a lot of Poles have come over to work since the Eastern European country joined the EU back in 2004. But Polish migration isn’t a new thing. A steady stream of exiles drifted over in the nineteenth century (when Poland didn’t officially exist), followed by big migrations after the two world wars. A lot of those Poles made their way to the capital, and the community here has deep roots with several long-established clubs, churches and eateries.
The experience of being Polish in the UK today partly depends on when you came over. My grandparents were displaced by the Second World War and I was pretty much raised as British, with Polish culture being a relatively exotic thing confined to churches, community centres and relatives’ houses. Some of the more recent arrivals are only over temporarily, but a lot of younger Poles have leapt headlong into mainstream British society and are less concerned with Catholicism and kielbasa. Despite the spike in hate crime since the EU referendum, most Poles are more nervous about being booted out than beaten up. But with our roots in London dating back a century, we’re not going anywhere.
Did you know? London was kinda, sorta the capital of Poland for 50 years. From the 1940s until the fall of communism, the Polish government-in-exile operated out of 43 Eaton Place in Belgravia.
Our favourite Polish spots in London
Patio is possibly London’s most famous Polish restaurant, and offers weighty plates of traditional dishes – including bigos (cabbage and meat stew) and pierogi (dumplings) – for moderate prices.
Slick pan-Eastern European restaurant Baltic is about a mainstream as Polish eating gets. There’s even a pre-theatre menu, in case you’re looking for a taste of Poland before seeing a play at the Young or Old Vic.
Social clubs and cultural centres were the hubs of the pre-EU Polish diaspora, and still fulfil an important role today. Posk in Hammersmith hit the headlines after the referendum when some wazzock daubed racist graffiti on it, but it carries on unbowed as a great place for Polish art, jazz and food.
A throwback to Soviet milk bars, Mamuska! is popular with local Poles and hip types alike. The atmosphere is great and you can buy vodka at three different temperatures: room, fridge or freezer.
These days it’s easy to find Polish food in this country, but for something special, try Prima in Kensington. Open since 1947, it serves freshly baked bread and cakes and probably stands as the UK’s numer jeden Polski sklep.
The best of Polish London, according to you
‘Daquise in South Kensington serves amazingly tasty Polish soups. Been in London for 15 years now and it feels like home.’ Iwona B via Facebook
‘I think Bar Polski in Holborn serves the best pierogi in London.’ Bozena J via Facebook
‘I value Polish shops: Bułka z Masłem in East Finchley is good.’ Janusz K via www.timeout.com
‘There’s one restaurant, U Matulki in Streatham, and also a Polish store with everything you could possibly want.’ Anna Z via Facebook
‘Try Camden Lock food market for Polish kielbasa.’ Stefania U via Facebook
‘The key to making London your home is keeping your Polish identity, but also meeting people from different cultures and embracing the British culture. Oh, and Polish church on Christmas Eve is a must!’ Marta L via www.timeout.com
‘We’re not just a British city – we are a European city’: read our open letter from the week of the EU referendum.