Being ushered in through the Georgian townhouse doorway of the Polish Hearth Club feels a bit like joining an intellectual’s literary soiree in mid-19th century Warsaw. I felt bereft without a cossack hat and furs as we entered on a cold December night, but the warmth within fully made up for it, as we were greeted by a towering, glittering Christmas tree and a fireplace sideboard for a reception desk.
This is Ognisko Polskie – a fine-dining sister restaurant to the more informal Baltic in Waterloo located in the still-active Polish Hearth Club where the good and the great of London’s thriving Polish community come to meet, play, debate and even waltz in the grand upstairs ballroom. The addition of the restaurant and bar on the ground floor is fabulous – a sparsely decorated, but warm and elegant dining room adorned only by a simple wall-art hanging of real, tumbling roses, a colossal chandelier and glittering candlesticks.
We begin, as we should, with a selection of vodka cocktails – perched at a small art-deco bar where the head barman is training a keen pupil in the fine arts of stirring and slurping. I sink a cut-glass Chopin potato vodka martini far too indecently and move on to a delicate Ognisko Twinkle – Wyborowa topped with Champagne and barely a hint of elderflower – light and refreshing.
Dinner is brought to our table by the restaurant’s owner – a charming, appropriately intellectual looking man with genuine curiosity and interest in his diners. A starter of wild boletus mushrooms braised in cream is a touch bland and lacking in the earthiness expected, however the win-win situation of Kaszanka (blood pudding) served with apple sauce on a potato cake is rich, filling, warming, homely and delicious.
Golonka – a sticky, soft, melting pork shank, glazed with honey and served over tangy sauerkraut is elegantly presented, but tastes of proper “mother’s table” cooking. A seared calves liver with Boczek (smoked pork belly) is similarly homely – the liver not overdone and the smokiness smooth rather than pungent and overwhelming. Just a tad more gravy would have made it excellent.
Ognisko is not too dissimilar to Baltic in terms of menu set up – but injects a sense of history and olde world sophistication to a cuisine that is hearty and borne of wintery climes. The club-like atmosphere and candlelit interior are both welcoming and intimate, making this a more cosy and romantic experience than the more modern and minimal Baltic.
Any further expansions into London’s restaurant scene will be certainly welcomed by me!