Britain has long had a strong Polish community, however Polish fare is hard to find and Polish restaurants are few and far between. In recent years, many supermarkets have added a small international section selling polish meats, yoghurts and their famous pierogi dumplings, but to get a true taste for their hearty and flavoursome cuisine, you need to be wined and dined by a true Pole. Polish dream-team, Andrzej Swietek and his wife and head chef Marlena have recently opened Karczma Polska, along with co-owner Craig Gavin in Old Town, Swindon. The restaurant occupies a spot on trendy Wood Street (previously the home of Los Gatos who have moved around the corner). Andrzej has been working in Swindon for over 6 years, but professional chef Marina only moved to the UK a few months ago to head the kitchen of Karczma Polska. Marina captures the flavours of Poland in a concise menu of Polish specialities, such as bigos, a traditional hunter’s stew, and of course, pierogi.
I found this review quite challenging to write. I have always said that I would never write a bad review; if I have nothing nice to say, I prefer to say nothing. However, I left Karczma Polska with mixed feelings. The food was not to my taste, however, that is not to say that the food was bad. Quite the opposite: the food was perfectly executed, well-seasoned and served by the most hospitable and kind waitress it has ever been my pleasure to meet. As the waitress said herself, Polish foods have a completely different flavour to many other European cuisines and therefore may not suit everyone’s palette. But many of you might absolutely love this food, therefore I can’t not write this review and I do strongly recommend that you go to Karczma Polska and try their dishes for yourselves. Whether you love the food or not, you are sure to have a wonderful experience.
The interior of the restaurant is aglow with warming reds and terracotta. The tiled floor, red brick walls and chunky wooden furnishings made me feel instantly feel at home; it’s a great balance of rustic simplicity with modern touches. We were greeted by the waitress who kindly took our coats and showed us to our table. I had to do a double take when I opened the menu. The right side was entirely in Polish and I failed to notice the English version on the left. Being my first Polish dining experience, I hadn’t a clue what to order, so was thankful for the advice and explanations of our waitress.
I was keen to try something completely new, but still wanted to taste some authentic pierogi—having only had ones out of a packet previously—so rather than ordering a starter, the waitress suggested that mum and I share a plate of pierogi before having our individual mains, and offered to prepare one of each flavour so we could try them all!
While our dishes were prepared, we received a basket of Polish bread, along with a dish of gherkins and a traditional pork “butter”—the exact ingredients of which were top secret, but I imagine it was a sort of seasoned pork fat and pork mince spread. We were instructed to spread the bread with the butter, then top with a slice of gherkin and a little salt. The bread was lovely and soft, but I wasn’t such a fan of the spread.
The pierogi (£9.50) dish had been split onto two separate plates for us, and came with a delicious tangy and slightly sweet salad that was reminiscent of sauerkraut. The pierogi were fried and topped with caramelised onions. There were three fillings: potato and cheese, pork and cabbage and wild mushroom. Each of the fillings were very flavoursome—the cabbage version was probably my favourite—but I found the dumpling skins a little thick and slightly greasy.
For mains, I chose the golabki (£10.95), which is a stuffed cabbage leaf with minced pork, rice and herbs, served in a tomato and basil sauce. This dish was much lighter and came with a heavenly light and creamy mashed potato and that refreshing sauerkraut-esque salad from before. The sauce was like a tomato gravy and was perfect for soaking into the mash. The golabki themselves were wrapped into a neat little bundle and tasty enough, but they were my least favourite element to the plate—despite being the main attraction. I could have just eaten the mash, salad and sauce alone.
Mum chose the placek po zbojnicku (£12.50) for her main dish, which was a Polish potato pancake, served with chips and salad. She didn’t think it “sounded that Polish” and was going to change her mind, but the waitress assured us that it was a very authentic dish. I had imagined it would be a little like a Spanish tortilla, but it was nothing of the sort. The pancake itself seemed to be made with mashed potato and flour—much like Italian gnocchi; it was quite thick and glutinous. While the pancake itself was a little unusual, the beef filling was tasty. It used 24 day cured prime beef fillet in a meaty sauce with red pepper and herbs and the whole thing was topped with plenty of smoked paprika.
Overall I wasn’t disappointed with the meal and I had a lovely time here. I just found the food a little too heavy and hearty. However, on a cold winter’s day, I can imagine that this kind of fare would be exactly what you want. Portions are generous and prices are fare. I am yet to try their desserts, but despite not loving the food, I would definitely go back for another try. I am told that the menu may change to reflect some of the lighter summer food eaten in Poland. If you head to Karczma Polska, let me know what you think in the comments below!
23 Wood Street
T: 01793 433 924