Today I’m taking you to Poland. To Krakow to be specific. Krakow is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland, dating back to the 7th century. It sits on the Vistula River and has a well-preserved Jewish Quarter and a stunning Old Town centred around the grand Rynek Glowny (market square).
After the invasion of Poland at the start of World War II Krakow became the capital of Germany’s General Government. In 1941 the Jewish population were forced into a walled area which became known as the Krakow Ghetto and from there they were mainly sent to German extermination camps like nearby Auschwitz (more of which later, yes, I went there and it will always stay with me – an experience I think everyone should have).
There were around 60,000 Jews in Krakow at the start of the war and only 2,000 survived it. Now there are around 1,000 Jewish inhabitants of the city, with about 200 identifying themselves as members of the Jewish community. The Jewish Quarter is charming and there are still seven synagogues there that you can visit.
Across the river is Oskar Schindler’s enamelware plant where he selected employees from the ghetto to work – saving them from the camps. Steven Spielberg told this amazing story in his film Schindler’s List. Roman Polanski is a survivor of the Krakow ghetto, which he luckily escaped from as a small boy.
There’s so much history to absorb as you roam the streets of Krakow. A lot of tragedy, a lot of terrible tales and I could feel it. It’s a sombre experience hearing about mans inhumanity to man.
Having said that it’s a great city to walk around with myriad bars and restaurants to eat at and the locals are some of the most welcoming people I’ve met. So once we’d absorbed as much history as we could and taken in the sights it was time for dinner.
We headed for the fabulous Copernicus restaurant which is in the Copernicus Hotel – close to the beautiful Wawel Castle. The food is based on Polish royal cuisine, with traditional recipes being taken a creative step into the 21st century.
The restaurant is cosy and intimate and the whole evening was an absolutely wonderful experience. We picked the five-course chef’s tasting menu which we were guided through by our delightful waiter – who even helped me choose some lovely Polish wine. We could have gone seven or even 12 courses – for 12 he advised allowing at least four hours and we weren’t sure we were prepared for that much of a banquet.
Two of the dishes were standard and we had to choose the other three which made it all very manageable. To start this delightful beetroot tartar served with pumpkin and blackberries. They know what to do with their beetroot in Poland – even my brother Frank who admitted to hating the beets before his visit there soon became a fan. A beautifully colourful plate that was bursting with flavour.
For the second course there was a choice of four. First up this salad of grilled tuna served with avocado, zucchini and pomegranates. A real tasty work of art.
The roasted bacon – which was kind of like a belly of pork – came with pear and spring onion mustard. What a wonderful combination – and who’d have thought of using pears to make mustard. Genius.
Pierogi (dumplings) can be found everywhere on Polish menus – and very nice they are too. But these were in a league of their own stuffed with tomatoes onion and cider marmalade and served with dry-cured neck.
The next communal course was the deliciously exotic sorrel cream soup. Served with a new potato in pride of place in the centre, topped with sturgeon caviar. Can’t say I’ve ever eaten sorrel cream soup, but I definitely plan to again.
The main course also offered four choices. The duck was served with a foie gras terrine, quince jam and kohlrabi. Duck is big in Polish cuisine and I ate it several times on this trip – with great satisfaction.
The brown trout was served atop a creamy lemon-spiced risotto. Perfectly cooked fish and a melt-in-the-mouth risotto.
I chose the veal dish which was a real masterpiece. Served with sweetbreads, green peas and marinated nasturtiums, this is one of the most luscious dishes I’ve eaten in some time. The perfect balance of flavours and textures and richness. Yum!
Okay, so when you’ve committed to five courses you simply have to do it. It wasn’t a struggle to be honest – the restaurant got the portion size just right – even though some little added extras were included along the way. There’s was still a little room for something sweet. Apricots were served with cardamom chocolate and lemon meringue. Delicate and tangy.
Or there was cottage cheese served with mirabelle plums and sea buckthorn sorbet. It tasted as good as it looks!
I went for the cheese plate and it’s one of the best I’ve had for some time (again!) – the selection from hard, goats and properly stinky (in a very good way!) were served with the most amazing onion and pear mustard.
After such a fabulous dinner we felt we simply had to finish the evening with a vodka! Well, when in Poland… Our waiter recommended which one (it’s a complicated thing choosing vodka here) and served it up chilled in these beautifully dainty little glasses. We were so happy!
Today’s price point
Our five-course chef’s tasting menu cost 180PLN (approximately £38.50) – drinks not included.
The Winnica Turnau Solaris ’15 (white wine) cost 139PLN (approx £29).
The Winnica Turnau Cabernet ’15 (red wine) cost 149PLN (approx £31).
Copernicus is on Kanonicza Street – Krakow’s oldest street – which winds up to the Castle.