The Polish presence is London is noticeable, and a good thing too: Polish restaurants and Polish food is widely available across London in the form of delicatessens, cafes, bars and restaurants. Polish food makes use of lots of sour cream, dill, rye, cabbage of all colours, herrings and pickling. The best word to describe Polish food is hearty – soups are rich and filling, stews are deep and savoury, desserts are substantial and toothsome… it’s food for the big eaters, and could make vegetarians and non-vegetarians with big appetites very happy.
As well as Polish delicatessens and restaurants being a welcome addition to the London food scene, Polish vodka bars have been embraced happily by the London booze scene. If you like vodka and you want to be spoilt for choice, look for a Polish place and enjoy an evening of sampling up to hundreds of different flavoured shots (if your wallet and liver will let you).
Restaurants and bars of a Polish persuasion vary across London, ranging from functional to fussy to twee to chic, so pick and choose according to your occasion. It's best to plan a Polish meal with the intention to eat substantially and drink deeply - not recommended for an intimate date with a teetotal picky eater, but definitely recommended for long meals with friends and family, vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. Polish food is sometimes described as winter food, with its emphasis on stews and dumplings but Londoners are famously un-seasonal eaters and Londonist has no hesitation in saying "go for it!" to those who want to give this cuisine a try, at any time of the year.
For a guide to ordering in a Polish restaurant, read on...
Starters / soup
Sledzie – pickled herrings
Sledzie w oliwie – pickled herrings in oil and seasoning
Sledzie marynowane w smietanie – pickled herrings in sour cream
Barszcz – borscht, a red cabbage soup
Zurek – white cabbage soup
Uszka – beef or vegetable filled dumplings, usually served with barszcz or zurek
Zupa grzybowa – mushroom soup
Rosol – chicken soup, usually served with noodles
Golonka – pork knuckles
Kotlet serowy – semi-hard cheese breaded and fried, served as a cutlet for a main course
Zrazy zawijane – sliced beef wrapped around gherkins
Kotlet schabowy – pork cutlets
Pierogi – dumplings with either sweet or savoury, vegetarian or non-vegetarian fillings
Bigos – hunter’s stew, made with venison, beef or pork
Kielbasa – Polish sausage
Golabki – stuffed cabbage leaves with either rice and meat or rice and vegetables
Naleszniki – crepes (also available with sweet fillings)
Naleszniki z serem– crepes with cheese
Kaczka z jablkami - caraway and paprika infused duck served on the bone
Placki ziemniaczane – potato pancakes
Placek po wegiersku - potato pancake with goulash
Surowka - commonly assortments of cooked or raw vegetables in mayonnaise; the main vegetables you will see in a Polish restaurant are beets and red cabbage
Ziemniaki - potatoes
Sauerkraut – pickled cabbage
Kasza – roasted buckwheat
Szarlotka – Polish apple cake
Sernik - cheesecake
Makowiec – poppy seed cake
Zlota Woda - vodka flecked with gold leaf, infused with aniseed and herbs
Czarna Porzeczka - sweet blackcurrant vodka
Mysliwska - vodka flavoured with juniper berries
Neibieskie Migdaly - blue almond vodka
Jarzebiak - rowanberry flavoured vodka
For the most authentic Polish restaurants in London, it’s necessary to head west. The area around Hammersmith up towards Ravenscourt Park is stuffed full of Polish delicatessens, cafes and restaurants, all varying in décor and atmosphere but uniform in the high quality and authenticity of the food. This is where the Polish Cultural Centre is based and is a good place to go. Try the Lowiczanka Restaurant above the Cultural Centre itself, or Wodka in Kensington or Patio in Shepherds Bush.
Towards the north of London, there is Zamoyski and in the south there is Baltic. But for the drinkers there is the highly recommended Na Zdrowie in handy Holborn and Potemkin for those hanging around in Clerkenwell in the east.
As the Poles would say: "Na Zdrowie!" - cheers! And "Jedzcie, pijcie i popuszczajcie pasa…" Eat, drink and loosen your belt…