With the winter months creeping in, we need fuel — food fuel. And so our attention turns to filling, warming comfort food. One cuisine that ticks all our boxes is Polish. Meats, potatoes and cabbage — this one of our top culinary choices this season.
It’s worth making a journey over towards Turnpike Lane, Haringey, for the fare at Autograf - particularly if you’re looking for a place to swing by after a stroll around Finsbury Park or the Ally Pally. We’re always up for a decent żurek (sour rye soup) and the pork ribs are definitely worth a look-in. Also, the portions here are huge and exceptional value, so make sure to be absolutely ravenous if you want to chomp your way through both starters and mains. Intimate, casual cafe style, the local Poles pack this place out on a regular basis, so be prepared to wait in the local pub nearby during peak times.
Autograf, 488 W Green Rd, N15 3DA. 020 8889 2999
‘High-end concept’ is not immediately synonymous when it comes to Polish fare. Like the humble Japanese ramen noodle, it’s honest, hearty and free of any pretension, which is why we love it. However, Daquise is one of the few establishments on our list that expertly straddles the cusp of elegance, while retaining an earthy charm. Tranquil and subtly refined, this South Kensington haunt is something of a legendary institution, having stood for over sixty years. The soups and pierogi (dumplings) are the highly sung stars here — and while it’s quite pricey compared to regular joints, it’s amassed a loyal clientele nonetheless.
Daquise, 20 Thurloe St, SW7 2LT. 020 7589 6117
Our favourite eatery on the main Broadway in Ealing, which houses a substantial community of Polish ex-pats. There’s plenty of establishments to choose from around those parts, and we highlighted Magnolia in our Guide to Ealing for its overwhelmingly delicious array of cakes, spot on pierogi and porky-leaden bigos.
Magnolia Café, 33 High St, W5 5DB
Oh, how we love Mamuska! It’s cheap (a main will only set you back around £7) and tasty, and they do the best — and we do mean cracking — potato pancakes. With a playfully tongue-in-cheek tag line of 'your mother will hate us' and a love of plying you with vodka, this is a place with a sense of humour and all about having a good time. While Elephant and Castle shopping centre might not be considered the most desirable of dining locations, this canteen-style hangout is perfect for relaxed beer-soaked gatherings and shopping pit-stops. They also do some addictive honeyed krupnik (think mead) and homemade kompot (sweet fruit soft drink) if you’re on the wagon.
Mamuska, Unit 233, First Floor, Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, SE1 6TE
Much like the aforementioned Daquise, this is a slightly more classy affair without being too over the top. It’s actually a Polish members’ club, but anyone is welcome to dine. The setting is that of a beautiful listed Georgian house, boasting high ceilings, whitewashed walls, and spiralling staircases — making for a sophisticated dining destination and ideal date spot. The menu is a fusion of both Polish and continental options — appealing to the French expats that frequent this quarter of the city, and there’s a reasonably priced pre-theatre and lunch menu. In addition, the outdoor terrace that overlooks the nearby greenery is simply wonderful for parties and large gatherings in the summer months. (Don’t get drunk at your 31st birthday party and stand on the tables though — that kind of thing is frowned upon. Apparently.)
Ognisko, 55 Exhibition Rd, SW7 2PN
The decor is that of an Eastern European matriarch’s living room — you know the type — the kind of one who wants to feed you until you can’t walk. Or breathe. It’s a proper traditional set up where your complimentary bread is served with a spiced, crackling laced lard (and the only time you’ll ever see this Londonista ever eat what is essentially pure fat) and every drink recommendation is "we have vodka". The Bigos here is one of the most noteworthy we’ve come across, as bigos is always subject to familial/regional nuances it differs from venue to venue (they do the soupy type, not the dry type) and they also have an outstanding three-course menu for £16.50.
Patio, 5 Goldhawk Rd, W12 8QQ
Restaurant Łowiczanka at The Posk
It’s like being at a 1970s wedding reception (minus the guests), and glamorous is certainly ain’t. But the restaurant Łowiczanka at the Polish Social and Cultural Association (AKA ‘The Posk’), Ravenscourt Park, in South West London is one of our highly recommended places to get your Polski food fix. If you want a full-on blow-out with all the famous staples, skip starters and go for the massive sharing platter (£30 between two people) and have your fill of bigos, peirogi and gołąbki. If you want to keep the night going, pop next door to the no-frills bar for some proper vodka drinking (they usually hide the hazelnut stuff towards the back — find it. It tastes like Nutella).
A little further up Goldshawk Road, it’s a totally different vibe. If Patio is the past, Tatra is the future — serving up modern Polish and Eastern European plates with a sleek black interior and exposed brick walls. It’s great for civilised social gatherings and date nights. There’s also an extensive range of vodkas — from Zubrowka (bison grass) to Belvedere, and they have a house-infused selection to boot (Horseradish, anyone?), which always gets our vote.
Tatra, 24 Goldhawk Rd, Shepherds Bush, W12 8DH. 0208 749 8193
Tip: Eating desert? If the sweet treats are freshly baked in-house, go for the szarlotka, which is roughly translated as ‘apple pie’ but it’s more of a super-strudel hybrid. We’ve not once been disappointed. And if you’re not quite familiar with what kind of dishes to expect, check out our Guide to Polish Food.
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital’s top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.