Restaurant “Der Elefant”

Der Elefant, at the junction of Marszalkowska and Elektoralna very close to Plac Bankowy, has been around for a long time, according to the note on the menu since 1990. In the history of Warsaw restaurants, anything that’s been serving food in the same place for that long is part of a very exclusive club. In my earlier days here it was one of my favourites. It was a small place with ten or fewer tables inside and with the exception of deep winter it had a few more on the pavement outside. Next door was a popular but equally grubby bar called from memory Fiszler, or Fisser, where I remember pretty awful service, drunken conversations with Jimmy Martin about his dad’s D-Day adventures and some stupid little tables they had perched on a ledge that wasn’t really big enough. The restaurant and the bar were fragments of a much larger building that for some reason was held up from getting the redevelopment it needed. Similar to what was happening with the Hotel Europejski.

The restaurant was always quite crowded, a little grubby and with the smell of frying wiener schnitzels floating through from the kitchen area that seemed to have been carved out of the same small space and opened onto the dining area. It was the plate-swampingly gigantic wiener schnitzels, potato salad and the szopska salad (a mound of chooped up tomato and cucumber covered with grated cheese) that kept me and then us going back there on a fairly regular basis. At least while there was little competition.

Sadly, as competition slowly grew and new restaurants not only opened but stayed open Der Elefant started to be shown up for what it was, an old an tired one-trick pony. We had not been there for at least five years so it was a bit exciting when my wife suggested we go there again to check out the NEW Der Elefant.

Der Elefant

Der Family Elefant

The new restaurant is enormous and forms part of what has been an extensive and apparently very well done renovation of the entire block. I’m not sure what the upper floors are but I think it is office space, possibly some residential. The restaurant has a fish section on the side facing Marszalkowska and then a much bigger meat or more international part behind that extending up three floors.

We tried the fishy part. I would not recommend the Alaskan Crab legs “For the first time in Poland” and I suspect the last, but my Dover Sole was a huge portion, quite delicious and very good value for money. Everyone else enjoyed their food so I’m sure we’ll be going back sometime even if it has lost all of its old world charm and removed my favourites from the menu.

Dover Sole

Dover Sole

Wine

Wine

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The best sushi in Warsaw

No more sitting on the fence. I’m just going to come straight out and award the prize. If you want the best sushi in Warsaw you go to Sakana.

sakana

They have three in Warsaw of which we can personally vouch for two – Moliera and Burakowska – the other is way down south in Kabaty. They also have one each in Krakow, Poznan, Wroclaw and Katowice. We started using Moliera from whenever it was they opened there, years ago, but since Burakowska opened we have spent more time in that one.

We’re not sushi experts so cannot comment as regards authenticity or how well they follow traditional recipes but everything we have eaten is extremely good. Nice places, fairly intimate so can occasionally be full, good and fast service, wide choice and lots of imagination. One complaint, they don’t use the floating boats. I can understand these probably just equal more waste but for me or anyone who’s not too fussy it is useful just to keep pulling plates off and a good way to try something new that you otherwise wouldn’t know to ask for.

So why am I calling it the best? I suppose the main things are the taste and the way they are put together. Everything tastes superb. The basic stuff – fish, rice, wrapping, veg fillers – the extras – sauces, dips, special veg like the marinated mushrooms – and the other stuff too – soups, teas. The way they are assembled is just right, not floppy enough that they fall apart but not stodgy enough that they are glued together. Whilst recipes are not exactly a big thing with sushi, they do manage to combine things very well making the result better than the sum of the parts. Size is right, not too big, not too small and they don’t skimp on ingredients either, just the right balance between, say, fish and rice or maki and sauce.

Things we order often:

  • miso soup – probably not the best I’ve ever had but its pretty good
  • baked salmon maki – comes with sweet sauce and roasted sesame seeds
  • shrimp tempura maki – comes with addictive pink sauce
  • salmon tartare – also highly addictive, mixed with finely chopped leeks and five seasonings / sauces. Smooth but enough bite to be interesting. Either dolloped in a bowl or on salmon tartare maki.
  • sashimi mix – different sizes, all delicious and comes with a cornucopia of lovely veg
  • some plain old nigiri

In terms of price it’s slightly expensive but then I’d defend that by saying it is better value for money than a lot of the cardboard sushi you get for lower prices. We were there on Sunday, or was it Monday? and we sort of pigged out including most of the above plus some new stuff for around $80 USD.

Prices vary depending on what you order and is determined by the colour of the plate it comes on. I think the most expensive is the luminous pink like the one in front of my wife in the photo below which supported a round of funky eel maki. Next highest price is black, then blue and anything below that is not going to break the bank. Sashimi and the tartare are hard to predict as they just come in brown bowls.

I’m sure there are other good sushi bars in Warsaw, I know there are because I’ve been to most of them, but this place has the edge and comes thoroughly recommended from the Scattsblog household.

sushi sushi-2

 

In case you’re wondering the green stuff hanging off the wall is living plants. Looked a bit naff when it opened with little pots of nothing and a lot of black plastic but looks great now.

Kitchen knives

The more cooking I do the more fussy I get about kitchen equipment and Christmas brought home to me the need for good knives. We’ve had plenty over the years but I’ve never really been happy with any of them. The most recent acquisition was made in Rome a couple of years back when we bought the “multiple stab wounds guy”. He’s fun but it stands to reason that the knives in such a set are not likely to be high quality and they weren’t. I’ve casually glanced at knives whenever in a shop that sells them and the prices for good ones are high, upwards of 250 PLN each and I’ve been reluctant to splash out. However, spurred on by my own Christmas dinner dissatisfaction I went hunting yesterday and I think I stumbled across a bargain.

I went to Makro to look at some knives I’d seen in there that were suggesting they were professional quality but it seems they are supposed to be purchased at a discount using their equivalent of Green Shield Stamps, which I don’t have, but hanging on the end of a different aisle I saw a collection of Richardson Sheffield R-Vision knives at what seemed like silly low prices. I bought a set of five leaving out the bread knife as we have enough good ones of those.

Having had a chance to play with them they appear to be everything I want – very well made, great balance in the hand, collection of useful shapes and sizes and incredibly sharp. Also, having checked the prices elsewhere it does seem I paid less than half what you would pay elsewhere. What I paid 62 PLN for is for sale on a Polish website for 165 PLN and what I paid 30 PLN for are for sale at 95 PLN. I don’t know if Makro just want to get rid of them or if they made a mistake with the pricing but hey, who cares!

I did toy with the idea of ceramic knives but the prices are crazy and having read a lot about them they are clearly not everlastingly sharp and when you do need to sharpen them you’ve got a problem. Because the material they are made from is super hard, the reason they stay sharp longer, the only way to sharpen them is using diamonds wielded by Thorin Oakenshield and his mates. I decided not to bother.

I’ve kept the stabbed guy as a holder.

Another kitchen tip is cutting boards. It is bad news to cut things on our granite work surface as it will dull the knife edges. Also not a good idea, nor does it feel right, to cut on those colourful and hygienic glass cutting boards, of which we now (thanks to Santa Claus) have two looking for a use. I’ve tried big wooden ones, like the one from Ikea I wrote about earlier but the larger they are the more they curl up. I’ve seen a few wooden composite boards that I’m sure would hold their shape better but they were all over 1,000 PLN, which is silly. Recently though I found a range called “BernOnTable” that I’m happy with. It looks like one guy who chops up bits of trees and makes chopping boards, each with an individual shape and colour. I got a small one and then another medium sized. Their large ones also curl so I’m avoiding them. You can buy them in Red Onion and the medium sized one, darker one in photos, was about 165 PLN.

Richardson Sheffield R-Vision

Richardson Sheffield R-Vision

The stabbed man

The stabbed man

Boards and knives in natural habitat!

Boards and knives in natural habitat!

Knife and chopping board

Knife and chopping board

Mars bars at Auchan

I confess I usually pay little attention to prices in supermarkets, or better to say I pay attention to the price of what I’m buying but don’t do much comparing of that with other similar products. I do have this romantic notion that if I’m buying a larger quantity pack then it will be cheaper, with the exception of things that are priced by weight in the first place

Yesterday was for some reason an exception and Mars bars caught my eye.

marswawa-4

marswawa-3

Three ways to buy Mars bars – singly, in a pack of 4 or in a pack called 5+1. When the +1 tag is used I’m thinking that they are giving me one for free when I buy five, not that they are just being creative with the number six.

By way of helping Zosia with maths I asked her to work out which option was the cheapest way to buy Mars bars and the answer was surprising. To buy one individual Mars bar costs 1.21 but when you buy a pack of four you are paying 1.24 each, so a penalty for buying more of of them. When it comes to 5+1 we were using the price tag in front of the 5+1 Mars bars, which says 6.59. That would mean 1.32 each if you were paying for 5 and getting one free or 1.10 if you were expecting to pay for 6. In my mind the inference is clearly “one for free” in which case the cost per bar in this pack is even higher than for four. However, closer inspection of the photo shows the price tag is actually for “Baunty” (their spelling) and so cannot be relied upon. I cannot find the receipt to check what I paid.

Caveat emptor….a falsis principiis proficisci…and other such Latin. Watch out, things are not what they seem in the supermarket and I for one will be paying closer attention from now on.

The mysterious case of the wooden mushrooms

There are many attractions to living in Poland and one of them is the menu translations!

It is always with a sense of excitement that I open a menu wondering what surprises I might find inside or even if I will find the holy grail of a perfectly translated menu from front to back. It’s a bit like like having Christmas over and over again every time you walk into a restaurant.

Most intriguing is the way most people seem to get some rather complicated things right and then slip up with what should be bread and butter translations (excuse the intentional pun).

Here’s a page from the menu of the cafe inside the castle at Nidzica (click for bigger version):

96669607

The most obvious amuse bouche, and the reason I took the photo, are the “Herring with wooden mushrooms”, which should probably be (including the bracketed ‘marynowane’) “Herring with preserved woodland mushrooms”. Reading further though you have steak tartar described mouth-wateringly as “raw beef”. True, at least. Then you have the rather awkward “King’s meat” or “King’s fish”, which I suppose should really be something like “Fish in a King’s style” but is actually quite hard for me to translate after so many years of seeing the “po Grecku” or “po something else” plopped on the end of the description.

Finally, my favourite gripe is calling pierogi, “dumplings”! I know this is perhaps the most obvious description but it really doesn’t do them justice. For most English speaking people dumplings (anywhere outside a Chinese restaurant) are big, stodgy, fatty, jabba-the-hutt type things that you don’t want to eat unless you’re about to swim the Baltic sea, naked. Pierogi are not like that, well most of them anyway, so we really do need a better translation for them. I suppose “Polish style dumplings” would be an improvement, or even using the word “ravioli”, which is actually a lot closer than dumplings.

Here’s a shot of a “pierogi” I took at the Star Wars exhibition in County Hall, London. Would you order this from the menu? I thought not!

Jabba (89182516)

The bottom line is that ordering food in Poland using the English translations is a hit & miss affair. So much so that I generally refuse the English menu I’m offered and ask for a Polish one. It’s the only way of knowing exactly what I’m ordering.

Bear in mind, these errors exist in every menu throughout Poland. It is not restricted by either class of restaurant or by geography. When I see this in a high quality restaurant I have to wonder how much they spent on printing the fancy menus and just how they would feel if the Polish menu was equally badly described. Surely they would be sending it back to the translator / printer and demanding a recount! Does every restaurateur in Poland have their second cousin who got a ‘B’ in English lessons do the translating for their menu??

I have often thought of starting up a “Menu translation service”. I have no idea how many of these things need translating each year but I’d be prepared to do it for a nominal fee of say 10 PLN per page (+VAT) just for the satisfaction of seeing better menus in restaurants. What do you think, good idea?

Barszcz czerwony, Borshch, Borscht

The soup that most people associate with this part of the world is barszcz, or borshch if you want a screwed-up English spelling. The assumption is that this is always a red, beetroot, soup and comes from Russia. Of course, we know that there are in fact two main types, red & white and that the red type originates in………..Poland? According to this interesting, in a passing kind of way, article, red barszcz started out in Ukraine and then spread to all Slavic lands. Would any of our Polish readers disagree with that, I wonder?

Personally, I’m a huge fan of the white stuff which is very similar to a good żurek and in my limited experience comes as the liquid with floating bits of white kielbasa (and possibly egg?). I’m certain the recipe varies from place to place. If I recall correctly, Easter is the main occasion for white barszcz so not long to wait.

As for the red stuff, I can take it or leave it. For me, doing anything to a beetroot other than pickling it is to take it well outside its comfort zone and to heat it up is, well, strange. So this is a difficult country for me when hot beetroot is served up so often either as czerwony barszcz or as a hot vegetable with many meat-based meals. All the more difficult when everyone around me is waxing lyrical about whether the beets served up today are good, bad, indifferent and showing great interest in the recipes. The best thing you can do with red barszcz is to nuke it with as many spices and floaty bits as you can get away with without annoying the barszcz-police such that it becomes as far away from beetroots+water+heat as you can get. I think the sour cream helps a lot but I’ve not often had that served up with it here. It is often served here with uszka, dumplings (more or less), floating in it. Alternatively, you can get a cup of it and drink this while munching on a krokiet, sort of pastry-like thing.

Almost forgot. What is nice, in the summer, is the cold beetroot soup who’s name escapes me in Polish but it begins with “L”, I think? (EDIT – Thanks to Darth – the name is chłodnik – not an L in sight!). Poland’s own gazpacho. I have very little idea how this is made but it uses the green parts of the beet as well as the tuber. It resembles muddy pond water after a herd of buffalo have marched through leaving grassy bits floating around but it tastes really good. Most Poles I know, don’t like it. According to Wiki article linked to above, this is “Mostly Lithuanian”, well, it was all the same commonwealth once upon a time.

Battle of Butcher’s Slab

WARNING – this article is not suitable for vegetarians, vegans, vulcans and sith.

Ever wondered about the differences between Polish and English meat? Well here’s my opinion for what it’s worth.

Sausages – have to be at the very heart of the battle. I asked some colleagues just now “What’s the difference between kiełbasa and British sausages?”. The answer was unanimously, “Yours are made from toilet paper and ours are made from meat!”. They are now seeking alternative employment, but the battle continues. British (or Irish) sausages are almost universally hated over here and the main reason for that, apart from differences in taste is the fact that British sausages are known for having large amounts of sawdust or other filling materials, whereas kiełbasa are, so they say, pure meat. “What about all those fatty gristly parts of kneecaps I need to spit out!”, I hear you cry. Well, nobody over here is owning up to those parts, no no, kiełbasa is 100% glorious meat. I’m prepared to admit that a good kiełbasa is good, possibly better than the sausages I grew up with as a stand alone food item. However, would I like kiełbasa for breakfast? No! Would I enjoy a kiełbasa sandwich? No! So, we have therefore proven that, in the two main instances that the British sausage is likely to be best used it stands supreme! Conversely, would you like slices of British sausage on your kolacja plate with the cheese, ogorki, grzyby, chleb and pasztet? No! So, in some instances the kiełbasa is champion. This leaves the disputed middle ground, the no-mans-land of sausagedom – the lunchtime/afternoon sausage based meal. And here I think we have a draw. Unquestionably fantastic is “bangers & mash with onion gravy” but equally good is grilled kiełbasa with ogorki and chleb or frytki. So here’s the verdict – British sausages for breakfast or brunch. Polish kiełbasa in the evening. Choice of either for lunch/obiad.

Bacon – not even going to waste my breath. Hands down, slam dunk, no brainer, open and shut case – British (Irish, Danish) bacon wins! There is no such thing as Polish bacon anyway. Boczek may be loosely translated as bacon but what it really means is fat & bits of bone.

Blood sausage – will I think have to go down as a draw or possibly a win in extra time for Poland. A good kaszanka is hard to beat, especially when accompanied by some fried onions and good mustard (yes, mustard, not horseradish!). QCHNIA ARTYSTYCZNA do a very good kaszanka. On the other hand, a little grilled or fried British style ‘black pudding’ is a pretty decent addition to any breakfast. This whole category is probably one of those love it or hate it things anyway, so those who love will love both and those who hate, vice versa.

Cold meat cuts – this may be the most controversial as it is, I think, entirely a matter of taste with no real quality issues on either side. All I know is this – in the UK they had riots in the street to bitch and moan about the amount of water in ham. We wanted to pay for the weight of ham, not the weight of water. You could take swimming lessons in Polish ham. I like dry ham, cut from the bone. I can remember now as if I were standing at the counter, watching the lady in Waitrose at Goldsworth Park, Woking cutting that mouthwateringly delicious ham from the bone. Now that, was good ham. Over here, there is also good ham but all of it is too wet for my liking, even the stuff that looks dry. So in terms of ham I’m saying a win for Britain but with a rider that when Poles develop a taste for dry ham, Poland will take the lead. For other meats I think it’s a draw or win for Poland. I don’t buy a lot of different meats but Poland seems to have plenty to choose from. I do miss corned beef though, or cold sliced beef generally, for some reason not a Polish taste.

Golonka versus a roast – very very tough call because I love them both. In fact, I can’t decide. If I had to decide, I’d kill myself before doing so.

Fowl – can’t beat a Polish duck (especially when the RSPB are around!) universally well cooked here except when they try to get all posh on you and call it “duck breast a la posh”, then it sucks. On the other wing, a British turkey beats the hell out of a carp as a Christmas meal. Chicken’s the same everywhere as are the more exotic things like pheasant, goose and so on. Polish win for the consistency and availability of the duck.

Chops & Schnitzels – the schnitzels are a draw because they are Germanic anyway, so it comes down to the ubiquitous ‘kotlet schabowy’ versus a good old British style pork chop. The same thing except the Polish version requires you to take a British pork chop, beat the crap out of it and then cover it with breadcrumbs. I like both so on the pork chops it’s a draw too. However, when you introduce the British cavalry, in the shape of a ‘gammon steak’, it’s game over for the Poles! And you thought the ‘kotlet schabowy’ was invincible?

Lamb, generally – don’t make me laugh! The only sheep in Poland are ones that have been cloned from a 27 year old sheep once owned by King Jan Nowak III Jagodamy. So, all sheep in Poland are 27 and taste like nasty mutton. Okay for a curry but not much else. Lambs frolic in England, Wales and New Zealand, until they are killed. A good roast lamb, or lamb chops are delicious but asking a Pole to eat lamb is like asking them to eat monkey’s brains. Clear win for Britain.

Other stuff – Unless it’s my imagination, I’m encountering more ‘other stuff’ here in Poland than in Britain. This category covers things that include meat but are not pure meat. It looks like coming down to things like – zrazy (don’t know correct spelling), meat pierogi, pyzy, gołabki, kotlety mielony and so on, on the Polish side, versus – steak & kidney pie, chicken pie, shepherd’s pie/cottage pie, Cornish pasty, hamburger on the British side. Much as I am a huge fan of the Cornish pasty and the odd pie, it is not enough to overthrow the extensive troops available to Poland. So, Polish win.

I make that 3 wins for Britain, 3 wins for Poland and 3 draws. Surprising that the crack forces of each country lost their respective battles – Poland’s kotlety schabowy and Britain’s pies!

Now I’m hungry!