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.

Coldplay, Warsaw, 19 Sept 2012

Last Wednesday we had a family outing to the National Stadium here in Warsaw to see the Coldplay concert. Why they chose Wednesday for a gig that finished at 11pm I don’t know, especially as they must have expected a few nine year olds who have school the next day :-/ We were not entirely sure about taking Zosia but she likes Coldplay and it seemed a good chance to give her an early experience of a live concert in the stadium. As it turns out she was not alone and not the youngest we saw. My own first concert, by the way, came in 1973 when I went in my early teens (without parents) to the “New Musical Express Poll Winners Concert” to Wembley Arena and enjoyed the glam rock of Slade. I may be old but they are still playing “So here it is, Merry Christmas!” on the radio every year, even in Poland! This memorabilia is tempting for 45 quid.

I had bought the Coldplay tickets some months ago , a well located seating area (trybuny), VO5, close to the stage. Tickets were 275 zlots each and it was worth it as the view was great and the seats surprisingly spacious and comfy, not that we were sitting too long. The standing area where the pitch would be (płyta) was sold out, more than Madonna could manage, and the seats were also full with the exception of those right up in the Gods. My guess is attendance was around 60,000 but I can’t find any official figures online.

The stadium as a venue worked very well although they need to improve signage to help people find their places. Entrance to our VO5 for example was through a doorway called VO1-VO2 and then onto D20 and then turn left and keep walking! Outside, around the perimeter of the stadium we could find no signs to show us the right way to walk around the stadium to find the correct entrance. The stewards were nice but not all that clued up. Getting in was easy with very small queues, getting out was slower but not horrendous and nice to completely pedestrianise the bridge back to town.

Inside it is an impressive arena with all-round good visibility but there are mixed reviews on the acoustics. I suppose it depends on your expectations. I had heard bad things about the acoustics so was pleasantly surprised. You can’t expect anything like the recorded work in a massive arena with an open roof and trying to please everyone in a 270 degree radius but there was nothing we heard beyond the occasional echo off the back wall that detracted in any way from our enjoyment. Those I know who were on the płyta said the sound was good down there too.

The band communicated with the audience very well. I thought Chris Martin was perhaps a little OTT on the “I love Poland” stuff, unless he really truly does. There were many similar comments along with waving Polish flags, kissing the stage (in a Popeish way) and so forth. It’s a big country, they can sell a lot of stuff here and the audience lapped it up. There was no shortage of gimmicks either – fireworks, balloons, confetti, videos, lasers, walkways, islands…..you name it. best gadget was the LED illuminated wristbands (Xylobands). Everyone was given one on entry, different colours. They consist of a small plastic box that houses a battery and the controls and then a fabric wristband with LED lights inside. They are radio controlled and the band can light up the audience whenever they want, often to the rhythm of the music. You can read more about the set and the xylobands here.

They switched between ballads and louder stuff with ease and musically they were pretty tight all the way through. Chris Martin’s singing was impressive given the length of the tour so far but he seemed to turn the quality setting up and down a bit, lower when had to force something out and higher when there was nothing much to cover him up. This is compared to the recorded work, which is unfair. They were far more rocky than you might imagine and I often got flashes of U2 coming through. I read later that U2 were/are a big influence for Coldplay and whilst I’d never picked that up on the recorded work I certainly did at the gig. What I like about gigs is the way you can find an appreciation for tunes that you hadn’t already switched on to. Major Minus and Us Against the World stood out more than they do on the CD, for example. I might have misjudged but I think the Polish audience gave the biggest shout of joy for Viva La Vida but were generally energised throughout.

Quick mention for the support acts, neither of which were known to us. The first, Charli XCX, we missed because they were first on after opening at 16:00 and we didn’t get there until 20:00. The second, Marina and the Diamonds, were strange but actually pretty good and well worth finding a download or CD. Her drummer looked like a right nutter, in the Keith Moon mould of nutty drummers!

We had a great time and give the Coldplay gig a rocking 8/10. Lets hope it brings more big acts to Warsaw.

Below – set list, video, photos.

  1. Mylo Xyloto
  2. Hurts Like Heaven
  3. In My Place
  4. Major Minus
  5. Lovers In Japan
  6. The Scientist
  7. Yellow
  8. Violet Hill
  9. God Put A Smile Upon Your Face
  10. Princess Of China
  11. Up In Flames
  12. Warning Sign
  13. Don’t Let It Break Your Heart
  14. Viva La Vida
  15. Charlie Brown
  16. Paradise
  17. Us Against The World
  18. Speed Of Sound
  19. Clocks
  20. Fix You
  21. Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall

Warsaw restaurant review – Butchery & Wine

Firstly, apologies for butchering the logo but they don’t make it easy to advertise the place. You can see all the proper images on their website here – http://www.butcheryandwine.pl/en/

Before I go any further, there are three rules for eating at this place:

  1. You like meat
  2. Someone else is paying
  3. You have made a reservation

I can blame both halves of my boss for having the chance to eat here. One half is Belgian, lives in Warsaw, knows about food and wine and had this restaurant appearing on his Outlook calendar a suspiciously large number of times. The other half is British, lives in the UK and was visiting Warsaw last week. So, the first half brought it to my attention and the other half provided the reason to splash out although fair to say I think he’d have preferred the curry house just around the corner!

It’s located on Żurawia, which leads down from Marszalkowska to Plac T.K and which, following the success of places like the trendy Szpilka i Szparka, is rapidly becoming a posers paradise and somewhere for people like me to avoid. Nevertheless, a good street for business albeit not over-blessed with large retail units in which to locate a popular eating establishment, which is why Butchery & Wine is a touch too small and hence the need for a reservation.

It continues what is threatening to become a sustainable trend of people opening restaurants that are not only well designed but also serve good food. That’s not to say the food in Poland is not good because at grass roots level it is. You could, can and always will find somewhere serving very acceptable food of a ‘Polish style’. That’s to say the menu that includes kotlet schabowy, mizeria, żurek and so on – although it has to be said I would have no clue where to find such a place inside Warsaw. I’m also not saying that Warsaw has never had a good collection of restaurants, because it has, aside from perhaps first two or three years I was here, but what’s been missing until recently is good restaurants that stay open more than a few months to a year. In the past they would appear and then just as they had made it onto your short list of favourite eating places they would disappear again. In the most recent years however the situation has stabilised. Good restaurants are surviving and the list is being added to every year. Within easy striking distance for us it probably started with Mielżyński’s wine bar back in 2004 and the rate of new additions has been accelerating ever since.

Back to B&W. We all skipped the starters, which is a shame because the choice looks very tempting and on the next visit I’ll be trying either the white onion & parmesan soup at 15 zlots or the seared scallops at 55 zlots depending on how rich I’m feeling. That’ll be the soup then! For the main course I shared a Cote de boeuf from minimum 2 weeks aged beef Red Angus with Grzegorz while Paul had the Aged beef fillet with fondant potato, spinach & truffles and Michał the Grilled tuna steak with salad Niçoise. All were delicious and, whilst I’m not a world expert on Cote de boeuf, this was every bit as good as the one we had in Paris in February. The extras of creamy mashed potatoes, raspberry tomato salad and so on were also very tasty.

Having skipped starters we felt justified in going for deserts and so a few Creme Brûlée were demolished by the rest while I went for a bread and butter pudding with ice cream. Along with two bottles of Tuscan red wine two large bottles of water and coffees the bill came to about 880 zlots, 220 per head. Like I said, best if someone else is paying but not ridiculous for what we had and the obvious quality of the ingredients.

We all enjoyed it and I will at some stage return with the family. They say that the French love their food and wine and know where to find the good stuff, if that is true then the fact that on the night we visited at least 50% of the guests were speaking French must be a recommendation in itself.

Fish & Chips po polsku

Some time ago I heard this story about a place in Warsaw where you could get proper fish & chips. It has been going around in my head ever since and to be honest I started to think it was all just a dream, a hallucination brought on by so many years separated from my national delicacy a bit like the mirage of an oasis in the desert. Well, the outstanding news is that not only does the place actually exist but also that the food tastes very authentic and what’s more you can order stuff (like bacon & sausages) to be brought over from the UK so you can wind-up your Polish friends by giving them a sausage and pretending it’s better than a kiełbasa. It’s like Christmas, birthday and majówka all rolled into one!!

Chip shop

Traditional British FAST (not like our footballers!)

You can find it by going to Plac Konstytucji and then walking down Koszykowa. The restaurant is a short distance down on the left hand side. It’s a very small shop unit, used to be either a computer accessories shop or a photo place, I forget now. I suppose as a way of limiting rental and fit-out costs on this experiment they kept it small and there are therefore no tables to sit and eat apart from a couple of stools at the counter and tiny tables outside in good weather. Take away is the main focus and they also deliver.

Entrance

Shopfront

Unfortunately, we came across the place in the middle of a long walk after having already eaten a full meal at Qchnia Artystyczna (more later), so we were not up for the full fish & chip extravaganza. The opportunity to test it out though was too much to pass by so we ordered chips and mushy peas with very English drinks of Ribena and Kenco coffee.

Yummy!

The nosh

I was impressed with the effort made to achieve authentic taste and experience. Even down to the salt and vinegar used as well as the dispensers. The chips are “double fried” and they use potatoes imported from Holland. In pretty much every respect they have uprooted a chippy from the UK and planted it in Warsaw – the only way to really make sure the experience is true. The staff have also been properly trained and seemed very enthusiastic about the whole thing.

I enquired about business and whilst I didn’t get any figures, nor did I ask for any, I got the impression that business is just about sufficient to have kept it open for 6 months and it is slowly building. They were as surprised as I was that the authentic bacon butties are not going down as well as expected. I think a lot of this is the location, not the best, off the beaten track and the need for better marketing as well as just the time it takes for people to start using it as a habit, which can be a year or more.

We were very impressed and I for one will be going back again and possibly taking advantage of the bacon/sausage import opportunity. They said in fact they can bring in “anything” as they have regular deliveries so if you’re really stuck for how to get something over here from the UK then it might be worth giving them a try. If you’re a Marmite freak then you can buy it in there as well as a few other British things.

CONTACT DETAILS

Fish & Chips
Ul. Koszykowa 30, Warszaw
Tel: 022 692 240804
Mail: info@fishandchips.pl
Web: www.fishandchips.pl

On Qchnia Artystyczna – It is still in the same great location has the same large terrace the same view but they’ve changed the menu and increased the prices and I’m not happy with either. There were items on the old menu that were one of the reasons we went out of our way to go there – the potato and salmon soup, the kaszanka, for example. These have been removed and the place has moved away from small and medium sized dishes and now offers more main courses with large prices to go with it. I’d say it is now at the higher end of cost for the town and having eaten there twice in recent weeks the menu is really not that appealing. It is good food and reasonable service in a good location but if you used to love the old restaurant you need to be warned that it’s not the same place it used to be. Can we please have the old one back, Pani Gessler?

Rewriting history

Following on from Piłsudski, his WWI exploits and his huge erection. For anyone with an interest in the history of the second World War, particularly those who ended up the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, the new series on BBC2 “World War Two: Behind Closed Doors” promises to make statements that have not really been made before. Not in the English speaking media at any rate. Not out loud.

Just looking at one article in the Telegraph, for example, gives one the impression that things long held to be important by Poles (but largely ignored by others) such as Katyn, might actually be given the kind of attention they deserve.

“……for millions of people the war did not really end until the fall of Communism less than 20 years ago; because in the summer of 1945 the people of Poland, of the Baltic States and of a number of other countries in Eastern Europe simply swapped the rule of one tyrant – Adolf Hitler – for another – Joseph Stalin.”

“Only since the collapse of the Soviet empire have we learnt the full truth, for example, about the horrors of Katyn – when Stalin in the spring of 1940 authorised the murder of thousands of members of the Polish elite. Indeed, the crime of Katyn runs like a cancer through this history, as we see how the Western leaders helped suppress the truth about the murders during the war. “We should none of us ever speak a word about it,” wrote Winston Churchill on a memo in 1943, referring to a secret Foreign Office investigation that was to show that the Soviets had most likely committed the crime.”

Another article from The Times includes;

“The book discusses at length Britain’s dealings with Russia over Poland, noting that the government was much less robust than is sometimes thought about Polish territorial integrity. Poland’s borders, shrugged the Foreign Office as early as 1939, were “fluid”. After initial hesitation, both Churchill and Roosevelt became astonishingly willing to redefine them in Russia’s favour, to discourage Stalin from seeking a separate peace with Hitler.”

Sadly, not many of us will be able to watch the programmes as they are broadcast on BBC2 but if you want to pre-order the DVD you can do so online from the BBC Shop for only 20.99 GBP (circa 95 PLN).