Words cannot fully justify just how depressing the building which houses The Karczma is. It’s the kind of sixties architecture that I thought we were trying to eradicate in the city. It’s a sad¬†slab of square grey concrete in a forgotten part of town. It’s Eastenders on Christmas Day.¬† Inside could not be more different – its an ode to the inns of the Tatra mountains, seen through the tainted eyes of someone who misses them.¬† There is straw thatched ceilings and fake fur hides adorning the backs of benches.¬† Walls are distressed pink.¬† Polish music plays in the background.¬† I found it difficult to not laugh, despite being fully aware that whoever designed the space did so with serious intention.

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But the food.¬† Oh My, the food.¬† It’s a wholesome exploration of Eastern Europe family food, at all times satisfying and occasionally astonishing.¬† We start with a communal helping of bread and lard,¬†a concept¬†you may be familiar with, being the 2016 Michelin di rigueur of bread courses.¬† Here it is not being dictated by fashion, but by a culinary history and frugalness that makes use of all of the animal.¬†More importantly¬†it tastes great, helped by pickles full of zing and bite.¬† There is a blood red¬†beetroot soup, barszcz, or, as you may know it, borscht.¬† Whatever the name, its a tribute to fermentation, soured and bright in flavour and colour.¬† Two pastry rolls filled with a duxelle of mushrooms¬†feel like¬†they are there to justify the ¬£6 price, though they succeed in adding a further depth to bowl already swimming in it.

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Pierogi are delicate filled dumplings, almost translucent.  Each one is a powerhouse of flavour, from the cheese, potato and onion, to the minced pork and beef which has a lightness that alludes its appearance.  One of these is a hefty starter in its own right; here three of them are under £8.  Another starter of smoked cheese would be the only duff note.  There is too much of the smoke which wipes out the sharp cranberry compote.

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A whole glazed pork knuckle was as comforting as it was daunting.¬† The burnished skin peeling back to reveal a thick layer of fat and meat which pulls from the bone at the slightest suggestion.¬† Pots of horseradish and mustard are there to provide heat, sauerkraut for acidity, and thick chips for the plain greedy.¬† I take home half for dinner later that evening.¬†Also taken home in the same doggy bag was half of “marina’s breasts”; two domed hulks of formed chicken breast meat, stuffed with mushrooms and glazed with cheese.¬† Its Chicken Kiev with a salacious new identity.¬† I joke to the waiter about wanting more of Marina’s breasts¬†– he tells me that she is working in the kitchen.¬† I joke no more.

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We finish with an apple pie, admirable in flavour but several courses too many, because,¬†by now we are ready for a lie-down to let it all sink in.¬† A friend of mine with Polish descent who¬†joined me at¬†The Karczma told me a story¬†of a trip he made to his fathers home village in the 80’s:¬† There the men were fed first, followed by the women, with the children picking up the last of the food.¬† If The Karczma truly is representative of Polish home cooking those children did not go hungry.¬† Its as generous a meal as I can remember and cheap to boot, too.¬† What goes on inside those pink walls and under that thatched ceiling is nothing short of wonderful.

9/10

The Karczma Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato