I don’t like pigeons. They’re evil: a grubby begging bird that wallows in muck. I don’t exaggerate when I say I find them physically repulsive: the rat-like eyes, manky feathers and decomposing talons. Looking at them turns my tummy. So the thought of one of these blighters actually being in my tummy, well, that really spooks me.
So yes, given a choice, I wouldn’t eat pigeon. The trouble is, I don’t have a choice. I’m at Atelier Amaro, a place where the pigeon on the eight moment menu is a non-negotiable element. But why would I want to negotiate in the first place? Guardian of Poland’s first Michelin star, Wojciech Amaro knows better than most what works on a plate. And yes, the pigeon really works. Forming the centerpiece of an arrangement artfully circled by nasturtium and cowberries, this plump little bird was everything I didn’t imagine: tender, dainty and as pink as Miss Piggy – this was not the festering mass of ringworm I’d feared. It was luxury.
But then, so too was the rest of the menu. Kicking off with amuses and palette cleansers served on a chunk of tree, the real business began with the arrival of what the menu declared as ‘Beef Tomato / Vanilla / Mirabelle’. Served almost like a tartar, the freshness stopped me in my tracks – it felt like eating nature. Next, a slither of raw trout, its skin glinting like polished brass, and a delicate dab of chive ice cream. Even the little violet flowers (specimen forgotten in the heat of the moment) are consumed without question.
I was more suspicious of the oxtail that followed. I needn’t have been. Served in a veal consommé, it was a bowl of delight, a revitalizing broth that gave an inner glow. And I certainly was glowing at this stage, fully reaping the warming effects of the vodka and nalewki that arrived with each moment.
But there is a problem with Atelier: food like this is simply too good. Wars break out across the table, with partners engaging in frenzied debate as to the qualities of each course. For the GF, the highlight was pike perch, served in a thick, velvet sauce of chamomile and begonia. Myself, I suspect that Amaro’s menu had been carefully designed to reach a shuddering crescendo with the penultimate dish: that pigeon I mentioned.
Yet this is where Amaro shows his skill: his menu toys and teases diners. Like a tsunami, it comes in waves – with some courses stronger, more powerful than others. Then, when you think it’s reached its peak, he goes and pulls out the biggest surprise of the lot: dessert. It begins with a scoop of cherry ice cream, its center hollowed and filled with a honey glaze and mustard seeds. Served on an ice-cold stone and with a cute pink flower, first reaction is to marvel at the artistry of it all. There’s a simplicity and a precision to it, yet also flair and magic. And then there’s the taste – a taste so deep, so rich, you feel a rush of endorphins.
But dessert isn’t over. For arriving after this is the piece de resistance: pear / juniper / oat. It sounds simple and basic, and indeed it’s nothing flash. But this is where Amaro manages to make magic from the mundane. It’s a triumph of varying temperatures and textures; it’s sensual and gooey, luxurious but light. For a moment, the world stops spinning.
And that, ladies and gents, is the real point of Atelier. For three or so hours you live in another world. A world of ecstasy. And when you leave, you leave transformed. You leave, dare I say, feeling like James Bond. Not many restaurants have that capability, not many at all.
(Words & Photos: Alex Webber)
Atelier Amaro ul. Agrykola 1