If you were to ask me what my favorite restaurant was, the interrogation wouldn’t last long – I wouldn’t even need a second to form my response. More to the point, I would feel no need to conceal such wisdom. After all, that Atelier Amaro is the best restaurant in Poland isn’t just my personal opinion, its common public knowledge. The facts speak for themselves: Poland’s only Michelin star, a waiting list of several weeks if not months, and in the shape of Wojciech Modest Amaro, a head chef who has achieved mainstream recognition not just across the nation, but amongst his international peers and contemporaries. So yeah, when planning my girlfriend’s birthday dinner, the choice of venue narrowed itself to one within the blink of an eye.
Arriving in the kind of weather that would have Scott of the Antarctic thinking twice about going anywhere, entering Atelier was a liberating sensation: all light, crisp finishes and womblike warmth. I just wish they had a little changing room at the front to slide out of my muddy, mucked rags and into something fresh. But if I looked like an urchin, they weren’t letting on – as ever, the service was five star.
Absurd as it sounds, I’d made the mistake of eating a generous late lunch not three hours prior; from the outset I could barely squeeze through the door. But experience has taught me there is no point in scrimping at Amaro, so the three and five ‘moment’ menus were scattered to the wind. Full speed ahead, I honked, we’re going for the eight.
Taken at face value, the zł. 320 price tag appears a little steep, but I will say only this – if you flinch at spending that much then stop reading. Go to Sphinx, eat cat food, stick your head in a bin and have a good chomp. If you cannot appreciate brilliance, then you are not needed here.
And make no mistake, brilliance is what you can expect. We begin with three amuse bouche, the highlight of which is a peel of herring served in a tart lemon oil. We’re ten minutes in and we’re already smiling. Then there’s the bread: a tree trunk balanced with a basket filled with rolls and hot pebbles. Those who haven’t been to Atelier may suspect this is a classic case of style over substance: well, I can confirm it isn’t. The bread is hot, sweet, soft on the inside, and delicately crisped on the outside. All of a sudden, the concept of a bread and water diet sounds really quiet appealing.
But the real joy is saved for the arrival of the first ‘moment’. There is a chunk of sea trout, marinated in beeswax and seasoned with Himalayan mountain salt. On its own, it would be memorable. But served alongside an aromatic broth made of tomato, ginger and verbena and the results leave us reeling: winter chills and shivers disappear at a stroke, replaced instead by a warm inner glow. This is bliss.
What I really enjoy about Atelier though is its consistent ability to challenge my preconceptions. For instance, ‘cabbage /eel / foie gras’ sounds pretty yuck. If my GF announced she was going to have a stab at making that I’d lock her in the cupboard (and chuck away the key). Of course, what arrived was a dream. Topped with a jaunty cap of eel foam, this was a restorative cabbage soup that presented all manner of contradictions: light and fragrant, yet at the same time deep and smooth. Believe it or not, even the temperature varied. “This isn’t cooking,” squeaked the partner, “this is sorcery!” And indeed it was.
Yes, Amaro thrives on presenting the unexpected, but this is not a kitchen consumed by needy attention seeking. The underlying concept is a celebration of simplicity, with the produce almost entirely sourced from the meadows and mountains, forests and lakes of rural Poland. While the construction of the dishes is often elaborate and almost forensic in approach, there is no pointless showboating. An example of this is the ‘veal / apricot / sunchoke’, whose artistic presentation does nothing to overshadow the fact that this is a glorious piece of meat pimped up with an array of herbs you won’t usually find. There is nothing flash to this ‘moment’, nothing revolutionary, just cooking of real grace and purity. It is a course that brings true satisfaction.
But today, basking under the spell of last night, really only one memory lingers – dessert. It begins with a palette cleanser: an ice cold stone slab arrives, and on it sea buckthorn sorbet with a hollowed-out center filled with mustard seeds. Once again, from simple ingredients Amaro conjures something so complex in taste that you’re instantly dazzled. I want to eat nothing but this for the rest of my life.
Yet this is just the prelude: next up is ‘pumpkin / clove / anise’. It looks like a boiled egg, the kind you’d get in a post-nuclear fallout. But breaking its soft shell it collapses into what can only be described as a deliciously rich goo. As we progress through this dessert, our reactions intensify. What starts with a smile ends with us babbling in tongues about the greatness of it all. It is, without fail, the most thrilling dessert you could ever dream up. So that’s the good news. The bad news? If the GF thinks she can get away with taking me for a curry on my birthday then she’s very much mistaken.
(Words and Photos: Alex Webber)
Atelier Amaro ul. Agrykola 1, website