Praga’s renaissance rises another notch with the debut of an upmarket gem…
Signs of Praga’s ongoing gentrification are numerous, and although it’s the mixed use Koneser project that tends to hog the headlines, advances are being made in the streets all around. Sitting practically opposite the gloriously revived Kamienica Pod Sowami, a pre-war tenement embellished with Gothic gargoyles, hub.praga is something of a poster child for the area’s regeneration – an upscale eatery overseen by one of the country’s leading chefs…
Out The Back
Heading the kitchen is Witek Iwański, a chef whose past accolades include our very own ‘One To Watch’ title at the Insider’s 2016 Best of Warsaw awards.
“Looking to challenge diners,” we wrote at the time, “Iwański’s cooking embraces obscure and unusual ingredients, fine-tuning them using the latest know-how and kitchen magic. A breathlessly exciting talent, the one problem is that his restaurant lies 40 kilometers away.” Not anymore is that an issue.
In The Front
Greeted warmly by a supremely amiable server, you walk in to find a stunning dining room with high ceilings, long windows and an interior that’s effortless in its understated elegance – tan, beige and white, these seemingly neutral colors are brought to life by some statement art, moon-shaped mirrors and gleaming light fittings of different shape and size.
Lightly embellished with contemporary culinary bibles such as The Nordic Cookbook, not to mention some discreet Gaggenau brand placement, this feel-good space is small but never suffocating – perfectly proportioned, it’s got a sense of insider privacy, something that rises yet further should you choose to sit in the little four-seater nook tucked in the back corner.
On The Plate
“We recommend four to five courses a’la carte,” states the menu, something that’s easily done given there’s eleven or so choices. Priced from PLN 22 to PLN 41, these mini-courses fill out to form a complete meal should you follow their advice; larger appetites, though, might want to extend a little beyond this. Those wanting the full 360 view, meanwhile, should opt to take the full tasting menu for PLN 360.
Looking like miniaturized works of art, each course is a micro bomb of sophisticated goodness: for us, a tartar topped with crunchy perilla leaves and served along with a waffle adorned with dots of egg yolk and a pair of marinated Mirabelle plums. Subtle and refined, it’s a dish where you bite, pause and reflect on the harmony of tastes.
Next, beetroot salad with hazelnut biscuit and a ginger flan – appealing on the eye, it’s another triumph of delicate and exquisite taste. This, mind you, pales next to what is modestly described as being ‘vegetable casserole / bechamel / lovage’. Bursting open with the softest of touches, its contents pour forth: carrots, marinated zucchini, broad beans. The freshness is vivid in its impact.
But every meal needs that standout moment where the tastes wallop you in the nuts, and in our case that’s what happens with the arrival of the veal. Though acutely small in its portioning, it’s a massive hit of flavor notes. Served with savoy cabbage and a strudel with duxelles mushrooms, for a brief moment I consider ordering another.
Exceptional in every regard, the peaks continue with dessert: a strawberry fantasia of ice cream, sorbet, fresh sorrel and a little hit of house vinegar. “You’re the first guest we’ve ever served this to,” says the waiter, “so let us know what you think.” The answer, I’m afraid, is not fit for print: OMFG. It’s really that good.
And A Final Thought
The location is audacious, and you can’t help but wonder if it’s a masterstroke or a mistake – can Praga support it? And if not, will enough outsiders visit? I would sincerely hope so.
In this post-lockdown era, most new restaurants have played it safe by simply offering a reliably good feed. Iwański’s project on the other hand dares do something different by presenting an experience in the truest sense – it’s a restaurant that harks to the time when chefs wanted to thrill. And my God, Iwański does just that.
Did we like it? Nah. We absolutely loved it.
ul. Jagiellońska 22, website