Italian Restaurateurs in Warsaw: Honouring Tradition and Innovation | Warsaw Insider
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All operating in the Powiśle district, the Insider joins up with a group of Italian chefs and restaurateurs to discuss the subject closest to... Italian Restaurateurs in Warsaw: Honouring Tradition and Innovation
Italian Restaurateurs in Warsaw: Honouring Tradition and Innovation Italian Restaurateurs in Warsaw: Honouring Tradition and Innovation

All operating in the Powiśle district, the Insider joins up with a group of Italian chefs and restaurateurs to discuss the subject closest to their heart… food!

Having celebrated the delicious gelato of Dal Dalla Gelato numerous times within these very pages, it didn’t take long for a genuine connection to develop between the owner, Luca, and this humble Insider. Our after-hours chats, often accompanied by a slice of pizza at Va Bene on Tamka, revealed more than just culinary insights. They opened a window into Luca’s world.

Often orchestrating conversations with the practiced agility of a libero, his banter with the pizzaiolos often set off a domino effect of laughter and camaraderie, creating an ambiance reminiscent of watching an Italian football match, even when wasn’t playing. That familiar feeling of being part of a wider Italian family fostered a sense of belonging that resonated deeply within me.

As more meetings passed, our conversation inevitably turned to that great universal topic, food, and it was during one of those informal chats that Luca proposed press-ganging a few other Italian restaurateurs for a famiglia style rendezvous. This would not only serve to satiate my curiosity about their experiences as Italians in Warsaw, but also help glean insights from their collective pool of wisdom. And so it was that on a sunny afternoon we assembled around a table on Va Bene’s patio, exchanging thoughts over coffee, pastries, and the season’s juiciest Polish strawberries.

I initiated our conversation by asking, “Why Warsaw?” The responses flowed, weaving a narrative of love, opportunity, and a desire to share their heritage with Polish people, but there was also a palpable sense of pride when the topic of promoting Italian culture arose. It led me to ask how other elements of Italian culture, besides food, are woven into the fabric of these establishments?

Emanuele Guidi of Va Bene has taken a creative approach by offering free Italian lessons to his staff. Within the restaurant’s intimate confines, the colours of Italian football teams bring together both Italian and Polish patrons, creating an emotive bond through a shared passion. Va Bene even have their own private Instagram group so they can keep their tight-knit crew of regulars in the loop as to all their goings on – how’s that for family connection!

Luca from Dal Dalla Gelato points out that the essence of authenticity lies in even the names of the ice cream flavours at Dal Dalla. But the journey goes beyond names and tastes; it delves into sourcing ingredients. Luca stresses that genuine ingredients matter and that today’s diners almost demand to understand their origin – from pistachios to milk.

Another fundamental motif concerns art and cuisine, with the two long intertwined when it comes to Italian culture. Matteo Liscaio, the visionary behind Bottegas, embraces this connection by hosting events that promote Italian art, while the restaurant’s menu caters to Polish palates. He notes an intriguing phenomenon, that being the Polish preference for well-cooked pasta as opposed to the traditional Italian al dente style.

Of course, with the lockdown still haunting the nightmares of every restauranteur, the pandemic is another predictable feature of the conversation, with Madre’s Giacomo recounting how it was the challenges posed by Covid that inspired creativity. Responding to the situation, he turned to  social media to share cooking techniques, from crafting ragu to perfecting arancini and fresh pasta. The idea was simple yet powerful – passing down family culinary secrets as grandmothers have done for generations.

As our conversation progressed, I delved into what makes an Italian restaurant genuinely Italian. The unanimous response struck me with its elegant simplicity: knowledge and respect. There was no exclusivity or pretension; instead, all talked of a commitment to crafting dishes authentically, thereby honouring the essence of each ingredient.

While my initial expectation had been for a more complex explanation, the wisdom they shared was profound in its directness. Each chef, and each owner, had a unique perspective to share. As we unravelled the layers of their dedication to achieving authenticity, it became clear that these individuals were not just crafting dishes but experiences as well as they sought to build a tangible connection to the heart of their country.

Speaking to them, one began seeing them more as cultural ambassadors, tactically introducing Italian traditions into the very fabric of Warsaw’s dining scene: from mastering the delicate balance of Italian and Polish ingredients to sharing family recipes, their efforts painted a rich tapestry aimed at bridging two distinct cultures, one dish at a time.

Daniele David Grano Duro italians man smile white
Daniele & David – Grano Duro

Salient to this has been the delicate dance-off between Polish and Italian ingredients. While elements of Italy’s diet – such as lemons or San Marzano tomatoes – defy replication, Poland’s bountiful produce offers its own distinct flair. Giacomo Carreca of Madre understands this balance, using Polish vegetables and mushrooms in his Italian recipes.

The concept of “kilometre zero” resonates deeply with Daniele from Grano Duro. Emphasising freshness and seasonality, he believes that the essence of Italian dishes can be conveyed with Polish products. For instance, the award-winning burrata from the city centre’s Bianca store. David from Grano Duro notes that true Italian cuisine is simple, built around a few key ingredients. The difference between an authentic Italian experience and mere imitations lies in understanding and respecting these ingredients. Yet while authenticity may come at a cost, these restaurateurs are unwavering in their commitment.

Matteo Liscaio emphasises that Poland’s evolving dining scene has become more receptive to quality, even if this shift has at times been gradual. Although sometimes a struggle to maintain accuracy given the price-sensitive market, Luca firmly believes that faith in the value of their products will ultimately pay off.The evolving tastes of Polish patrons and their increased exposure to international cuisines reflect Emanuele Guidi’s observation – that more and more people are treating food as a destination. That many people now happily travel for a meal has become a testament both to the Polish diner’s growing curiosity and appreciation for diverse cuisines and cultures.

That step-by-step growth owes itself to figures such as this very gaggle of Italian friends – acting almost as pioneers on the culinary and cultural landscape, it is their often-inventive strategies and approaches that have cultivated a bettering understanding of their homeland – one dish at a time.

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