A strange place is Krucza. If there’s any other street with a higher turnover of restaurants then I’ve yet to find it – and I’m not just talking about Warsaw. Yet in spite of the impossible rents – reputedly amongst the steepest in the city – there’s no shortage of chumps willing to give the restaurant trade a crack. “One day,” they seem to think, “one of us will get lucky here.”
Eight and a Half are the latest spot to put their neck on the executioner’s block. It’s Tuesday afternoon, and there’s a scattering of people: a group of wine-sipping women at the top end, an American hack I know from years back and, closest to me, a couple of young creative types that beam smug, million zoty grins. And while I like the look of the place, you’d label it ‘anonymous cosmopolitan’. Without the aid of my notebook I’d struggle to remember what it looks like (for the record, my notes go something like this: concrete, ascetic, splashes of color).
I like their pared down attitude to menu creation and I order the tartar with something approaching confidence. My faith proves justified. The tartar trio is good, very good in fact – the meat is fresh, finely chopped and full of sparky flavors. It’s an impressive start. As it turns out, this is the high point. As my plate is cleared I am joined by our snapper, and after a considerable wait our mains arrive. For him, it’s zander with spinach and a heap of boiled vegetables. From an aesthetic point of view it looks unbalanced and dreary. My guinea fowl breast looks better, but is something of a conundrum: there are bits I enjoy, other bits I don’t.
The flesh is tender and gamey and the skin crisp. The glazed carrots are tasty, but too numerous in number. I wonder, did I order guinea fowl with carrots on the side or vice versa. Then there’s the potato puree: again, decent, but lacking silky magic. And, sweet Jesus, there is dill – like a dodgy green rash, it appears everywhere.
As we reflect on the mains, both of us are in agreement: fundamentally, they’ve been good, yet somehow a little pedestrian. The ingredients are quality and they’ve been cooked technical competence, but at no time have we noticed any brilliance or invention. We wonder if the chef has been handcuffed into promising no funny moves in the kitchen, no moments of madness and no flights of fancy.
Our theory is reinforced by the crème caramel dessert: fine, but no better or worse than anything you’d find in a decent hotel. There are many hints of skill in the kitchen, yet no evidence of creativity, passion and energy. At a time when restaurants in Warsaw are taking exciting, culinary risks, it’s disappointing to find a place that doesn’t try and explore the talents in their kitchen a little more. As we conclude the meal I realize there has never been that point where I’ve paused and thought, “and next time, I’ll come here with the Mrs.” In fact, there’s never been that moment where I’ve thought there even will be a next time. (AW)
ul. Nowogrodzka 10
784 461 397