Expensive restaurants are well represented in Warsaw, and for the most part, they’ve got absolutely nothing to do with fine dining – more like crime dining, if anything. Think heavy, country manor accents and crude, robust servings of duck and goose. On edge, no, on the edge of the dark ages, yes. But, in the last couple of years, something has changed. A select clutch of chefs have offered an alternative to the myopic standard to which we’re accustomed. And few come more talented than Jacek Grochowina. Winner of the Insider’s 2013 award for Fine Dining, his Nolita restaurant has blossomed into one of the top addresses in Poland since launching last year.
The Chef: carrying an aura of certainty and focus, you get the feeling a bullet wouldn’t stop Jacek Grochowina from turning up to work. Having fine-tuned his skills at The Ritz, this chef combines murderous dedication with remarkable flair and an exceptional eye for tastes and combinations. A big window staring through into the kitchen enables diners to watch this master at work.
Starters: I am a fat pig – two starters for me, those being tuna tartare (zł. 49) and pork marinated foie gras (zł. 65). The latter comes served ‘maki-style’ with smoked eel and a homemade brioche on the side. Deep and rich, it’s pure luxury. But it’s the tuna tartare that is the standout. The freshness makes me swoon. And there’s added interest provided by the accompaniment of a delicate soy mayonnaise and a topping of ice cold, fizzling yuzu. I say it with confidence: this is the best starter I’ve had this year.
Main: I was sorely tempted by the Welsh lamb steak. In the end, I opted for the beef fillet (zł. 97) – I’d first sampled this dish last month, and knew I was getting myself into serious “I can never eat anything else again” territory. Complex in design, it arrives with a crisp, paper-thin layer of potato covering a pungent oxtail sitting inside a chunky bone, a slick of ‘diable’ sauce, and a generous beef fillet. The flavors are big and punchy, with a spotless plate guaranteed at the end.
Dessert: this time round, passion fruit soufflé with chocolate ice cream (zł. 34). It’s easy to lose yourself in such glorious tastes – it’s a flight of sheer bliss.
Other credentials: six (zł. 195) and nine course (zł. 295) tasting menus are available, though must be ordered by the whole table.
Booking: definitely advised to avoid disappointment.
People: as good for scheming, schmoozy business talk as it is for dinner for two or an upscale celebratory meal. Even so, the last couple of times I’ve visited alone (!), yet have always been made to feel comfortable – not least by Chef Grochowina himself. Regards dress code, think elegant casual or business attire.
Design: cosmopolitan – it feels intelligent, discreet and understated, with the main statements coming from a splash of contemporary art, a stunning lighting arrangement in the front, and views of the kitchen.
Price: it is expensive, but everyone who visits agrees its money well spent. Peel off a number of notes, and in return have a tremendous experience – that’s a fair swap in my book.
Overall: I’ve made a secret promise to eat here once a month. You get the feeling this is a place that’s going to develop into something quite immense.
Nolita ul. Wilcza 46, www.nolita.pl
(words and photos: Alex Webber)