On first hearing about Norma I questioned their name – was this being touted as an imitation of Noma (in which case, blimey, good luck). Or was it just owned by a lady called Norma? Perhaps, I figured, it was one letter short of being normal. Having visited the other week I’m none the wiser as to the thinking behind the name; but what I did discover, however, was a restaurant of such brilliance that I’m still wondering if it was all a hallucination.
The Chef: is Kuba Korczak, a familiar name among slow food enthusiasts and the face behind the Good Food Fest. His menu is an inventive presentation of natural, local produce – so we hear, more dishes have been added since our visit, so we’ll be giving a full report in our upcoming print review in Jan.
Starters: I don’t like kaszanka, so I’ve no idea why I ordered it – impulse? A moment of madness?? Whatever the case, I’m glad I did. Deep in flavor, and topped with a gorgeous smudge of red onion and raspberry jam, I’d suggest they signpost this as one of Korczak’s signature dishes: it’s fantastic.
Mains: for me that means smoked goose breast, pecorino and tagliatelle. For her, cod in a puree of celery and apples. Mine was very good, but having tried a bit of the cod I’ve no doubt Mrs Insider was the winner this time. On its own the fish would have been a success, but together with the puree it was simply outstanding – a superb main rolling in strong, unique flavors.
Dessert: there were only two desserts on the card when we visited, those being goat cheese / baked apple / chili, and vanilla cream / pear jam / matured olive oil. Both are magnificent: the former has a distinctive, tart taste that perks up all sorts of pleasure points. The latter, meanwhile, manages to be both smooth yet luxurious. Portions are modest but feel ‘just right’ – there’s none of that awkward bloat factor associated with many Warsaw restaurants.
People: I can’t really comment. I arrived on a grey, glum Saturday just minutes after they opened up. But a combination of guesswork and feedback from the blogs suggests they’ve nailed a smart casual crowd that appreciates good food at tremendous prices.
Service: easygoing and engaging, in fact, completely faultless. Our server was comfortable with the menu and handing out suggestions without any prompt. As is my habit, I chose to sit in furthest corner of the restaurant, but that didn’t prevent this chap from being by our table when he was needed, and not being there when he wasn’t. It was a tip well earned.
Design: love it. Neutral, natural colors are offset by some statement artwork depicting wild tethered animals, while lighting is provided by way of bare bulbs that hang from ropes draped round the rafters. They’ve created a soothing environment that’s suited to all occasions.
Prices: starters oscillate between zł. 20-30, mains from around zł. 25-50 and desserts are about zł. 15. That makes Norma one of the biggest bargains about.
Overall: Kaskrut breezed our Casual Dining category at our Best of Warsaw awards, and deservedly so. But had Norma opened a few weeks earlier I’m certain they would have really given our jurors something to think about. Unless the kitchen explodes and the building falls down, I fully expect them to be winning some kind of gong in 2014 – the place is a joy.
Norma ul. Wierzbowa 9/11, facebook
(words and photos: Alex Webber)