The Insider finds wizardly magic on Merlin street…
By Alex Webber | Photographs by Kevin Demaria
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that there’s never a bad time to visit Merliniego 5. But, paradoxically, there is a best time. And for me, that’s autumn, with pumpkin-colored foliage falling from gaunt-looking trees. Muffled from the first early chill, there’s something instantly gratifying about entering the place: a low-key warmth that emanates from the cherry wood finishes and buffed brick walls. Then there’s Andrzej, the owner.
In more ‘conventional’ countries I find the proprietor’s presence an encouraging sign. In Poland, mind, you’ll usually find the holders of the purse strings dallying in the shadows spying on the waiters. Rarely do they do anything more than unnerve their staff – and clients. Andrzej is cut from a different cloth, an old school host who adds more than just knowledge. Personalizing the whole dining experience, his is a welcome that’s open and sincere: genial and peppered with wisecracks delivered in a Polish / New Yawk accent. You’d love to see him on Letterman.
Above all though, it’s his passion for food that shines through – and in particular, meat. Speaking about sourcing his steaks, he talks as if he were buying fine art and in a way, he is: only the end results are far more enjoyable – after all, have you ever tried eating a painting? From the comprehensive meat choices, there are certainly some that weigh in at gallery prices: for instance, the Class 9+ Tajima-Gyu Kobe beef. But does anyone complain? No, this level of product supersedes critique.
We’ve elected to go for a filet mignon as well a Black Angus rib-eye. The latter is a stonking chunk of cow, purchased direct from New York’s Ottamanelli & Sons and seeping with massive, manly tastes. The former, meanwhile, is so soft it cuts like butter. If there is a surprise, it’s that the surf matches the turf. Our starters are Brittany oysters, fat big fellows with a seaside aroma. While my colleague gulps, I bite into them giving full release to the beautiful meat. Grilled Spanish octopus is equally pleasing, with this thick coil of sea monster satisfying all. There are condiments to jazz up each dish, but all are surplus to the situation. I think it was March, my previous trip. That time I left Merliniego prattling praises like ‘the steak of a lifetime’. Well, I feel like the man who lived twice, for this visit was just as good, maybe even better. Go.
Handpicked by wine expert Sławomir Kojło, Merliniego’s wine offer covers all bases: from big night wines to simple tipples, not to mention a number of organic wines unique to the restaurant.
Gruner Veltliner, Alram ‘Hasel-alte Raben’, Kamptal, Austria 2012
Chardonnay, Casa Silva, ‘Angostura’ Colchagua, Chile 2013
Riesling, Fritz Haag, ‘Brauneberger’, Mosel, Germany 2013
Primitivo di Manduria, ‘Dunico’ Puglia, Italy 2010
Malbec, ‘Colome’ Reserva, Salta, Argentina 2008
Cabernet Sauvignon, ‘Robert Mondavi’, Reserve, Napa Valley, USA 2007
Nebbiolo, ‘Sito Moresco’, Gaja, Pidmont, Italy 2010