Established as one of country’s most recognizable chefs, Aleksander Baron has returned to action… and it’s not Polish food he’s cooking, but German!
Baron: A Reintroduction
From kitchen rebel to national treasure, the last ten years or so have seen Aleksander Baron grow to become one of the dominant figures on Warsaw’s culinary landscape – actually, make that Poland’s. Making his name for big, brawny tastes at Solec 44, it was here that he first demonstrated the depths of his ability – often startling, but usually delicious, these were menus that got the press talking and the people flooding through the gate.
Later, The Baron became The King… the King of Fermentation, and his passion for forgotten Polski ingredients and lost techniques found themselves given an even higher profile at the short-lived Zoni. Snatched from the rough-and-raw confines of Solec, we saw a more finessed approach emerge, one that amply demonstrated the versatility of this chef. More recently, projects like Ogień and Baron The Family saw a return to basics with the onus placed on concepts of fire, meat and feasting.
And that brings us to the now. Often presented in the foodie press and blogs as a shock value specialist, perhaps the biggest shock of all is that Baron’s latest posting has seen the chef develop a menu that actually reads very sensibly. If there is a surprise, it is thus. Having long been seen as an ambassador for Polish gastronomy, it’s now the food of Germany that falls under his watch.
If That’s Baron, Who’s Frank!?
First things first, it’s important to know that the name refers not to the owner, but Franconia, a region of Germany falling largely within Bavaria. Originally opened two-and-a-bit years ago, this venue is a tribute to all that is good that comes from there – and in particular, that means wine. There’s 116 labels in all here, all of which are sourced from the wineries of Franconia.
Home to a one-thousand year-old wine culture, it’s a region that’s been called “Germany’s fairy tale wine country”, and for rather good reason. Dotted with scenic mediaeval towns and rolling orchards, Franconia is one of Germany’s better-kept secrets. Largely turning its shoulder on Riesling, instead its sip of choice is Silvaner, a palate-pleasing white traditionally kept in a bulb-shaped Bocksbeutel.
Though Silvaner dominates, it’s incorrect to think of Frank as a one-dimensional character and the wine selection here forks down paths that are sometimes familiar, and other times completely unexpected. “I’ve always been a wine person, but many of these wines here came as a complete surprise to me,” says Baron. “For instance, the reds here were a completely new discovery. This time last year I’d never heard of them, so as a chef it was a really exciting challenge to pair my food with them.”
The Tasty Bits
With Baron installed as the executive chef, you’d be right to suspect that this is a venue with ambitions to position itself highly on Warsaw’s gastro map. Premiering at the start of February, his debut menu has reimagined German food in a more bite-sized form.
“After I got to know the wines I built the menu in the space of two-hours,” says Baron. “Straight away I knew that I wanted to present the food in the style of tapas so that friends could share and enjoy it over a bottle of wine.”
Seeking to put his own twist on the tastes of Germany, it’s a menu that’s fun and creative but never truly crazy – choosing from it does not feel like a game of Dare, but there is an element of the unknown. “We’re happy to buy cars or beer from the Germans,” says Baron, “but I don’t think Poles have ever got to really know the deeper side of German culture – certainly not their food.”
Often merging top-quality Polish ingredients with German techniques (“I import only when I really have to,” explains Baron), the results are to be praised: there’s a perfectly crusted schnitzel (zł. 18) served with two kinds of butter – anchovy and burnt butter with sauerkraut and caraway seeds; tartare with Jägermeister jelly (zł. 45); and a bacon and Bavarian cheese Spätzle (zł. 24) that Baron modestly describes as his take on mac & cheese. But it is more than that – it’s a warming heap of goodness that sends a glow through the soul.
Also present, there is the Flammkuchen; thin and crispy, it’s a dish that often trades under the moniker of ‘German pizza’. The real hits though, these are Baron’s croquettes, their fillings varying from blood sausage to quark and leek. And then, the sausages (zł. 22), cooked on low-heat in white wine, vinegar and spices – truly, it’s a bread-dipper’s dream.
And The Place…
Found down one of those slick, urban passages created as a result of New Wola’s construction, from the outside Frank can look a little intimidating. Decorated with gleaming golds and rich, dark shades of forest green, it’s a place you imagine fills with women wearing corpo-bitch perfume and guys weighed down by Alpha Male watches. Should I really have worn trainers?
Lined with bottles, each carefully posed like a glinting jewel, the impression is of being somewhere unflinchingly high-end. For the casual passerby it may seem too much. But is it really? That debate ceases after the first glass of wine for that’s all it takes to feel at home.
Adjusting to the shine and gloss, one sees Frank for what he is: a place of good mood and food. Enjoying it all is easy and so too is returning. As the wider area fills with cookie cutter chain concepts, Frank has a personality all of his own – and a quite special one at that.
ul. Grzybowska 43A, facebook