You can write what I know about Yemen on a postage stamp, so it’s not wrong to say that I approached my trip to Sokotra – surely the only Yemeni restaurant in Poland – with something of an open mind. I’m certain that ten years ago such a place would have folded within months, so it speaks a lot for Warsaw’s developing tastes that when I entered last night it was close to full. But this in itself wasn’t a surprise. What was that not only did I enjoy it, but so too did my dining buddy – a bloke I can best describe as something of a British traditionalist…
The Place There’s a convivial style to Sokotra – it’s a small place decorated with neutral colors and elements designed to give it a rough urban look: e.g. a telegraph pole and bare bulbs wrapped around exposed pieces of concrete. While it looks like it’s been designed on a budget, what money has been spent has been spent wisely. If there’s any constructive criticism, it concerns the lights – dining should not be an interrogation experience, so dimming the illuminations would work wonders.
The Crowd As diverse as they come. Using last night as an example, we heard everything from shrieking ex-pat voices, to ties-off Polish business men sprawled on seats conducting calls at top volume. Usually I find both a bit of a warning flare, but in Sokotra such behavior suits the place – people feel comfortable enough to act how they want, lending it a warm, buzzy background that naturally lifts your own night.
The Staff Our waiter was a strapping male model type whose patchy English was a source of bemusement for my dining companion – “is it that bloody hard to understand if I’m asking if they serve cider,” he railed. Myself, I found it no problem. I expect perfect English in a fine dining haunt. In a side-street ethnic eatery I find linguistic stumbles all add to the event.
The Menu I approached Sokotra with caution, so I was pleased to find that the menu was a pretty brief affair and full of dishes I recognized from trips to other Middle Eastern restaurants such as legendary Le Cedre. For those not familiar with the cuisine, the English-language menu does a good job of describing exactly what awaits. But the biggest boon for me was the discovery that Indian influences also fall under the compass of Yemeni cooking – in fact, you’ll find as many Indian-style dishes as you will traditional Middle Eastern.
Starters On one side the menu presents Sudanese foul, grilled halloumi and hummus. On the other, more familiar Indian nibbles such as pakoras and paneer tikka. We opted to share a ‘thali of starters’ which transpired to be a platter featuring a little bit of everything. Perfect.
Mains Most Indian and Middle Eastern menus I’ve seen are a little intimidating – complex and confusing lists that scroll on for days. Here there’s 15 mains, and we made life easy for the server by ordering two chicken Madras and a couple of Arabic style naan breads. The chicken is thinly sliced, not the knuckle lumps to which you’re accustomed, but it was a rewarding meal that left us groaning. Pleasingly, there was also a fierce heat to it all – not the ear melting sensation I frequently crave, but a nice wave of fire that maintains your interest and keeps you on guard.
The Drinks I thought Sokotra, given their size and not limitless budget, would get this wrong. Not one bit. Find Turkish and Egyptian fruit nectars, Indian lagers and lassis, Polish regional beer, Iranian pomegranate juice, Middle Eastern teas, etc. Even if you’ve no intention of trying the food, do swing by for drinks – they won’t mind, and they’re really worth trying.
The Prices Mains start from zł. 19 and peak at zł. 36 though in truth most weigh in at around the mid-20s. I don’t think I need to note that that’s a good deal.
The Verdict You leave with a warm glow inside – and not just because of the madras singing in your stomach. There’s a neighborly, casual air to Sokotra, not to mention a sense of exotica. As the first snow tumbles down, it’s pretty much the perfect place to remove yourself from the cruel taunts of winter.
(Photos: interiors – Facebook; Food – AW)
Sokotra Wilcza 27, facebook