Date night perfection | Ognisko, 55 Exhibition Road, London SW7 2PG
Ever stumbled out of a museum in South Ken in need of food? We have, although there are usually kids in tow so cocktails and Polish food is not likely to be on the agenda. Shame as Ognisko, a beautiful bar and restaurant by Jan Woroniecki – the man behind the fab Baltic in Southwark, is surrounded by all the museums on Exhibition road. Housed in a very grand terraced Victorian building, where the Polish Hearth Club was founded in 1940, it has just undergone an extensive refurb. Luckily for us, they wanted us to come and see it.
Despite the plush surroundings and private members style entrance, there was no stuffiness here. In fact it had an air of romance about it and we were so impressed with the laid back yet attentive service. The decor has hints of Baltic, the same amber flower artworks on the wall, but a more pure and gleaming room graced with pillars and chandeliers. Ognisko offers a very reasonable set lunch and pre-theatre menus at £16.50 for two courses or £19.50 for three, it’s not as pricey as you’d expect.
The vast cocktail menu is worth a visit alone, some seriously good drinks on the list and at really good prices. And obviously there’s vodka too, we had a play around with some of the house-infused flavours (£3.75 a shot) such as Horseradish and honey (surprisingly you could taste both flavours), Cherry and Hazelnut. These shots came later though, I kicked things off with a gorgeous Grapefruit and chilli sour £8.50 and Ade a Potocki feb £7.50 from the specials list – a vodka based cocktail laced with frangelico (a hazelnut liqueur) delivering a Christmassy waft with each sip.
The menu isn’t too hard to understand, although I did have to sneakily Google a few names in order to decipher them. I can’t have been very subtle about it as a waiter came over and asked if we needed a hand. After much deliberation and getting distracted by the cocktail menu I went for a typical Polish staple dish of dumplings. Pierogi filled with sauerkraut, mushrooms and pork, boiled and served with onion and boczek (Polish bacon) £7/£12.50. Slippery little suckers packed full of robust flavours, very filling so possibly not the wisest choice considering what was coming next. Ade had Kaszanka (traditional blood sausage) served on a potato pancake with onion and apple £7 the rich crumbled sausage paired perfectly with the sweet apple and the crunchy potato cake.
My main was amazing, I only wish I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything prior so I could fully appreciate it. Choucroute of golonka, barbecued pork ribs and sausage with sauerkraut salad £16 was a carnivore’s dream. The waiter described it as a ‘polish mixed grill’ and it pretty much was, I loved it. The sausage was plump hot dog style, juicy and peppery. The ribs were covered in a sticky BBQ sauce and the Golonka (ham hock) so tender and sweet. I tried, I really did but I just couldn’t eat it all, damn those dumplings.
Ade’s interpreted his main as ‘Crazy Wolf’ he even ordered it as such, leaving our waiter looking totally bemused. Zrazy Wolowe – filled beef on potato pancake £17.50 was a thin cut of tender beef rolled around batons of smoky bacon, onion and sour cucumber. We were still full so a short cocktail break was called for before desserts.
After 15 minutes or so respite Ade tucked into a Chocolate mousse with vodka marinated sour cherries and cream £6 – bitter chocolate, sharp boozy black cherries and sweet cream – this must have been created with him in mind. My sticky and sweet Baked quince with brown sugar, cinnamon and walnuts £6 was a lovely light end to my meal. I don’t think I could have coped with anything too bulky, it did feel a little quince-heavy though, not that I’d ever complain about a large portion.
As we left, the barman called us back saying ‘You must stay to have one for the road – it’s a Polish tradition!’ Who are we to argue with tradition? We did a shot of vodka at the bar with the barman and waiter and they bid us farewell. What a great way to end a meal, am pretty sure they don’t do that with every customer though, they’d be on the floor. And bankrupt.
55 Exhibition Road, London SW7 2PG
Telephone: 020 7589 0101
Opening hours: Monday – Sunday: 12pm – 3pm, 5:30pm – 11:15pm
Nearest station: South Kensington