Which is all a bit unfair on poor Karczma, because we had a flippin’ lovely meal and they can hardly be blamed for the monsoon waiting outside. So back to that kitsch. Wow. The interior has been laid out in painstaking detail to be more cheesily folksy than the most touristic beer hall in old Krakow, with sheepskins over the benches, painted scenes of rural life on the walls, a thatched ceiling and bits of old agricultural equipment placed amiably in corners.Yes, a thatched ceiling. Yes. But when you go that far over the top you’re bound to win my heart. The staff are cheerful and helpful too. The wine by the glass is decent, Argentinian in our case.
The food is heartwarming. That’s an understatement. My heart feels like it has been tucked into bed under a patchwork quilt by a tiny Polish grandmother while the last few glowing embers crackle and pop in the hearth and snow patters against the tiny leaded windows. I’m also utterly, utterly stuffed. And a tiny bit guilty as there’s still plenty left on the plate.
I chose the pierogis to start and got three huge specimens. Filled with cream cheese, onion and potato they were incredibly soothing and more full of flavour than you could expect from that combination. Maureen’s beetroot consomme was just amazing; slightly pickled, deep in flavour, beautiful in colour, and on the menu as vegetarian so somehow accomplished without the usual trick of chicken stock to amp up the flavours. It came with a couple of crusty little pastries filled with mushroom duxelles.Maureen won the main course too, with “beef stew wrapped in a potato pancake”. Doesn’t sound like much, but it was a very good beef stew. The pancake was the star though; a huge and fluffy mass that soaked up gravy like a sponge without losing any of its fluffiness, and had its own magnificent flavour that I can’t actually identify but somehow involved wonderful green peppers and the burnt brown edges they had given it. Which is to say nothing bad about my glazed pork knuckle, a gigantic chunk of pink and piggy meat, soft inside and chewy sweet on the glazed edges. Served with super-fresh white horseradish, mustard, a generous bowl of funky sauerkraut and baked potatoes that were an exactly perfect texture and slightly oaky/waxy in flavour.
Although the sheer size of the portions defeated me, I left Karczma very happy (for about five seconds, before several gallons of water were blown in our faces). We ended up spending £22 each on 2 courses without drinks and the quality of the cooking is just about spot on for this. Especially as I took one of my huge pierogis home in a napkin (sssssh!) so I’ve got tomorrow’s breakfast sussed.