6 Jun 2008

Normal Appetite will be Resumed Shortly

OCCASIONALLY THE pounds spent in restaurants are echoed around my waist. Being benevolent with details of my gustatory roaming, I will share the most effective diet to date: go to Poland. Whilst I am a fan of the White Eagle, a week away from temptation cured me; a month would turn Eamon Holmes into a jockey. Apparently Fern Britton disappeared entirely during her last visit.
Traditional chunky dumplings are infilled with cabbage. Meat cutlets and fish are cooked almost to cremation: their exterior hardened as armour, their interior anonymous and their desirability nil. This is food as fuel. Couple this with the unavailability of a decent drink (a glass of wine is 100ML, cocktails thimbles and beer - one of the few drinks ensured to make me sick after more then two pints) and I guarantee any wannabe gastrosapien will feel dramatic pangs. Cravings for crustaceans, nostalgia for greens and anger at ever-present potatoes…
My first morsel came from a stall in the airport: a smoked cheese snack, sold with a frown. It looked like a pastry but reeked of bloated kipper. Worryingly, I desire another as I write.
In Zakopane, a skiing resort known also for wool and wood (don’t mention woodworm) a Goralki girl prettily dressed in traditional clothes proudly gave me a menu attached to a small axe. As a warning. I chose tripe broth, accompanied by jaunty iambic mountain music. Use of the loo cost extra.
At a 900-year-old salt mine in Wieliczka, underground lakes, chapels and statues are ornately carved into saline surfaces. Dining about 2000 metres below ground on frankfurter soup was the literal low point. The lady serving could not tell me whether the sachets of salt provided contained the mine’s produce. Perhaps I should have licked the walls to establish authenticity?
In Krakow, neon-fringed un-Godly kebaberies outnumber the affluent churches. Presumably one can conveniently repent after submitting, in despair, to the curse of the twirling gristle pole? Indeed, resorting to the non-indigenous, I experienced pizza in which the tomato base arrived in a jug reservoir (apparently normal). I even witnessed the spectacle of a square fish finger. And why not?
Amidst this culinary calamity, lost in translation, I found the lone ranger: Tesoro del Mar, open since January, and already on its second manager.
German, Sasza Brandowsky (21) cooks in Kazimierz, Krakow’s Jewish quarter (where much of Schlinder’s List was filmed). Trained as a pâtissier (like Gordon Ramsay), his sweet ambitions found their way into every course in a curiously assembled interpretation of fine dining.
Sitting on crown mottifed mosaic banquettes, the pungent funereal smell of lilies drifted through the otherwise empty low whitewashed vault. Black and white pictures showed the area as dusty and characterfully dilapidated as today.
Enthralled by Hugh Johnson’s appetising decription of Champagne – ‘France’s greatest palpable contribution to human happiness…’ I wanted bubbles. Champagne being especially expensive in Poland, I chose a bottle of Cava. Resembling hitchhiker’s plimsole, it was also fatally corked. As was the second bottle. At the end of the meal, the waitress admitted my choice was her least favourite, and brought the supplier’s catalogue so I could recommend they order an alternative. My pleasure. Curious customer service, but somehow charming, although the hated bottle remained static on the bill.
After a hairy, caper studded amuse bouche, my sweet, predictably dilute icy Watermelon Soup was tickled by chilli, but marred by curdled Bacon Ice Cream (creamy, mild and smoky in isolation). This is what Heston Blumenthal might term a ‘gastronomic double take’.
Fillets of Gilthead Bream (Dourade in France) followed, precisely cooked with a saffron sauce, spinach bale and seasoned with lemon. The savoury nature of the dish was again rendered sweet, by three fresh caramelised carrot muffins. Despite possessing the texture of a futon mattress, I befriended these. In fact they outshone everything else within the collage.
When our waitress asked about dessert, I felt inclined to point out that it felt like I had already had it.
The luxurious Crème Brulee made with Tonka Beans with Orange Basket filled with Ragout of Wild Berries and Lemon Thyme Sorbet was the best dish. Hardly a surprise there, everything else had just been foreplay. The bittersweet sorbet was a little like Retsina, although ragout was the wrong word; the berries absentees.
Presumably expensive, oversized crockery featured cleanly throughout.
I imagine Krakow is a blank canvas for this young Head Chef. No one to advise, criticise or influence. Considering then that he is unaided, the misguided marriage of flavours are to be expected – a hyperbolic retaliation against dense local dishes.
Chris, razor clam sharp author of Cheese & Biscuits recently questioned my written style: 'satirical genius or a lunatic'. I feel the same way about Sasza Brandowsky's cooking.
With a little time, however, he may ultimately trailblaze.
Tesoro del Mar - Jozefa 6, 31-056, Krakow, Poland. T. 0048 12 4306013