When I think about the quality of service in restaurants in Poland over the past ten years or so, I have mostly good things to say about them. A massive improvement, with courteous, often bi-lingual staff and swift service. Not always, but mostly. Pity the same cannot be said about many Polish places in London.
For some reason, they seem to be stuck in the 1970s, when Poland was still a Communist country and the customer was simply an unnecessary nuisance. And all that in prime London locations like Kensington or Hammersmith.
The first time I experienced what can only be described as a well-preserved 70s Polish milk bar/ canteen attitude was at the Polish Cultural (!) Institute, POSK, in Hammersmith. The worn-out decor should have served as a warning sign. There was some good, but badly presented food – and those rather scary-looking grumpy waitresses can give you serious indigestion.
Then last weekend I ended up in Daquise, a South Kensington institution, which is always packed and full of locals, Poles who crave some hearty Polish food and an odd tourist or two.
Now, it would be an exaggeration to say the level of service at Daquise was identical to that at POSK. The manageress was chatty – swanning around and recommending dishes – the atmosphere was hushed, yet bubbly, the decor better than I remember it from a few years ago (with a couple of patriotic elements thrown in for good measure).
And even the waitress who served us was ok. But somehow I still thought the staff were convinced it was only a railway milk bar in eastern Poland circa 1977. It took them 20 minutes to clear the empty plates and another 10 to ask us whether we wanted anything else.
One of the waitresses probably drives a tank in her spare time as she was clearly used to bulldozing people out of her way. And that’s just to deliver menu to a table. She was also permanently stressed and rushed off her feet even though it wan’t that busy. Slow down, honey, we came here to relax.
Anyway, let’s look at the food itself. It definitely has a unique Eastern European flavour. There is a wide choice of dishes, from simple soups, through Polish (but also Ukrainian and Russian) starters to massive Polish staples: pork knuckle, potato pancakes, gołąbki (stuffed cabbage), bigos and a (limited) choice of Polish alcohols.
Our soup of choice was barszcz, the beetroot soup. I used to hate it as a kid, now love it, even though I still cannot stand beetroot itself. This one had a nice flavour, although not as intense as it perhaps should have been.
I liked it despite the obligatory shreds of beetroot floating in my bowl. You can have the soup with ravioli (‘uszka’ or as they spell it, ‘ushka’), but, as it can be filling, we went for the simple version to be able to enjoy the main course.
Bearing in mind that the weather outside was freezing, we opted for stodge. Hot stodge. It looked promising and it mostly wasn’t disappointing. The first dish was the aforementioned stuffed cabbage, gołąbki (literally ‘little pigeons’).
These are boiled leaves of cabbage, stuffed with what should be mince meat with buckwheat. Well, the Daquise version was slightly disappointing.
Smaller than its Polish equivalent, with meaty stuffing, but little buckwheat. All that drenched in pale tomato sauce with three lumps of mash and a pathetic slice of cucumber and tomato (see my dodgy mobile pic), possibly pretending to be some sort of salad or garnish. A throwback to those 1970s milk bars again. Not impressed.
The potato pancake with goulash (confusingly known as Hungarian pancake) was much better. But then again at £11 it’d better be good. First of all, the portion was quite substantial.
You get a big, thickish potato pancake folded in half, with spicy goulash used as filling. And there is a massive dollop of fresh sour cream on top. Not for the faint-hearted. But it was tasty – the pancake was nice, not too greasy, the meat was tender and spicy, the goulash sauce was a bit disappointing, but the overall impression was good.
We then looked longingly at the semi-empty fridge with some yummy-looking cakes (including a white chocolate and marzipan cake on a crunchy base), but after all the Hungarian pancakes are quite filling and a cake would be a bit of an overkill here.
So we settled for smaller and really simple sweet pancakes instead (no logic there, but hey ho!) – one with sugar and lemon, the other with cottage cheese and raisins. While there’s not much to report about the former, the latter was nice, well-done, with this kind of (non-lumpy) cottage cheese my grandma would make.
I’d like to go back and I think I will. The location and the really eclectic choice of customers make Daquise a really special place. If only they realised it’s 2009 and milk bars are not what they used to be. Oh, and the tank waitress could do with an attitude makeover.
Three stars. Out of five.
See a version of this review on Trusted Places