Sunday, 20 November 2011

Malina

The last time I had a Polish meal was also my first and that was an inexcusable three and a half years ago! Judging by the guesstimates of between 500,000 to a million Poles working or residing in the UK, it’s rather sad to see that Polish cooking has made little or no impact on us. Our perceptions of Polish cuisine as being stodgy and heavy have undoubtedly dented the progress of its culinary heritage in Blighty. We also presumed the Poles only ate potatoes and pork- ‘Oh how bleeding grey and boring that sounds, gissa a chicken tikka masala any day!’ And admittedly if you’re on a low-carbohydrate diet or simply conforming to whatever religious constraints, then you might find this kind of food all too challenging. But its satisfying attributes of both fuss-free flavours and hearty cooking are reasons enough for us to reappraise our thoughts and reconsider Polish cooking as a vital contribution to decent eating in Europe. Let’s face it, it’s certainly more creative and inventive than let’s say the Scandinavians and very nearly on par with ours (coz we do pies and they don’t), and looking on the bright side, that spineless FROGue dissed nowt about kuchnia Polska! There’s more to Polish foods than the dried-out kabanos bought from Lidl.

I’m no authority on the authenticity of Polish cooking but the dinner I had at Malina was extraordinarily pleasant. Malina is located somewhere between Shepherd’s Bush and Hammersmith, and that ‘somewhere’ is apparently Brook Green (never heard of it either). The restaurant is the baby of two ladies who gained enough know-how from managing London’s oldest Polish Restaurant to carve out on their own. The dining room reflected a vague input of homely Swedish influence but abruptly restricted by the use of conventional wooden chairs and the lack of pretentious white tablecloths. Pretty motifs of raspberries are strewn on the walls towards the back of the restaurant and that can only be appropriate; malina is Polish for raspberry. The restaurant was very nearly full by the time we were tucking into our mains, the service was friendly, efficient and panic-free. The aforementioned ladies were simply indefatigable.

A shot of bison grass vodka got the ball rolling.

Now take note, Malina doesn’t surprise the diners with a needless cover charge but they’re prepared to make you smile with this gratis while-you-wait.

Rye bread and smalec. The bread was superbly fresh and fragrant, it was hardly dense and certainly not acquired in taste. The lard spread, despite its questionable contribution to do with coronary issues, was outstanding. The smoky bacon, the herbs, the onion…bloody thing was crack-like! This freebie belonged to the on-cloud-nine category of comfort eating.

Barszcz z uszka- Borscht and mushroom-stuffed tortellini.

Like my chum, I’ve never appreciated the humble beetroot but this clear broth managed to address a perfect balance of acidity and umami (bacon again?). My first spoonful of the soup provoked a road to Damascus moment- ‘beetroot I shall no longer persecute you for I’m now yours…’ It was excellent, but the addition of the bland tasting tortellini was sadly perfunctory.

Pierogi- Polish dumplings. However one of my dining companions, Pete, insisted as they were too pretty and dainty to be called dumplings they should instead be ravioli, he was of course right.

Five for £5.50 or ten for £9.90 and choose from any of the following (the flexibility of being able to mix and match was thankfully encouraged)-

Mięso - pork and beef
Ruskie- cheese and potato
Kapustą z grzybami- cabbage and mushroom
Kasza z boczkiem- buckwheat and bacon
Kasza z wątroba- buckwheat and chicken liver
Szpinak z zoltem serem- spinach and cheese

The pierogi came liberally lubricated with butter (or was it bacon fat, my memory’s failing me…) and topped with chives and fried onions. Each and every one of them was cooked to perfection and tasted delectable but an additional kudos goes to the morerish buckwheat and chicken liver filling.

NB pierogi are also available as a pudding course with the appropriate ‘sweet’ fillings.

Our main courses-

George’s Zrazy- rolled rump steaks filled with onion, gherkin and more bacon, served with gravy and
kopytka (heavy-going gnocchi shaped like hooves). George totally approved of his rich dish and quite rightly licked the platter clean.

Pete’s Grilled Chicken- the fillet was marinated in lemon and thyme, and served with garlic butter, green beans and mashed potatoes. Hardly Polish or let alone Eastern European you might indicate but Pete is my most unadventurous dining companion…he’s an MTV geezer. Apart from the mean rationing of green beans he too gave the thumbs-up for his mains and licked the platter clean.

And my Golonka...


...or pork knuckle by any other name. First thing that comes to mind was how the hell does one tackle a gargantuan monster like that! Easy, a majority of us love a bit of pork so starve yourself for 48 hours and piggy heaven eagerly awaits you. The golonka was roasted in beer and served with sauerkraut, roast potatoes, mustard and chrzan (a mild tasting Polish horseradish). This was basically a DIY pulled-pork dish and quite unsettlingly never-ending. As expected the dish was substantial but wholly satisfying; the rich layer of fat was sinfully sumptuous. Golonka is a dish of champions.

When defeat is inevitable, it is wisest to yield*…I failed to lick the platter clean. This dish has to be shared methinks. With hindsight I should’ve requested a doggy bag and make an ideal lunch of pork sandwiches the day after.

The desserts were unfortunately less successful-

Pete’s Tort Czekoladowy- chocolate cake. He thought it was ok but I thought it looked and tasted like plane food.

George’s Szarlotka- homemade apple pie and vanilla ice cream. The pie was an equivalent to a Grade C in GCSE Home Economics but the ice cream was rather good.

I abstained from the puddings because I was still recovering from being pork-knuckled. But if I’d had the opportunity I would've ordered the sweet pierogi or the off-piste Makowiec without fail.

Now what better way to end the evening than with some complimentary shots of moonshine home-concocted raspberry flavoured vodka. Especially so when the other two dining companions were hopelessly averse to spirits. Thank you Malina, you made my day.

Malina is a right little gem
and it's also impossible to leave this place still feeling hungry. It impressed us all with its honest cooking, inherent warmth and decent value for money. 500 Restaurant was a strong contender for my restaurant of 2011 but I think I may now be swayed instead by Malina taking the crown. I thus urge you, please go and enjoy.

*Quintilian



166 Shepherd's Bush Road
Hammersmith
London W6 7PB


scoresonthedoors
www.malinarestaurant.com

5 comments:

Kavey said...

Hmmm, that does look very appealing... and yes that pork knuckle would have made a nice lunch, had you taken it home!!

Su-Lin said...

This place looks brilliant. It was in my to-eat list and then I forgot about it and now you've reminded me of it again. Thank you! Love the pork lard spread!

thora said...

Love it!

Raluca said...

I love Malina. They have another amazing soup I think it's called Sour rye soup.

abdul said...

These look fantastic! What an awesome idea I can’t wait to try this!