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Taste of Warsaw: A foodie guide to Poland's hottest restaurant scene

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Warsaw's old town square.

Warsaw's old town square.

Der Elefant, Warsaw

Der Elefant, Warsaw

Rozana Restaurant.

Rozana Restaurant.

Royal Palace on the Water in Lazienki Park, Warsaw

Royal Palace on the Water in Lazienki Park, Warsaw

Cocktails in Warsaw.

Cocktails in Warsaw.

Bi-weekly market, BioBazar.

Bi-weekly market, BioBazar.

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Warsaw's old town square.

A foodie break in Poland? You'd better believe it. Aoife Carrigy uncovers a restaurant scene that is genuinely blooming.

I never thought I'd say these words, but the kale fermented in buttermilk tastes really good. I mean that in a lively, funky kind of way. More surprising is that my dining companions all agree with me. But then, they might. They're Polish.

I'm sitting in Warsaw's Solec 44 (solec.waw.pl), a canteen-style gastropub that marries adventures in fermentation and nose-to-tail cooking with creative cocktails like a tequila old-fashioned with bay leaf syrup and cedar bitters.

And I'm relishing my last great meal in a weekend of surprisingly great meals.

"A restaurant week? Really?" said everyone who heard of my upcoming Warsaw trip. "I hope the food has improved!" added (almost) anyone who had been there. "So do I," I thought as we landed into Warsaw Chopin Airport.

Poland's much-beleaguered capital doesn't exactly wow on arrival, as you navigate the outer-city sprawl of industrial zones and Communist-era high-rise housing.

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Cocktails in Warsaw.

Cocktails in Warsaw.

Cocktails in Warsaw.

But over the weekend, I discover an easily-traversed collection of diverse neighbourhoods, from the edgy, post-industrial district of Praga to the old town and Royal Castle rebuilt post-war from rubble, patchworked with green spaces, wide boulevards and the wild Vistula river.

And looking back from the vantage point of this last supper, I find myself totally charmed - by the characters I have met, by the city they love and by a new restaurant scene that is genuinely blooming.

In fairness, one friend and current Warsaw resident reassured me that he hasn't had a bad meal yet, adding "you can get any kind of food here."

Two gastro-bars next to my hotel confirm this appetite for diverse flavours: Beirut hummus bar (facebook.com/beiruthummusbar) sits opposite Tel Aviv (fooddesigners.pl), purveyor of vegan dishes and kosher wines.

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Pre-war, Warsaw was home to the world's second largest Jewish population after New York (everything here, from social history and demographics to cuisine, architecture and infrastructure, is deemed 'pre-' or 'post-' World War II.)

So, little surprise to find restaurants specialising in Israeli food. But the vast choice offered by the 60-plus eateries in Warsaw's Restaurant Week (restaurantweek.pl) includes Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Alsatian, Indian, Mexican, Japanese and even Australian cuisine alongside Polish, each at just €10 for a three-course festival menu.

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Der Elefant, Warsaw

Der Elefant, Warsaw

Der Elefant, Warsaw

The bi-annual festival was founded in 2014 by young restaurant-obsessives keen to foster an emerging restaurant culture that simply was not a part of reality for previous generations.

"The more I think about it, the more Warsaw today reminds me of Dublin when I lived there", says Katarzyna Banasiuk from Warsaw Tourist Office. One of the first wave of Polish migrants to land in Ireland in the early Celtic Tiger years, Kasia witnessed the birth of casual dining here while working in restaurants like Dublin's Odessa.

She's not the only local who has travelled. The city's restaurants and cafés are full of cosmopolitan influences, such as the New York-inspired Der Elefant (derelefant.pl), with its live jazz and dedicated seafood bar.

Third-generation owner of Lukullus bakery (cukiernialukullus.pl), Albert Judycki and his partner Jacek Malarski trained in Paris's Cordon Bleu and Ferrandi academies respectively. They now apply French panache to Polish favourites such as rose-water jam drozdzowka (doughnuts), with glorious results.

The Italian-French chef Andreas Camastra, whose restaurant Senses (sensesrestaurant.pl) recently snagged Warsaw's second Michelin-star, brings a global sensibility to bear on Poland's classic cuisines and generous natural larder.

Highlights of my nine-course sampling included potato-based Russian pierogi with truffled honey, shaved lard and a delicate pork consommé, and a 48 hour-cooked beef rib with a 'Polish korma' sauce of some 20-plus ingredients.

In a country reared on pork and beer, beef and wine are strong current trends. So too are food trucks, organic markets, plant-based diets, tapas-sized takes on local food and slick speak-easy cocktail bars. But there is also a growing cohort re-embracing Polish food traditions, and delivering contemporary interpretations to an increasingly food-savvy population - and at every price point too.

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Bi-weekly market, BioBazar.

Bi-weekly market, BioBazar.

Bi-weekly market, BioBazar.

Not everyone can afford the flawless veal and mushroom pierogi or jellied trotters with pickles served in the gracious rose-filled dining rooms of Rozana (restauracjarozana.com.pl). But anyone can join the queue at one of the city's classic 'milk bars'.

Established in the 1950s as state-run public canteens and now EU-subsidised, they remain a cheap-as-chips source for home-style cooking.

At Prasowy Milk Bar (prasowy.pl) near magnificent Lazienki Park, a two-course meal with homemade fruit cordial costs less than €5. The menu is full of comfort food favourites like kluski leniwe: gnocchi-style 'lazy dumplings' made from fresh cheese and potatoes and served with buttered toasted breadcrumbs and sugar. Apparently these are the perfect hangover cure, essential in a city where the party can - and often does - continue well into the next morning.

"This is a living city," one local tells me, and she's right. It may still be finding its post-war groove, but Warsaw - like its food culture - is a charmer, in a lively, funky kind of way.

Need to know

Polish zloty (zl) converts at just over 4zl to €1. Warsaw's ZTM public transport is comprehensive and punctual: even the timetables at bus stops are reliable. A 24-hour ticket (about €4) is available for use on city buses, trams and metro.

Getting there

Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) flies from Dublin to Warsaw Chopin Airport (WAW), a 20-minute bus trip to the city centre. Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies to Warsaw–Modlin Mazovia Airport (WMI), a 40-minute bus trip away (€2 online at modlinbus.pl).

See warsawtour.pl/en for more info.

Where to stay

Try the H15 Boutique Hotel (h15boutiqueapartments.com) for luxury suites with a modern aesthetic in a historic building.

For B&B, Autor Rooms (autorrooms.pl) is a listed apartment transformed into a unique showcase for Polish design; the website alone is worth a visit.

Rooms in both from around €80.

3 must-dos...

Where to drink

Hit up Piw Paw (piwpaw.pl) and nearby Kufle i Kapsle (kufleikapsle.pl) for draught beer, or Kita Koguta (kitakoguta.pl) and Weles Bar (welesbar.pl) for crafted cocktails.

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Royal Palace on the Water in Lazienki Park, Warsaw

Royal Palace on the Water in Lazienki Park, Warsaw

Royal Palace on the Water in Lazienki Park, Warsaw

In summertime, bars pop up on the right bank beaches of the Vistula or spill into the parklands around laid-back NaLato (na-lato.com).

Chopin in the Park

Łazienki Park is the green heart of a city that is one quarter public gardens and parkland. With royal monuments, orangeries, a lakeside bath house and amphitheatre, it is also home to peacocks and red squirrels — and to the Fryderyk Chopin Statue, where free weekend concerts take place May–September.

To Market

Don’t miss the deliciously ramshackle BioBazar (biobazar.org.pl), a bi-weekly market in the disused Norblin ammunition factory: sample juice from a dozen apple varieties, feast on pickled herrings, fresh oysters and smoked eel, or meet Polish cheese-makers, bakers, growers and picklers.


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