Polish food used to have the kind of lowly reputation shared with, well, English food. But regurgitating lame old stereotypes in London these days simply means missing out. Any cuisine has the potential to offer a revelation when made with decent ingredients, artisanal focus and a seasoning of genuine passion.
It was 2005 when Bartek Fabianski became bored with his job working punishing hours front-of-house at The Wolesley, and Poland had just entered the EU. He stumbled across a site for his deli idea while walking home up Fleet Road, and within two months the doors were open. Since then he’s graduated to operating a full kitchen and licenced premises, growth that’s run parallel with the increasing influence of the Polish immigrant community, who’ve brought a bounty of cultural richness to the capital. Suck on a morsel of that, Nigel Farage.
A large plate of fried pierogi dumplings filled with potato and cheese (£6.80) swiftly warmed us up: delicately flavoured, it was anything but heavy, despite the starchy constituents. We planted each one into a simple dollop of sour cream, which leant the dish an additional tartness.
The deli has a nicely lived-in feel; plenty of worn pine surfaces and wall-hung crates, each groaning with all manner of exotically branded pickles, preserves and condiments. We admired the fetching cutlery too, ornate heavy silver things we later discover to be Bartek’s family heirlooms.A deep bowl of Bigos, the traditional Polish huntsman’s stew (£6), came served with springy slabs of finely milled rye bread, a combo that hit the seasonal mark. A generous mound of sauerkraut, slow-cooked with bochek pork belly pieces and kielbasa sausages, it erased our remaining chills with an overriding porcini earthiness. Comfort food with surprising complexity.
Most impressive though? A classic pork schnitzel, tender and eggy, with a gentle golden crumb. It came surrounded by colourful sides, their flavours sharp, fresh and deliciously herby. A simple potato salad was elevated by the gherkin and dill nestled within, cucumber and more sauerkraut offering alternatives with bite and – naturally – some shredded beetroot, to chime with the interior colour scheme.
The lunchtime rush confirmed that many of you already know and love the quality of cooking and the cosy atmosphere at Beetroot. It’s like stepping into Bartek’s family kitchen back in Gdansk, (but after an amble on Hampstead Heath rather than along the Baltic coast) and highlights Polish food – of the quality served here at least – as another strong contender in London’s modern foodie melting pot.