There are, by some counts, as many Poles in the U.K. as there are in Krakow, and yet Poland’s unique culinary culture — found in its socialist cafeteria-style bar mleczny, 24 hour vodka halls, and rustic country cottage restaurants — hasn’t found a place alongside ramen joints and tapas bars on the U.K.’s high streets. Outside of a few higher-end options in Zone 1, the majority of London’s Polish restaurants are clustered in further-flung boroughs where the World World II diaspora and more recent EU immigrants have settled. And most are modest, dedicated to serving traditional favourites to hungry ex-patriates. This list rounds up some of the best places to find this homestyle Polish cooking, featuring hearty meats, a deep love of sour ferments and vinegars, and loads of delectable hand-finished pierogi.Read More
The Best Polish Restaurants in London
Where to find hearty meats, sour ferments, delectable hand-finished pierogi, and more
1. Folk House Zakopane
Zakopane is a town in the Tatras mountains near the Slovakian border, and the wood panelling, sheepskin throws and enclosed terrace in this Turnpike Lane outpost are a charming nod to the region. The menu has some local flourish as well, there are dishes incorporating oscypek, a briney smoked sheep’s cheese, served grilled, or alongside meat. Lamb, a relative rarity, is offered as a roast leg, or, for the adventurous, knuckle. Of note is a larger pierogi variety than usual, including lesser-known but traditional favourites like nutty toasted buckwheat with soft cheese, and several sweet fruit options.
2. Autograf Restaurant
A north London mainstay found just above Green Lanes’ murderers row of outstanding Turkish restaurants, and every bit as satisfying. Autograf does serious homestyle Polish cooking. Borscht comes strained of lumpy vegetables, in “barszcz czerwony” or clear style, and shimmers with the delicate fats of its stock. The whole concept of “saving room” is rendered useless by the mains, where wonderfully limber potato and flour dumplings — a meal themselves — are a side for pickled-cucumber stuffed beef roulade, and the “plate sized pork schnitzel” does exactly that. Probably best to save the calories and close out with one of the many flavoured vodka shots on offer.
3. Pause Coffee
What looks like a generic coffee shop at the frightfully busy intersection of the A10 and Seven Sisters Road actually serves a full Polish menu from a kitchen as strong as any in the city. For an adventurous, cheap lunch it’s hard to beat buttery chicken livers fried with a sweet mix of onions and apples for less than £7. For the rest, the homemade pierogi is an obvious standout, done bite-sized with a paper thin dough and noticeably fresh fillings. There’s a good selection of pastries and doughnuts to take away too, if you’re hurrying towards the station.
4. White Goose Bistro Magda Gessler
Formerly Londek Café, the slick little place still serves solid Polish classics like bigos — a cabbage and sausage hunter’s stew — and ever-changing specials. Plus, bread baskets with smalec — lard and crispy bacon bits — are delicious alone, or to dip into soups infused with spiced sausage and vegetables. Desserts of sugared pierogi, blueberry pancakes and brick-sized slices of cake provide a sweet ending to the hearty meals. White Goose is owned by Polish celebrity, Magda Gessler, who hosts Poland’s Kuchenne Rewolucje — a version of Kitchen Nightmares. —Shekha Vyas
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5. Miod Malina Restaurant
London W3 0BU, UK
The star foods of Polish cuisine have, if anything, overachieved. Pierogi and borscht are firmly entrenched in the global food canon. The hidden gems of Polish cooking are the lesser-known soups, which often use the pleasing sourness of fermentation — with rye flour mash or sauerkraut — to balance hefty meat and starch. Miod Malina, a charming farmhouse-style cafe in North Acton, does these soups very well. Bread bowls are available, to make a full meal, and the cafe does special Polish chicken soup, or rosół, on Sundays. This traditional week-end delicacy starts with a strong, clear, beef and turkey broth in addition to the expected chicken.
6. Bar Polski
A comfortable, boozy refuge by the Holborn tube. Stick to small plates: dumplings, chopped herring and onions, salty lard on bread, and fried sausage halves will do wonders to keep you going against an extensive drinks list. Try a wide selection of Polish beers, or use the bartender like a sommelier to tour the various grain types and dry or sweet infusions on the vodka list. Lesser-known options include syrupy and aromatic fruit wines, and brandies with paint-strippingly high proofs.
7. Gryf Restaurant
As simple and unassuming as its neighbor Sowa is fancy. Gryf occupies a surprisingly sunny church basement just adjacent the Ealing broadway shopping center. Order from the counter for solid cafeteria fare like zureck, a slightly sour fermented rye soup with smokey sausages and egg, or various cutlets served with soft, savory brown cabbage cooked with pork and sauerkraut. More adventurous options like tripe goulash, and beef tongue, are sometimes available. They do a particularly strong jug of kompot — a stewed fruit drink with sugar that most resembles a sort of natural, reverse engineered kool-aid. Hours vary, best to check ahead.
8. Sowa Restaurant
There is no definitive English-language genealogy of pierogi — distinctive differences in style do exist — depending not only on the stuff inside, but the makeup of the dough, and the chef’s own preference. At Sowa, where the pierogi are made at a counter in full view of patrons — note the conspicuous bags of extra-fine Polish flour — they’re twice the size of tired supermarket varieties, and rich fillings are balanced by a substantial rope of springy dough at the hand-closed edges. It’s as good as these underrated little dumplings get. Sowa serves one of the UK’s oldest Polish communities, in Ealing, and the upholstered chairs and monogrammed windows seem suited to the central European business-type. There is a good patisserie attached, where you can find the preserve-packed doughnuts known as Pączki.
9. Mamuśka! Polish Kitchen and Bar
Formerly an Elephant and Castle institution, Mamuśka! recently moved to a brick and steel space behind Waterloo station, and now boasts room for 200. It’s not clear whether the continued casual style — orders are placed at the counter and brought out to tables — is still meant to reference a classic Polish bar mleczny, or a Nandos. The new decor and jokey menu suggest Mamuśka! has designs on the fast-casual expansion market in the future. The food remains good value, with almost no meal on the menu crossing a tenner.
10. Lowiczanka Restaurant and Cafe Maja
The Polish Social and Cultural Association building in Hammersmith has been a fixture of the London Polish diaspora since the 1970s, hosting film screenings, theatre, music, and a large Polish-language library. It also has two restaurants open to the public (a third, upstairs, is members only). Łowiczanka sports white tablecloths and folded napkins, and pricing a shade higher than further-flung options, but the quality is there. Cafe Maja, facing the street on the ground floor, is both cheap and cheerful, with limited menu of cutlets, stews, and soups (and a full range of pierogi). There are usually a crowd of children around the cake and pastry display, they have the right idea.
The blue lighting and disco ball in the back portion of this bar and music hall on Streatham’s epic high street suggest a party could break out at any moment, but good luck prying yourself from the tables. Mikrus is the landing place for the kitchen of the beloved and now-closed Bar u Matulki, and they bring an uncommon precision to classic dishes. Herring and onions are bracing in a salty-sweet brine, flash-fried potato pancakes are delightfully light, and the pork knuckle — like belly, often offered and rarely mastered — is ringed with perfect crackling floating above deep layers of buttery melted fats. The menu kindly includes Monster energy drink, if you need help shuffling your feet afterwards.