Warsaw, 26 April 2014
This trip to Warsaw was shorter than usual, just 2 days. After my poor experience at previously-lauded Nolita, I was concerned about doing a new place. I have heard rumours about a place called Senses, which seemed rather new and still off the culinary map. But the menu looked good, and I was hoping to manage a tasting menu finally.
I had a few meetings throughout the day, mostly on the Ukraine crisis which has dominated my attention for months, so really needed to relax. Even though I was flying out early in the morning, I felt like having a full experience tonight. A curveball was thrown at me when Michelin-bearing Atelier Amaro contacted me saying they had a cancellation, but I declined. Wasn’t blown away my previous visit, and frankly wanted to see this new place.
It had been raining steadily all day in Warsaw, and it was still pissing down as I emerged from the Metro and made my way to the restaurant by foot. And after 10 minutes I realised GoogleMaps on Android has bloody failed me again, as the compass suddenly jumped 180 degrees — I was walking the WRONG WAY again. Damn! A flashback to my L2O night in Chicago…but that meal was fantastic, so…
I got to Senses and was seated upstairs…wow, no one here. Perhaps it’s new, but Warsaw seems to have a “weekday busy weekend empty” feel for top restaurants. I’ve seen this over the years here, it was always easier to get a booking on weekends… I was later told the restaurant had just opened and it was somewhat of a soft-ish opening, so it made sense. But it was a nice space, modern with history — as the old brick wall of the past juxtaposed with the sheer of the contemporary design.
From the beginning you can see from the service that these guys are serious, and are gunning for Michelin. I learned later that many had been veterans of the aforementioned 1-Michelin Atelier Amaro. As I enjoyed a martini with rhubarb chip, the nice bread selection arrived.
Aside from the interesting housemade butters I liked the apple essence offered. It was quite a treat meshed together with the butter. So far so good. Sommelier showed up and offered me a pairing. Extremely professional and knowledgeable, so I left my selection to him. And yes, thank goodness, they were more than happy to have me enjoy a tasting menu — and I opted for the biggie, the 9-course.
The amuse bouche was a nice mackerel-centric item. Nice. BTW I do apologise for the poor photo issue. My phone was losing power fast (about to be replaced) and had to conserve to be able to get through the entire tasting menu. But so far so good!
My first course soon arrived, and it was centred around foie gras. I do like the use of wood for plating, which is a trend throughout the Baltic Sea region. The foie gras was balanced, and the rhubarb was nice. The mushrooms were too demure, but a nice start. Another apology, my notes app crashed (yes, phone is being replaced soon!) and I lost the listing of wine pairings, but I do remember a nice sparkling here.
The second course brought out some flare. It came on top of a jug, which was filled with burning embers. And you can just smell the smoke on this dish…wow… If you love smoke you’ll love this dish and the presentation. The eel was very soft, almost softer than the foie gras of the previous dish. The scallops were also excellent. But the aroma was just brilliant, both from the dish and from the jug — where the embers were still smouldering. Mmm….a feast for all senses! Wait, isn’t that the name of the place, lol…
I was pretty happy I chose this place over Atelier Amaro by now. Then the third course emerged, the langostine. The picture does not do this justice, as the shellfish tasted totally awesome. The caviar was a nice touch (sorry you can’t really see that in the picture), but the sweetness of this piece was fantastic. Flown in, from what I was told… Mmm…
After a palate-cleansing sorbet that was rather good (good enough for a dessert), the next course arrived — the squab. Once again, the photo doesn’t do this dish justice. The breast was very lightly cooked, bringing out all the goodness of the small bird, while the leg had the necessary treatment to make sure the fattier parts work in complement. A nice little quail egg topped up this fantastic course.
At this point I also noticed that the sommelier had pre-decanted reds for later courses, which is much appreciated. Many sommeliers don’t bother to do this for tasting menu pairings I’ve noticed, so this was sharp. Looking at this photo again, I curse my phone, because this was a brilliant dish — this coming from someone who is usually not a gamebird fan.
We move back to the water with a local trout for the next dish. And a little more flash, this time with a jug of fragrant goodness. The celery rounds out the trout. Not bad, but perhaps a little underwhelming with the whole production. It wasn’t as stunning as the eel dish, but solid. And once again, good pairing.
As some of the hearty reds pre-decanted is served I know we’re on the meats. We now have lamb. A very juicy piece of baby lamb from France, utterly soft and tender. Maybe a bit more tender than I like, since I do like my lamb more rustic. But for 99% of lamb lovers, this is pure heaven. Sorry again for the picture, though the plate colour really doesn’t help this presentation much. But an excellent, excellent piece of lamb.
Another slight breather of palate-cleansing sorbet, needed after the strong flavours of the lamb. I am pretty happy with this dinner so far, it’s been a good tasting menu. As my readers know I am very picky about my tastings, and I have trashed many a 2-Michelin renditions as poorly executed and planned (such as the rubbish and thank-goodness dead Corton & the roller-coaster-into-trainwreck at Haerlin). So far this is on the top half of the table, maybe top fourth. Serious stuff.
Next was a fantastic dish, one of the dishes of the year. Usually I’m not a red mullet fan as I think the fish is rather tasteless, but this was an excellent dish — both in presentation and taste. I usually don’t do this but here’s another perspective.
The fish was de-scaled, and the scales prepped to make them edible, and re-applied to the fish, which was rather good. But for me the highlight of this dish was the “curry” on the side…oh my goodness this was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted in ages. I ended up drinking most of the extra they left on the side… The use of bison grass was a wonderful local touch. Mmm…they should bottle this stuff!
I am really cursing this camera now, as these photos don’t do the dishes justice. This was awesome. And the final savoury dish was the “feral hog” sourced locally…
Wow. The different parts of this beast was presented and the taste was fantastic. Not the pre-packed game stuff you get in the States, this really tasted rustic — which is what I love to eat. Again, photo does not do this dish justice. A fantastic end to the savouries!
I relaxed a bit and the sommelier suggested something different for dessert — and I totally agreed. Armagnac. Good choice. I am not really a fan of the sweet wine + sweet dessert thing, so this works. The first of 2 dessert courses arrived soon.
This was based around apple and muesli, and not a bad way to get things started. You can see the love for apples since the bread service, and this was also a nice touch. Again, sorry for bad photo — from the picture it looks almost like a fish dish!
Finally, the final and 10th course (yes, it was supposed to be 9 courses, but…) was the chocolate. This didn’t do much for me, though I like the chocolate. The gold was really, really, really not necessary. I really dislike the use of gold for food. And I was pretty full by now…
One comment I need to add here is that the timing of service has been spectacular here, especially the progression of dishes. Too many times you had crazy timing for tasting dishes even at 2-Michelin places (like the aforementioned Corton and Haerlin). Here it was perfect.
I enjoyed a calvados and really savoured reflecting on this fine tasting menu and evening as the excess of the kitchen arrived in the form of petit fours…
Too much for me! At this point Chef Andrea Camastra took me for a tour of the kitchen. He is very simpatico, and you can see his love for his work. Showed me his lab (very impressive) where he uses modern chemistry to perfect flavour (examining pH and other qualities). He eschews “molecular” per se, with the foams and unnatural preparations that has inundated the art, but chooses to use chemistry to refine and enhance taste. Maybe not my school of cooking, but it worked pretty well this evening.
We ended up chatting for over an hour as he told me more about this grand project and his vision. I can see him helming this to a Michelin once it gets moving; the front-of-house certainly is at a 2-Michelin level. He seems almost tortured by his craft. He seems to want to move chemistry in cooking back towards the fundamentals rather than the abstract, and I wish him luck.
As I headed out on a cab (it was still raining, so didn’t want to walk 20 minutes in the rain), I smiled having had an excellent tasting menu. Rarely do I feel this satisfied after a tasting, especially one that is rather unproven (restaurant was weeks old). And I was actually told I was the very first to order the 9-course full tasting.
Imagine, being the very first to taste the work of a budding star. You’ll hear about this place again, once the word gets out. Atelier Amaro has some serious competition now in Poland, a rising destination for fine dining.