Autograf was the first of the crop of Polish restaurants to open in North London, and is a cosy enough little place. With its timbering, open brick and colour palette of orange and chocolate brown (even the radiators are painted in this colour) it is uncompromisingly unfashionable, and probably the better for it. There is block pine seating for just 25 or so people, ink drawings of Polish cities stare down at you, and a Polish TV on widescreens at either end of the long room, so that wherever you’re sitting you can legitimately ignore your companion. You couldn’t quite call it a restaurant, more a bar café. Service is slowish but friendly, with none of the grimace or briskness you get in one or two other Polish places. Its owner Tomasz, a former builder , is a realist: ‘If you give people lots to eat for less price and the standard is good – it’s a success,’ he is quoted as saying to a local newspaper.
And the portions are big – plates come crowded and piled high with fried chicken, pork fillet, goulash. All the standard main courses are here, ranging from £5.40-£7.20: Pierogi, potato-pancakes and bigos (Polish Hunter’s Stew), with one or two newcomers (I hadn’t come across chicken pierogi before, and online reviewers say they are the restaurant’s best). Desserts come in at about £2-£4.20, and don’t hold many surprises: apple pie with ice cream and without, the usual cheesecakes, but also pierogi filled with strawberries (another first). There’s the standard range of flavoured vodkas, at cheap prices (£2 a shot) though with interesting additions: I hadn’t seen hazelnut or grapefruit vodka before, though perhaps to the connoisseur they are vanilla. It was a cold day and Turnpike Lane is grim at the best of times, so I ordered a robust lunch: potato pancakes with sour cream (£4.50) and gołąbki, the cabbage rolls (£5.50) filled with meat and served with a mushroom sauce. The potato-pancakes were a little over-browned and the mushroom sauce rather reminiscent of tinned mushroom soup, but at the prices I couldn’t really complain, and the cabbage rolls themselves were better – fuller and juicier – than I’ve had at Polish restaurants twice the price.
There are rave reviews of Autograf, which has won awards, on the internet, and to judge by the amount of Polish customers the place has, it’s catering to a loyal clientele. Perhaps its secret is its weekly menu, where customers can pay just £30, and eat two courses every day from Monday to Friday: a lovely idea to make diners feel at home and build up a neighbourhood clientele which should be put into practice by more restaurants. Places are judged by their ambitions: there’s lots to eat and the prices are less, as Tomasz says. It feels like his heart is in the right place, and if the more exciting innovations are happening elsewhere, one suspects he is unbothered. Sturdy and reliable, it looks as though this builder’s latest structure is made to last.
Autograf Polish Restaurant, 488 West Green Road, London N153DA. Tel: 020 8889 2999. http://www.autograf.biz/eng.html.
Opening hours: Monday-Saturday, 12.30 pm – 11 pm. Sunday, 12.30 pm-10 pm.