This is something of a find – a cozy little Polish restaurant on Cricklewood Lane opened a year ago by its Krakowian owners. Sandy brick walls and new pine tables, Polish cable on a screen, and tea candles twinkling on the tables. Arty young Polish types sit at a table in the corner (they look like they always sit there) with the robust-looking women slapping their men blisteringly hard on the back, caterwauls of laughter going up from all of them, and the Zywiec bottles piling up on the table. In short, the kind of Polish restaurant you’re happy to find in your neighbourhood.
But what customers will be most contented with are the prices. Starters – a range of soups, the inevitable Bortsch and Zurek (that tart rye soup with boiled eggs), and hot chicken livers – go for about £4, with a soup of the day for £2.50. There are the usual standards – Bigos, the slow-cooked Polish Hunter’s stew at £4.50, Potato pancakes (endearing bracketed in a menu-section entitled ‘World of Potato Pancakes’) starting at £6.50, hand-made Pierogi at the same price, and the usual meatier mains (ham hock with horseradish, roast pork, variously sauced chicken breasts) for about a tenner. Desserts – a range of cheese or apple filled cakes and blinys or the intriguingly entitled ‘Fried Ice Cream’ go for about £4.50. All of which means you can have a three course meal accompanied by wine or Polish beer for about £30. Who is complaining?
On my visit I decide to go for something substantial, and choose the rolled beef stuffed with pickles and bacon. The waitress has no problem with me exchanging salad for sauerkraut, and the plate arrives, satisfyingly heaped with spiced fried cabbage and dumplings spotted with parsley and looking like white mushrooms. The meat rolls are good (though could do with a second or two’s more heating), the cabbage, dotted with lumps of bacon, is excellent, and the dumplings, with their lovely gummy stickiness, have a pleasantly savoury taste to them. For dessert I go for that fried ice-cream – a globe of vanilla in a coating of cinnamony breadcrumbs, looking rather like a mini scotch egg. ‘Something different,’ the waitress says. It’s nothing to write home about, though nothing not to write home about either, and makes a change from those heavy Polish puddings. Overall, I’m a satisfied customer.
Restaurant Ginger, you feel, deserves to succeed, and is the kind of place one wishes well. It isn’t perfect – one longs for a more atmospheric lighting scheme and a rug on that hard tiled floor, but these are details. Where else can you find a Menu of the Day with Chicken Soup, Duck Breast with Cranberry sauce, and Fruit Compote all for £9.99? How many restaurants in London, I wonder, offer a 100 ml tumbler of vodka to their customers for just £4? This is a restaurant so obviously run for the happiness of its clients rather than the bank-accounts of its owners, that it should be packed. A convivial experience then, and I, for one, will be going back.
Ginger Polish Restaurant, 174 Cricklewood Lane, NW2 2DX. Tel: 020 3538 5931. http://ginger-polskarestauracja.co.uk/.
Open Monday-Thursday 10 am – 9 pm. Friday and Saturday 10 am-10 pm. Sunday 11 am-10 pm.