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OGNISKO, London: restaurant review and meet the chef, Jan Woroniecki

Read our review of OGNISKO at 55 Prince's Gate, Exhibition Road, the Polish restaurant in South Kensington that combines authentic cuisine and beautiful surroundings. Plus, meet the owner and executive chef of the establishment, Jan Woroniecki.

Ognisko means ‘hearth’ in Polish and its certainly a place to which people flock and gather – on our Sunday night visit the restaurant’s terrace was busy with Polish families, students from nearby Imperial College and South Ken couples.

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Welcoming staff happily made recommendations and explained unfamiliar terms such as golabki (veal and pork-stuffed cabbage leaves in a tomato sauce) and Kaska (roast buckwheat groats, with a nutty taste), the latter suggested as a lighter alternative to mash. This was on the substantial side but among the dumplings, potato pancakes and signature confit duck there are lighter choices. Hot smoked salmon with beetroot and horseradish and a pickled cabbage and apple salad (surowka) were refreshing picks. A little shot of frozen vodka worked well with apple, mint and lemon sorbet.


bullseye

It’s a beautiful space decorated in calming cream tones and the terrace faces onto a quiet communal gardens.


Ognisko at 55 Prince’s Gate, Exhibition Road

Written July 2015


meet the chef: Jan Woroniecki

We cook Polish and Eastern European food. We try to remain true to the origins of the cuisines while developing them – sometimes a tricky balancing act.

The best thing on my menu is our sauteed spiced chicken livers on a potato pancake – it’s one of those things that, while very simple, rather defies expectations.

In my fridge there’s always Krakus dill cucumbers – still the best. Ajvar paste – this is a fantastic and versatile red pepper, garlic and hot paprika relish originally from Hungary and the Balkans. It can be used as a marinade for lamb or chicken, a condiment or a dip. Fresh horseradish root – you never know when you need to perk up a Bloody Mary, some beef or a salad. Bottle of Zubrowka vodka in the deep freeze – this is the Bison grass flavoured vodka, and my favourite. Home made chicken stock – I  roast a chicken at least once a week and then make the stock.

My most-used cook book is ‘Please to the Table’ by Anya Von Bremzen, a comprehensive index of Russian cooking taking in all areas of influence from Georgia to Uzbekistan. This is great for finding inspiration and cherry picking combinations. Anya has recently written a fabulous autobiography about growing up in the Soviet union, called ‘Mastering the art of  Soviet Cooking’.

My favourite 15-minute supper is a noodle soup of some sort. Just heat up the homemade chicken stock and add whatever vegetables are sitting in the fridge: the best are cabbage, mushrooms, leeks, spinach or courgettes. Then marinade (garlic, Asian spices, herbs, chilli) and saute either chicken, beef, duck or pork . Cook some Asian noodles (my favourite are udon but you can use vermicelli or fettucine) combine with the broth and vegetables, top up with the meat and add chilli oil to taste. You must use chopsticks.

We have just gone through a rather difficult adolescence of culinary development in the UK and have now, thankfully, mostly moved on from some unfortunate gimmicks and concepts: fusion cooking, mousses, foams and froths, fine dining as an aspiration, pretension. I believe we can now look forward to greater authenticity, simplicity and honesty with a reliance on good ingredients and basic skills done well. Although we still seem to have quite a lot of water baths around, so maybe we’re not quite there yet.

I know I shouldn’t admit it but my guilty pleasure food is Smalec – pork dripping with crispy bacon pieces, set to the consistency of butter. You spread it on hot toast with a sprinkling of salt. Very moreish, although you feel your arteries hardening as you eat.

A fellow chef I admire is Fergus Henderson. Apart from loving the ethos of St Johns I think he is the most influential cook of the past 20 years. So many chefs who have worked there have gone off and spread the word – you can see his influence everywhere.

Never trust a chef who likes a pot noodle.

I love eating out at Bentleys in Swallow Street; I am a fan of eating at a bar and this is one of the best. Great oysters, very good bread, good wines and the oyster shuckers and barmen are an old fashioned entertainment in themselves.

A place I love that not many people know about is W J Miller butchers. There seems to be a small Armenian community around where I live in W8, with the beautiful little jewel of an Orthodox church in Iverna Gardens. On Stratford Road there is a very good Armenian butcher – W J Miller – that specialises in lamb that he marinates himself. It melts in your mouth.

If you gave me a tenner I‘d spend it on salt beef bagels from the Bagel Bake in Brick Lane: very healthy chunks of hot salt beef in freshly cooked bagels with a slathering of mustard – even better at 4am after a long night.

Photographs: Laurie Fletcher


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