Home-cooked food the Polish way leaves a lasting impression
Cracow City, Belfast
Huge portions, friendly service and all for under £30. Belfast's first Polish restaurant may not win awards but it's well worth a visit
69 Cregagh Road, Belfast
Tel: 07799 326509
What we had?
Pea soup £2.40
Traditional dumplings £3.80
Tea with lemon £1.10
Roast duck with apples £6
Side order chips £1
Red beetroot soup £1.70
Still water £0.85
Pancake with pineapple £3.70
2 x coffee £2.80
TOTAL (inc service) £25.68
Never ever underestimate your readers is an old refrain in newspaper circles. It sounds almost quaint in these days of cut-throat media empires, but it's always a lesson worth learning.
My phone was hopping the other week after this paper published a short news item on a Polish restaurant — Belfast's first. "There was no phone number given," one fumed. "It didn't give the street number, so how can we find it?" complained another. "Would you recommend it? What, you mean you haven't reviewed it yet?" yet a third caller wanted to know.
I was impressed. Not only is it reassuring to know that some people out there still read newspapers in this digital age, but heartening to hear what an active — nay, proprietorial — interest they take in what's happening in their area. Active citizenship!
So here it is, folks. I set out to locate the mystery caff and provide you with all the gen. In the event, it wasn't difficult to find. Across the road from Iceland supermarket, a nice, wee road-front cafe that's open 11am-9pm Tues-Thurs, 11am-10pm Fri-Sat and 12-9pm Sun. There's no alcohol licence, so bring your own.
Cheap — extremely cheap, in fact — and cheerful is certainly the idea. If you know Graffitti on the Ormeau Road, this hits a similar aesthetic note, albeit with proper fabric tablecloths, a gentleman gently crooning Polish love songs, and food that's not a million miles away from what our grandparents ate.
The menu's an all-day affair, embracing Polish breakfast (scrambled eggs with onion and village sausage), soups (eg cream soup with village sausage and boiled egg), main dishes (how about potato pancake with pork and onion gravy?), side orders (you could try carrot and apple salad) and desserts (pancakes feature heavily). Probably not restaurant of choice for those on Weightwatchers, but if you select carefully, you can avoid too much stodge.
I ordered pea soup, which turned out not for the faint-hearted. Reminding me of something my mother would have magicked up from old chicken bones — ie. everything but the kitchen sink thrown in — it was a robust, no-nonsense affair, crammed with diced chicken, pork and potato, and definitely made with proper meat stock.
My partner's beetroot soup was a lighter affair — really more of a consomme — leaving him plenty of room for his main of roast duck, with apple and sultanas. Which was just as well as his helping was huge (and he'd ordered chips on the side).
My main of dumplings with potato and cheese were ... well, interesting. I had no idea what to expect, but they turned out to be six ravioli-type flying saucers, each about the size of the palm of my hand, with a fine layer of cheese (something like ricotta) and presumably a little potato, although I couldn't taste much evidence, inside.
It seemed strange not to have the nude-looking dumplings smothered in a sauce, but presumably that wouldn't have been authentic.
Still, they seemed a little bland on their own — perhaps they are not meant to be eaten solo? Next time I will take advice.
Across the table, hubby was mightily enjoying the huge leg of duck, and no doubt, also, the charming attentions of our two pretty waitresses.
I've a feeling men from these parts might take to Cracow more than women — the food resembles something their mothers would have put on the table after a hard day's work.
There was no way I could face dessert, but my man battled on bravely, ordering a pancake with pineapple, cream, and ice-cream. Alas, the cream turned out to be the canned stuff, but even that didn't spoil his enjoyment.
I got the impression he was determined to like Cracow, come what may — mostly, I reckon, because the idea of a Polish restaurant in east Belfast just tickles him so much.
As someone who grew up on the Cregagh Road, I'm with him on that.
We finished off with coffees and nearly fainted when the bill came. When's the last time you ate out and still had change from £30? The food will not be winning any Egon Ronay awards — it's not that type of place. But for home-cooked comfort food, day or night, it's great value.
And despite a few fluffs (no doubt born of inexperience), the service won through by being natural and friendly. I'll definitely go back next time I'm in the area; I just might work up an appetite beforehand.