I have to confess that while the sight of food (any food, generally!) makes me happy, it has been a while since I have been really, truly excited to pay a particular restaurant a visit.
I'm not sure if it's because of the bewildering array of restaurant openings that constantly pop up on the Dubai dining scene that leave one a bit baffled as to which dinner table to grace next, or the fact that I am a bit of a sucker for novelty.
I enjoy fine dining as much as the next person, but food I've never tried before always gains the edge in my dining escapades.
So it was very exciting to find them both at one Polish restaurant that caught my fancy when doing my pre-trip research before a recent visit to Krakow.
(On a side note, the dining scene in Krakow in general got me really hungry - so many quirky places to visit, so little time to cram as many meals as I could into a three-day trip to the city. Yes, I know most European capitals - or for that matter, Dubai - have a more varied and vast dining offering but Krakow had the thrill of the unknown and the unfamiliar, and for that reason, the more exciting.)
Anyway, back to the restaurant that had got me salivating even before I boarded the plane...
Anyone keen on the grand facade and grander interior may be a bit skeptical about my choice - the entrance to Ancora, tucked down a narrow cobble-stoned street in Krakow's Old Town, is unassuming at best. The interiors may have incited euphemistic descriptions of "smart-looking" and "clean decor" but would in all honesty be best described as bare. White walls with brick trimming and very spare tableware - if the restaurant's patron, Polish Chef Adam Chrząstowski, wanted to put the focus on nothing but his food, he has definitely succeeded.
But then again, when the food is this good it can confidently stand up to the scrutiny. Forget pierogi and golabki, this is Modern Polish (affectionately known as MoPo) at its best!
Chef Adam is considered by many to be at the head of the MoPo pack. His time spent in the kitchens of Switzerland, Poland and China have given his food the layered appeal of Swiss finesse, Polish appreciation for local produce and tradition, as well as the Eastern spice of experimentation.
Our meal was equal parts foreign and familiar in terms of flavours, textures and presentation which made for an excellent meal indeed.
Despite a rather interesting seasonal menu, we decided to opt for the a la carte offering as there were too many things on it that I wanted to stick my fork into. So the picks for the evening involved a mix of a few dishes that caught my eye and some of Chef Adam's graciously-guided favourites.
But enough chatter, it's time to let the food do the talking! Here are a few of my personal highlights from the night:
First Course - Crayfish soup with herb kulebiak
My dinner definitely hit a high note right at the very start. Ancora's crayfish soup - a smooth-as-silk creamy bisque - was the culinary highlight of my trip to Krakow. I'm not quite sure how Chef Adam managed to pull so much flavour out of those little crustaceans but it was so good my dinner companion claimed he would happily bathe in it! I definitely could have put away a great, big basin of the stuff myself :) The soup was served with a slice of kulebiak - a pastry pie traditionally stuffed with fish and the dish as a whole was the cause of much plate envy during the first course, despite the fact that the other appetizer - a fresh trout sausage served with crisp green apple - would have beaten most seafood starters in the flavour stakes.
Intermezzo - Cucumber sorbet with bison grass vodka
Forget the lemon sorbet, there are few flavours cleaner than cucumber and this intermezzo was both punchy with the vodka and quenching. Not to mention served in a very generous size that would put most miserly intermezzo shot glass- servings to shame. Krakow restaurants in general offer excellent value, especially at the higher end - which makes eating out all the more fun.
Main Course - Quail stuffed with apricots and rose petals
This wasn't the main I picked although it was the first dish that grabbed my attention, so the main course was my turn to suffer from some serious plate envy! I'm generally a fan of sweet and savoury combos and the addition of flowers to the usual fruity selection of flavours was a nice touch and an example of experimentation gone right. My only regret is that I didn't get the chance to steal more off the other plate!
Dessert: Chocolate and blue cheese souffle with grape chutney
A bit of a controversial choice - my dinner companion described it as "weird", I was more favourably inclined and thought the notes of bitter chocolate worked well with the saltiness of the blue cheese. But then I like salty chocolate... anyway, the souffle was not as fluffy as I generally like it but was an interesting choice and I didn't regret picking it overall.
The other dessert was a more crowd-pleasing platter with three out of the four mini bites - a burnt butter ice cream, a white chocolate and ginger bar and a coconut concoction - leaving us hankering for more.
The restaurant prides itself on its extensive wine list which features more than 400 wines, although regrettably a Hungarian red was the closest one you could find from the region. Most of the rest of the wine selection was French, Italian and New World wines. Saying that, the Chianti we did pick didn't really disappoint :)
Considering how keen I was to visit Ancora after everything I'd read and heard about it before even stepping foot in the restaurant, it sure had to deliver on some lofty expectations.
So, did it do the job?
Let's just say I'd happily bathe my taste buds in that delicious crayfish bisque any day!
Named Best Blog for Food & Travel
Top 10 UAE Food Blogs in UAE