Poland

Tastes of the Seaside

Weeks and months have passed like days and I have no better explanation for not topping up A Black Spot with new reviews other than the hectic lifestyle I’ve developed this recent wee while. To make it even worse, I have been consciously opting for mochas in all the new places, and systematically taking photos of those – but never got round to writing my thoughts up.

Old Town of Gdansk

Old Town of Gdansk

I feel it was important for me to say this, to maintain the objectivity of my judgement, especially in the circumstances that I’m about to describe. So, yes – I have not given up on caffeine and can still tell (this part is certainly less objective) a good cuppa from a bad one.

And yet, rating of venues is always difficult when I venture abroad, but that’s exactly what happened that pushed me to writing this piece – a trip to my childhood holiday destination: Gdansk.

It’s been more than a decade since I visited the biggest of the Polish Tricity – a metropolis of three cities over the Balric Sea; in fact, I never stayed there more than a day, always camping with the folks at nearby Sopot. Back then, I would have not had coffee either, so it’s fair to say that this return to the homeland was, in fact, a completely new experience.

I made the most of the good currency exchange (the reason for all these groom parties deciding on a stag do in Poland) and opted for an apartment in the very heart of the Old Town – right in the historic centre, surrounded by atmospheric eateries and coffee shops. Just to make my planned indulgence in this gourmet spenders’ heaven even sweeter, I was joined by one of my closest friends for the duration of my stay, and a second one for one of the nights. All of us coffee lovers – I was in for a treat.

But, alas, one can only cram in this much in a four-day stay, so out of a list of recommended cafes I only managed to visit three, plus a random fourth visit to an unassuming venue. All of these were peculiar and so much different to what I’m used to back in the UK. And here’s why…

Retro Cafe – kawiarnia z duszą (cafe with soul)

Bohema at Retro Cafe

Bohema at Retro Cafe

As my friend and I quickly unpacked and hit the streets for something to eat (and a long overdue catchup) we had plenty of places to choose from right on our doorstep, but Retro immediately caught our eyes as the place to go to – a few empty seats (but not too many, which could be a bad sign in this area busy with tourists), nice outdoor decor and a refreshing looking menu. Ewa, my friend, went straight for a smoothie, while I decided to kick start my holiday with Bohema – a mocha, reinforced with Kahlua and Baileys; we topped this off with a cake each. Although it looked the part, the drink was more than I bargained for – if the sweetness of the chocolate with whipped cream wasn’t enough, the double kick from the liqueurs almost knocked me to the ground. I drank as much as I could, but combined with the oaty, gluten free apple pie, the experience was way too sweet, even for my tastebuds.

Flat White at Retro Cafe

Flat White at Retro Cafe

But this did not put me off coming back another morning, for our sourdough bread with salmon for breakfast – and a flat white this time. This looked much more promising, starting from the latte art, moving onto the silky texture of the brew presenting itself a good balance between the punchiness of the coffee and the sweetness of milk.

Since there were three of us that morning, there were also more coffees to judge the place on, although I left the tasting to their owners. Ewa went for Bohema’s sister, Awangarda (the liqueur here was Advocaat), and openly regretted her choice, summarising it as “I don’t think this combination works”. Our other friend had requested an americano with milk, but received a black coffee; she bravely attempted drinking it as such, but had to renew her request for the white stuff – a testament to what we had all agreed on previously: that a black coffee can be drunk and enjoyed, if it’s a good coffee to start with.

Verdict? A nice place with a “coffee garden” at the front to catch some fresh air and gossip – but you have to know what to order to avoid disappointment…

Pros: nice atmosphere; extensive menu

Cons: some drink combinations simply don’t work; hit-and-miss service (at least outside – they were hardly ever there!)

https://www.facebook.com/RetroGdansk

Aljavi

Mocha at Aljavi

Mocha and cheesecake at Aljavi

When we spotted this place on the corner, seemingly full of flowers inside and out, but bearing signage advertising coffees and sandwiches, to say we were baffled is an understatement. The potted plants and garden accessories guarding the entrance were very effective at hiding it, and we almost thought the place was shut – but a look through leaf-covered window revealed it was indeed open, and even had visitors. Luck had it that I had arrived to Gdansk with a cold, and at that time we were wandering about Wreszcz, the new city centre, and I had no medicine on me to help with a sudden fit of cough that hit as we crossed the cafe’s door. In retrospect, I figure it must have been something in the air – pick and choose whether to blame the pollen or the fragrance as the place turned out to be a cake/salad/sandwich shop and a florist in one. One half of the venue – the one not occupied by plants of all shapes and sizes – had a few tables crammed together, fighting for floor space with decorative furniture and household accessories.

The witty shopkeeper aided my coughing with a sweetie and was not fazed by my request for a mocha, which did not appear on her menu (as far as I’m aware, there was no menu at all which gives you an idea of how easy going the place was). The cake selection was there but declining fast as I snatched the last piece of cheesecake, while Ewa opted for a safe cappucino and french plum pastry combo.

The portions – both of cakes and coffees – were massive, and I – me, a cheesecake lover! – had to concede defeat from the last few bites. As for the coffee, although the shopkeeper’s first attempt (as I gather), was quite nice, although just a little bit bitter on the chocolate side. No problems reported by Ewa as she cleaned her plate and cup while arranging our afternoon plans. And once we were ready to leave, I was pointed in the direction of a friendly pharmacist who would know how to sort out my throat.

All in all, a somewhat bizarre experience – but aren’t those just the most memorable ones?

Pros: freshly made lunches, good coffee; friendly atmosphere, a quiet place in the New Town – and certainly a haven in the concrete jungle…!

Cons: not good for hay fever sufferers; plus, catch those cakes before they disappear!

https://www.facebook.com/galeriaaljavi

Pikawa

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This cleverly-named place (which stands for ticker – or, in other words, heart) was recommended by whoever of my friends I asked about Gdansk – and no wonder, as the whole cafe was pumping with life even after 8pm which is when we arrived for a hot drink to warm us up in the chill of the evening. Indeed, everything felt warm in the venue: the lighting, the crowds, mulled wine and tray bakes. Although I expected a venue open that late to serve some savoury foods too, the menu was limited to brews, alcohol and cakes – a truly “hipster” experience as one of the recommending friends would say.

Coconut Mocha and warm apple pie at Pikawa

Coconut Mocha and warm apple pie at Pikawa

We sat in a pair of comfy armchairs and unwound after a long day in town, enjoying the atmosphere, which felt something like a cottage with fireplace lighting… and buzzing with people. Firstly my coconut mocha and apple pie arrived, followed by Ewa’s mulled wine. It all felt so right in the circumstances – but was, yet again, spoilt by the sweetness of my coffee.

If there was one lesson I was going to take out of this visit to Poland it would be to think twice about my drink-food combinations: don’t double up on the sugar! In this case, the warm apple pie actually acted as a (weak) counter-balance to the mocha, in which I tasted very little of the actual coffee, under the layer of whipped cream and desiccated coconut, milk foam, chocolate and coconut syrup – all in conjunction incredibly sweet.

This is a difficult one to summarise. The apple pie was divine, the place all in all great… I just wish my coffee had more coffee in it!

Pros: friendly, warm atmosphere, with an extensive hot, cold and fortified drinks’ list

Cons: again, be careful what you go for unless you’re prepared for a sugar coma!

http://www.pikawa.pl/

Cafe Kamienica

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The name stands for the most common thing in the Old Town’s landscape – not the amber, although you can find it aplenty on this street, but a traditional tenement. Lines upon lines of these colourful buildings add to the character of Gdansk, and many other historic cities in Poland. Cafe Kamienica, as the name suggests, is one of those, but there’s no mistaking of its purpose: the tables are flooding out its door on the raised terrace and beneath, inviting the passersby, tired of choosing their amber jewellery.

For an ideal compromise on our last day in Gdansk we decided to sit on the terrace, with our suitcases out of the way of the many visitors that came in and out for their Sunday treat. Having learnt from the previous experiences, I decided to just go for a mocha, even though the cake menu looked painfully appealing. Ewa was not so restrained and went for a chocolate and raspberry cake to accompany her black coffee.

Mocha at Cafe Kamienica

Mocha at Cafe Kamienica

Alas, how shocked was I to discover that my mocha was not that sweet at all! Apart from the whipped cream (which, like in all other places in Gdansk, came from an aerosol and was therefore fairly light and fluffy), the brew was well balanced with what tasted like dark chocolate mixed with coffee. I started thinking again about that orange cheesecake that I was salivating to on the menu, before I saw it delivered to the guy next door – the portion was huge, and I decided I better leave room for those pierogi (dumplings) that I had planned for my last meal.

Before we departed, I nipped inside under the excuse of needing the ladies, but in fact wanting to take a look at the decor, which I had read about in reviews. What I had read turned out to be true: the cosy two-floor interior looked like a haven on a cold, winter afternoon and certainly a place where disappearing for a couple of hours would be an easy feat.

Out of all four cafes, this is certainly the one I would return to – not to give it another chance, but to make my next stay in Gdansk that much better.

Pros: lovely atmosphere in and out; attentive staff; good portions, tasty coffee and great prices for the heart of the Old Town

Cons: you need to travel to Gdansk to enjoy it!

http://www.cafekamienica.com/

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Categories: Cafes, Gdansk, Hidden, Local, Poland | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A taste of Nostalgia

My trip to Poland did not only involve freezing temperatures and coffee in the mountainous scenery; after visiting Zakopane I returned to my home-town, Radom. You might remember the reviews of cafes I had posted back in April; and although there weren’t many new places that I spotted during my short, three-day stay, there were some that I really wanted to visit.

In the final years of my residency in Poland, my mum set up a pastry shop – two, to be precise, as the location of the first one proved not highly profitable. However, the second spot was perfect, and booming with people on a Sunday afternoon. We didn’t make coffee, mind; seven – eight years ago there wasn’t yet a market for a fancy latte. Instead, we sold bread, ice-cream, and cakes of course, but didn’t make them, apart from the occasional magnificent home-bake of my mum’s. Our suppliers – and people who contributed otherwise – were three growing names in the confectioners-land in the city – by now, they established themselves strongly as the best people to get your sweet indulgence from… and they decided to take one step further and to open their own cafes.

During that last visit to Radom I decided to check, whether their coffee service is as good as their baking.

Kawiarnia Cukiernia Ewelina M

We used to refer to the guy as ‘Masiarz’, that was his last name and that’s what he was known by in the family – because he was a friend of my uncle’s. He was one of the major bakers in town; he did have some cakes and pastries on offer, but for me, his strength always lay in the most crusty, fresh smelling bread. It was a surprise for me to find out, therefore, that he decided to open a coffee shop – I had to check it out.

Unfortunately, I was greeted by a note on the coffee machine saying ‘Out of order’, and there my visit ended. OK, I did get a flan-filled pie to take away with me, one that we used to sell – and it was as good as ever. A shame really that I couldn’t sit in, because the decor was modern and inviting. And it was so pleasantly warm!

Kawiarnia Cukiernia Kilian

A  small part of the pastry display at Kilian's

A small part of the pastry display at Kilian’s

The confectioner’s Kilian familiy had been on my mum’s eye prior to setting up her coffee shop; the wife of the business owner used to be her school friend, and they were hoping to be working together when the Kilians were planning to expand their Poznań business to eastern parts of the country. In the end, it didn’t work out, but the then competition decided to proceed with their business plan and opened their own branded store in Radom. Currently they own four in the city, if I’m not mistaken.

Having left Ewelina M unsatisfied in my need for coffee, walking down the same street I stumbled upon one of Kilian shops unexpectedly – and decidedly made my way in.

Latte at Kilian's

Latte at Kilian’s

Straight away I was mesmerised by the beautiful, ample display of cakes, of different shapes, colours and sizes, but all of equally strong appeal. The coffee machine was working – unfortunately, they didn’t serve mochas, so I had to settle for a latte. Interestingly enough, one served in a glass was 2zł (aprox. 40p) more expensive than one in a cup, but I opted for that one anyway, hoping to be impressed by the skill of the barista, keeping in mind the pleasant experience I had of the Yellow Bench‘s latte. I wasn’t mistaken: the coffee looked good, and tasted good as well. I only made the mistake of choosing a small, hard, hazelnut-flavoured biscuit over something more, well, appropriate out of the stunning array of sweet sinfulness. Assuming that their recipes haven’t changed, I’m sure they’re even better than they look, though. Yes, I used to buy from the competition.

http://www.ciasto.pl/

Cukiernia Wasilewski

Now this man is big. And I mean it. In the end, he was the one who bought over our place when my mum decided to move abroad, and prior to that, he was the main supplier of our cakes. I’m sure there’s hardly anyone in Radom who hasn’t heard the name Wasilewski, and a huge portion of those have driven past or visited this impressive cafe. A whole building to itself with additional seating on the first floor, the establishment speaks grandeur and splendour – at least as far as a coffee shop in Radom goes.

Vienna Coffee at Wasilewski

Vienna Coffee at Wasilewski

The previous time I visited I hadn’t been a coffee drinker at all and struggled with my cinnamon and whipped cream – topped coffee whilst catching up with my girlfriends. I trusted this time it would be different, so – since I couldn’t convince the barista to attempt a mocha (it was a blow to my idealistic perception of the place to learn they also serve it), I opted for the same cinnamon brew, the Vienna Coffee. I accompanied it by two tiny eclairs – and it seemed my afternoon was sorted.

And yet, the coffee was a major disappointment: it was very sour, and the cinnamon didn’t help one bit. Even the scrumptious eclairs couldn’t make it any better. I was a bit annoyed with myself, for not choosing an Affogato, which was made with espresso, not ‘black coffee’ as the menu referred to the Viennese – at least that would give me a better idea of what the rest of their drinks might be like. I didn’t risk it again, though, during my stay – Wasilewski certainly isn’t the cheapest coffee shop out there – and I fear that with this one I’ll just stick to the cakes, thank you.

http://www.cukierniawasilewski.pl/o-cukierni

Categories: Cafes, Poland, Radom | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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