Ask me to think of Smolna and I think of that hammerhead building at the end of the street: you know, that miserable 70s throwback that hangs over PKP Powiśle like a corpse on a gallows. Yet beyond the commie concrete lies a pathway that zig zags down the hill and opens onto a thin strip of parkland that many overlook. Here, amid the unexpected greenery, is the seat of Kafe Zielony Niedźwiedź.
The name itself is a misnomer for this isn’t a cafe at all, rather a restaurant planted on the ground floor of a modern structure of brick and glass. A refuge of swish fancy, it’s a place of long, dark shadows and discreet decorative touches: it’s a place of sanctuary and seclusion and of chic, high living. From the outset, you’re made to feel that good things will happen, and this they do – or, in our case, goose things happen.
Coinciding with November’s ‘feast of St. Martin’, the Insider’s visit sees the daily-tinkered menu dominated by this bird. There is a terrine of foie gras and goose leg, full-flavored and rousing yet delicate and light.
Next, a goose broth that’s a rich copper color: it’s focal piece, a goose dumpling, is pert and perfect, yet what makes this dish dance are the little additions that add pleasing pops of pleasure – smoked plums and cherry tomatoes marinated in vinegar with Hungarian paprika. End the world now, for it can’t get any better.
But it does. Briefly deviating from our goose-centric journey, we opt for a final starter of veal sweetbreads with wild mushrooms and tartar sauce. Nuanced and finely balanced, it deserves to be entered in its own hall of fame.
Mains see us resume our relationship with the goose. This time round, it’s the turn of the breast, and this arrives artfully set on a swirl of beetroot puree; a baked apple sits on the periphery alongside a scattering of rowan berries and fried kale. When skies are cold and granite, it’s food like this that helps you carry on.
Not that it’s all good news. Over previous visits to The Green Bear dessert has always been a highlight, so I despair when I learn that the previous pastry chef has left. Well, good riddance, as it turns out, for the new chap is even better. To finish comes a chocolate cranberry mousse that explodes in a riot of richness. It’s a grand, majestic finale befitting of the meal.
As a long-serving veteran of Warsaw life, my default reaction is to always compare and contrast the then with the now. Doing so, I’m moved to remember the times when Polish restaurants served grim, grey ooze glooped to a plate. When Zielony Niedźwieź opened it was as one of the pioneers of change; four years on, it feels every bit as relevant as when it first launched.
Certified by Poland’s nascent Slow Food movement, the menu gives big billing to the suppliers that keep the pantry stocked. But the truth is, these aren’t the only stars of the show. There’s the service – charming and disarming – and of course the chef. There since the Bear’s inception, Wojciech Deres has moved with surprising ease from the role of sous chef to head chef, all the while growing in stature and skill. And then, of course, there’s the young lad out back that’s gunning the desserts. Not a bad combo, don’t you think?
Kafe Zielony Niedźwiedź
ul. Smolna 4, kafezn.pl
(Words: Alex Webber / Photos: Kevin Demaria)