For any foodie, going to a new place always involves scoping out the restaurants and looking for a little gem. So when mum and I booked this year’s annual weekend adventure, this time to Kraków in Poland, it was no different. A bit of digging and I realised Kraków has actually got LOADS of eateries, covering cuisine from across the world, different price ranges, different parts of the city, and basically, far too much to choose from. But one place sort of popped out at me, and I decided it could be rather good.
Cyrano de Bergerac is a French restaurant tucked in a cellar underneath one of the streets that runs off the main square in Krakow. Food plays a central role in its 500-year history, as it was used as a place to store mead in the 19th century. The pictures of this impressive underground hidey hole piqued my curiosity with the romantic, intimate vibe created by the underground, brick-walled venue, divided into cosy little spaces for diners. Obviously, it helped that Trip Advisor reviewers’ comments have put it at number 4 of 897 restaurants in Kraków, plus the fact it was included in the Michelin Guide Main Cities of Europe 2014.
So, table booked for a Sunday night (it’s always a good sign when they come back and say they can’t accommodate you on a Saturday because they’re full), we set off for what we hoped would be as good as we imagined. The entrance itself is sort of mysterious, with signs directing diners down a passage, around a corner, then through a big wooden door into a cavernous room below. By the time we’d reached the bottom of the stone steps down into this room, we were greeted by polite, friendly staff, who took our coats and escorted us through the labyrinth like restaurant, up some more steps and to a mezzanine divided into sections for tables of twos and fours. The ambience was slightly formal, yet still relaxed, with soft music, the gentle tinkle of cutlery on plates and quiet conversation.
The menu at Cyrano de Bergerac is simple, but impressive. From foie gras and oysters to beef tartare and pork cheeks to start, and French classics like Chateaubriand and veal, plus several appealing fish options, including a whole lobster. The wine list is pretty comprehensive too, with a decent few sold by the glass.
After our choices, we settled down with a nice glass of red and some fresh sliced bread served with beautiful garlic and herb butter to await our treats. I had been unable to resist the beef tartare, one of my favourites, especially when done well. It came served on a rectangular slate with a whole egg yolk delicately laid at one end and some tasty dressing at the other. The redness of finely-chopped steak and pieces of red onion stood out against the black slate, making for an eye-catching dish. And the taste – well! The combination of the fresh beef with the rich egg yolk and the tartness of the dressing, as well as the inclusion of capers and an anchovy, made for a brilliantly-balanced dish.
Mother opted for pork cheeks to start, served with a rosti and a purée of what, we’re not quite sure, but it was rather nice. Throughout this meal, we noticed a slight difference between the menu here and what seems to have become a fashion in some establishments of including virtually every single ingredient in the menu description. Yeah, so it’s great to know exactly what you’re going to get, but there’s something quite nice about knowing what the main ingredients are then just putting your trust in the chef to supplement it with flavours they know will be good. The cheek was tender, melt-in-the-mouth no less, perched atop the unobtrusive rosti. The purée was delicate and creamy, softening the richness of the pigs cheek and its sauce.
Confident in the quality of our meal, and our wine choice of Italian Primitivo flowing well, we moved on to the main course. For me, veal cordon bleu with chanterelle mushrooms, according to the description. Obviously, bearing in mind what I’ve said above, there was far more to it than that. The veal was pink, tender, and delicate in flavour. It had been cooked sous vide, which explains how they managed to get an egg yolk inside the fillet. So as you cut into your veal, out spills the bright yellow lava flow of yolk. Not just a pleasing-to-the-eye colour combination, but an additional taste to the already rather decadently-rich flavour. All this with a creamy sauce scattered with pretty chanterelles and served alongside broccoli, another vegetable that I couldn’t quite identify, possibly a very pale, almost yellow carrot, and purple potato. A rainbow on a plate, no less.
Mum had opted for deer medallions with chestnuts and apricots. Again, this is only part of the story. Her vivid red dish, whose fruity red wine sauce was dotted with blackcurrants, looked resplendent on the white plate. The venison was less medallions, more haunch, with two huge lumps of well cooked meat as the centrepiece. The chestnuts and apricots added extra texture, the former with a slight crunch and the latter a sweet fruitiness that was well contrasted by the sharp blackcurrants. Another triumph.
For dessert we were intrigued by some of the unusual combinations – namely a fig tart served with liquorice ice cream, but alas, they had run out. Swerving away from a chocolate soufflé, or the rather tempting (and rather nice-looking) creme brûlée, we opted to share a board of French cheeses. Even sharing is done well here, we learned, as we were presented with our own individual boards with half the cheese on each. Scattered with flaked almonds and hazelnuts and served with a miniature jug of honey, the cheese came alongside small triangles of lightly toasted bread. I’ve waxed lyrical about cheese on the blog before (here), so I won’t go overboard, but come on, who doesn’t love a nice French blue, a bit of Brie, and various other cheesy treats?
As we came to the end of our meal, the restaurant had filled up with a healthy mixture of guests including four friends in one corner, a couple on an obviously-romantic occasion in another, and a huge party of 20-something people in the cavernous main room. This in itself is testament to the dining experience here. Good food and good service suits everyone, for every occasion, after all. I was even more impressed to learn from our ever-helpful waiter that there is no ‘front of house manager’ at Cyrano, just the five waiters who run things between them, answering emails, taking bookings, and serving customers. How they’re managing it while also providing such good service every evening, who knows, but hats off to them. The atmosphere is perfect, the prices reasonable (our whole meal came to the equivalent of about £75), and the food and service of excellent quality. I have to give myself a pat on the back for another great restaurant choice, but the real pat on the back is for this stand-out restaurant serving great French food in the heart of Poland.
I treated Mum to dinner at Cyrano de Bergerac. Obviously it was a lot cheaper than it would have been in England.