Poland is not a country that tends to ride high on the list of food destinations and it is fair to say Polish food is unlikely to feature on anyone’s list of the top cuisines of the world (other than perhaps the most ardent of Poles – I am sure it tops many a poll of Poles on that front). There is a saying that the two staples of Polish food are bread and sausage – both very fine things, but not perhaps ad infinitum.
From what I have read and seen, the central tenents of Polish cuisine are far wider. The phrase, however, that probably sums it up best is “comfort food”. Big portions of meat, potatoes, bread, cream, butter and pickled veg. Oh and cabbage, lots and lots of cabbage.
Herbs and spices such as dill, marjoram and caraway also feature heavily.
I am quite keen on this sort of food in moderation. Properly hearty, rib sticker, stuff that I imagine sets you fair for the bitter Polish winters.
This brings me to Sunflower & I.
Located in the old heart of Cardiff Bay (Mount Stuart Square), the place is a rather quirky mix of florist and cafe bar/restaurant.
It has a rather lovely exterior
and inside is well – make of it what you will!
Certainly different – I think the word for it is baroque.
To added to the baroqueness they do dinner concerts on Sundays
and I can see it as quite an interesting venue to listen to little bit of Bach, Beethoven or Debussy.
The menu has most of the expected classic Polish dishes on it,
with pierogies (stuffed dumplings/Polish take on ravioli), bigos (meat stew with saurkraut) and plaki (potato pancakes).
In addition, there are platters covering cold cuts, veggies and cheese.
I think it is rather a shame that the cheeses aren’t Polish, as I understand Poland is the sixth largest producer of cheese in the world (with there being over 600 different types of Polish cheese).
If you really want to go to town on the Polish stuff there is a feasting menu.
Loving the sound of plums baked in bacon.
Whilst the main menu covered some good rib sticker stuff, I was there for lunch on my first visit so defaulted to the light bites element of the menu
Tempting as the pierogi, bigos etc. were, I had wanted to try schmaltz (seasoned pork lard) ever since looking at the menu for this place online.
Schmaltz (here £4.90), on the face of it, probably doesn’t appeal to a lot of people. Many may think it will be nothing more than a block of lard (nothing wrong with a block of lard in my view – that view being of my stomach!!).
It was actually what I would describe as pork dripping – in effect the stuff you pour out of the bottom of the roasting pan, scraps and all. The result is lots of salty bits of caramelized pork blended with seasoned fat.
Reminded me of happy days with my grandmother, who would feed me (as a child) beef dripping on toast.
Here spread on rye and white bread it could well be the perfect beer snack, with the accompanying pickle cutting through the fatty richness of the schmaltz.
On a further visit (dinner this time), I went for the plaki (potato pancakes x3) and pork goulash (£9.00).
These were fine hearty fare for a cold and wet January evening and a perfect stomach liner to set me up for a tasting of Fonteruloli wines at the Mystere Wine Club later that evening (tis a hard life, but someone has to do it).
The gherkins and sour cream added a nice bit of acidity to counter the richness of the dish and the plakis were nicely crisp on the outside and oil free, with a soft yielding interior. The decent ghoulash could have, perhaps, done with a bit more paprika (but that is a personal taste thing). All in all a very pleasant dish.
The Poles are big beer drinkers (they rate 5th on the global per capita level of beer consumption at an average of 100.8 litres per year compared to the UK at 66.7 litres), but the drinks of choice here seemed to be cocktails (just waiting for the McDoctail to arise as everywhere seems to do them) and wine (Poles are more beer and vodka than wine or cocktail drinkers I would surmise).
Poland is not really viewed by many (any) as being wine country, although my Mother found what she thought was a half decent local wine when eating out over there.
There are actually a surprising number of wineries in Poland, but no Polish wines on the list here. This is a shame, but probably understandable (don’t think much makes it out of Poland), with the list here based on the usual suspects.
Mark ups on the wine are generally OK with the rioja (£23 on the list) retailing at £8.75 and the sauvignon blanc (£23 on the list) retailing at just under a tenner. Some of the prices do starts to look a bit leery, however, with the shiraz retailing at below £7 and on the list at £21.50.
If I am honest the wine list didn’t hold much of interest for me, so I had a beer.
The beer offering, bearing in mind the amount of beer Poles drink, seems pretty limited (although it does say ask so assume they have specials).
On my first visit I went for a Zywiec (£4.60).
From my experience the Pole’s take beer very seriously, but can’t say this was a particularly exciting beer. OK with the carb. heavy nature of Polish food and in cutting the richness of the schmaltz, but nothing to write home about.
On a second visit, a wheat beer (£4.60) was much more to my taste,
with nice citrus and tropical fruit aromas.
If drinking wine, for the lighter Polish stuff on the menu I would (if given the choice) probably pick a German riesling (which would probably work with the schmaltz too), but nothing of that ilk on the list here.
In terms of the more meaty stuff, such as my plaki with goulash, I would be tempted by a Cabernet Franc like this South African number (which I picked up from The Bottle Shop in Penarth)
or a blaüfrankisch wine (again nothing of that ilk on the list).
Of course, the Poles are mad for vodka and there are a few interesting flavoured (pine needle and oak bark included) options on this front on the drinks list.
I am not a huge cocktail drinker (and certainly not at lunch time), but it is nice to see the ones here given a Polish twist. Even I quite fancy the idea of the Mirabelle Martini.
On the non alcoholic front there are a number of hot options,
but the cold soft drink offering is a bit limited (if reasonably priced).
I rather liked Sunflower and I. The food is good hearty stuff and the interior is certainly quirky.
I am always looking for somewhere to have a bite to eat before tasting events with the Mystere Wine Club (which take place in the Bay area) and this place makes a nice change from the chain that abound in the Bay.
It may not be a new place, but it is nice when you discover an old place (you have heard good reports about) that hits the spot.
I remain of the view that it is important to continue to bang the drum for existing places as well as the shiny new ones – use them or lose them as the all to correct (in the current market) phrase goes. This place deserves to continue doing the good things it does. Give it a go if you haven’t been before and if you have go back for more is my advice.
One thing to note is they operate an over 16 only policy. Not sure of the reasons for this, but with all the trickets etc. on display maybe they are worried about breakages? If so, I have to say, with my offish clumsiness I am far more of a danger to such things than 99.99% of under 16s.
Address: 1 Mount Stuart Square Cardiff, CF10 5EE.
Tel: 029 2048 4211
Website: Click here