[This venue is now closed.]
Tatra is an undiscovered gem. The jewel in the crown of an otherwise unpromising West London street. One does not normally mention the Goldhawk Road and fine cuisine in the same breath but here it is and it’s outstanding.
Tatra is a smart restaurant that deserves to be full. It is just a few yards from the bustle of Shepherds Bush Green. It is simple and contemporary. The interior is in fact designed by one of the proprietors, Sylwia Judycka. She confesses to not being a trained restaurant designer but has done marvellous work transforming the space from iffy red and white to restful and sophisticated mushroom tones. Notice the abstract art on the brick wall? That’s another of Sylwia’s masterworks.
This is a light restaurant during the day. High ceilings still display hints of Victorian moulding. There are candles in niches which change the ambiance from daytime restful retreat to night-time buzz. This is a place that is at its liveliest in the evenings, and on Sundays when it’s full of Poles out to enjoy a good family meal with tastes of home.
The menu is an Eastern European culinary tapestry. There are dishes aplenty from Poland, but Russia and Hungary are also represented. There is even a nod to Siberia. There is comfort writ large on every page but this is classy comfort rather than nursery food.
You need know nothing of Eastern European food to find a satisfying meal here. The staff are more than happy to lead you through the dishes giving good advice about the origin and ingredients of each one. The advice of this reviewer would be to come with an appetite.
We were visiting a Polish restaurant so vodka seemed a good idea. There is an extensive vodka menu and that was no surprise but that list includes a good number of home-infused vodkas. No, the management don’t buy unmarked bottles from a bloke behind the Shepherds Bush Empire. The chef makes these himself with each one being lovingly babysat for two months till it reaches its age of maturity. We had pear vodka and it is to be recommended. It’s made with fresh fruit and captures the very essence of pear flavour. This vodka tastes more like a pear than does the real thing. It is served in a frozen thick glass to add even more Polishness to the proceedings, as if that were necessary.
While we waited for our starters to arrive we were presented with a pot of spread and bread. The aforementioned paste was made from lard. OK, I have probably just lost half my readers but I will tell those of you remaining that this is a taste from the past. Hands up who remembers bread and dripping? If you do then you will find this to be equally delicious. For those poor unfortunates who have never known that joy then I can tell you that this Polish counterpart is a light and almost creamy spread with subtle hints of onion and apple. I loved it all those years ago and I grew up to be a restaurant reviewer, so let’s not have any prejudices here.
So we ordered our starters. I knew dumplings were big in Eastern Europe. That is to say they are very popular and I assumed they would be big. My Siberian version, Pelmeni, were something of a surprise. One would expect Siberians to be tucking into football-sized creations after a day mowing the tundra but these were small and delicate like hexagonal ravioli. The filling was pork and veal, and the sauce was of garlic butter and spring onions which was plate-lickingly delicious. My guest had Russian dumplings which were of a light and flaky pastry with a flavour of braised onion and bacon. These looked very attractive and were proclaimed to be moreish.
I ordered Leczo which is a rich goulash with dumplings. These particular dumplings were different from the starters. They were not filled but were the lightest and most melting of any dinner dumpling you could imagine and a bit like a potato gnocci in texture. They were a foil for the vibrant stew of tender meat and peppers. The perfect meal for a cold British winter.
My guest ordered Golonka, pork shank with braised cabbage and potatoes. This is a striking dish of mahogany hue and fit for any hearty eater, or two modest ones. The meat had been slowly cooked and could be eased from the bone with the merest breeze from an opening restaurant door. The cabbage, although braised, was in no way slimy (a culinary term oft used to describe British cooked leafy vegetables). It had bite and was a good companion to the ample quantity of meat.
It’s difficult to focus on dessert when one has so over-indulged in previous courses but we were tempted by the knowledgeable and charming waitress into trying a slice or two of Polish Christmas cake. This was nothing like a British Christmas cake of brick-like consistency with perhaps a marzipan reindeer as garnish. This was a roll of light pastry filled with a sweet poppy-seed paste. It was delightful and was helped down by a good cup of tea. It’s not a usual menu item but well worth trying at this time of year. I would recommend the crèpe filled with raisins, almonds, rum and cream cheese for the other months.
You should visit Tatra now before it becomes famous, moves to Mayfair, triples the prices and takesbookings for weeks in advance. The husband and wife team of chef Robert Kusy and Sylwia Judycka (who seems talented at everything else) are passionate about their restaurant and it shows. It shows in the thoughtful menu. It shows in the attention to detail. It shows in their choice of staff, and above all it shows in the quality of food. They are not managers. Tatra is Robert and Sylwia’s dream. It’s their business and it is bound to do well. This is one of my top three restaurants reviewed in 2009.
Restaurant review: Tatra Restaurant
24 Goldhawk Road, Shepherds Bush, London W12 8DH,
[This venue is now closed]
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018