Thursday 16 February 2012

Eastern European Experience on a Lover's Night - Baltic Restaurant, London SE1

Left : Martinez - Martini rosso stirred with Bols genever, Luxardo
maraschino liqueur & whisky barrel bitters
Right : Roza Goska - Potocki Vodka, fresh squeezed Lime, St. Germain
Liqueur, Organice Pink Grapefruit and bitters
Salad of Char-grilled Artichokes, Figs, Pine Nuts and Rocket
Roast Goose Leg with Apple & Prune compote and Red Cabbage
New Potatoes, Green Beans and Broad Beans with Dill and Sour Cream
Dark Chocolate Mousse with Cream and Strawberries
Barn-like dining area in Baltic
Decorative fossil chandelier 
Art decor pieces

'Thank you for calling back, I look forward to seeing you later', the man replied with a brisk, husky and monotonous voice over the phone. That was my valentine's dinner confirmation for the reservation at the Baltic done, after an email and a voice mail later. And now I am seriously looking forward to it. I have been to the restaurant a few times; the last was for a good friend's birthday but that was at least a year ago. I had fond memories of the food here and hence this seems to be a perfect place to spent my valentine's evening.

The restaurant is a stone throw away from Southwark station on the Jubilee line. I arrived 6.29pm, exactly one minute before my reservation. The restaurant looks deceptively small from the outside. There is a small courtyard with two tables and on one of them sat a lady smoking a cigarette while texting on her iPhone, brilliantly multi-tasking both jobs with utter perfection. I had a peek through the door to check if my partner has arrive, not seeing any familiar silhouette through the dimly lit bar, I make a quick check over my shoulder. No luck so I decided to go in as I did not want to be late for the reservation. 

Once through the dimly lit bar situated at the front, I was  amazed by the sheer size of the dining area, like peeping into Mary Poppin's bottomless carpet bag, it not what you expect from the outside. The light and airy barn-like interior, together with wooden beams, provide a great contrast to the modern interior. Art decors like the glass chandelier and the dried rose art pieces juxtaposition itself into the sleek, eclectic ambience.

I was greeted by both the waiter and the Maître d'. After confirming my name,They immediately offered to take my coat and bag off me. When I initially refused, I was met with a bewildered and blank stare from the pair, sensing this, I changed my mind and handed over my belonging like a schoolboy whose just been told off by the head mistress for bringing a prohibited possession. I kept the coat, however, as I had my camera in the coat's pocket. 

I was then shown to my table and was almost immediately offered a bread selection basket, talk about efficiency and that's when my partner arrived. I waved and then promptly sat myself comfortably down. The menu were laid on the table, and as it was valentine's day, a special menu had been created for this occasion. A glass of cocktail, starter, main and pudding for £38 per head, which is not bad, considering that this is normally quite a pricey restaurant. And they do offer quite a good selection for a set menu.

There were 7 options for starter on offer, such as grilled black sausage (Kaszanka) with potato pancake, clear beetroot soup and griddled foie gras with mushroom pancake etc. And for the mains, there were another 7 options, including roast hake with butter beans and clams, whole bake sea bass with tomato compote, roast suckling pig filled with buckwheat porridge (Kasza) and black sausage (Kaszanka) etc. Even the puddings offered 5 options, which is rather impressive for a set menu.

On the table, there were  a small dish of beetroot spread, some sliced cornichons and butter. Perfect to go with the bread and to ease the hunger while trying to make a concise decision on the food. Never made a food decision on a hungry stomach I was told but the beetroot purée spread were so delicious that I polished that off before I have come to any decision on what to have. Did I share? Of course I did. I offered my slice of bread as the bread basket kept hovering around us but never seemed to stop by to offer my partner the pick of the selection. 

I was tempted by the crab and crayfish salad with kohlrabi and apple, the dish just sound so refreshing. I can just envisage the sweet crab meat along with the crisp crunchy apple in the mouth.... but then I saw the char grilled artichokes option, and being one of my favourite vegetable, I was torn between the two. 

We eventual decided on one of each of the "pink' theme cocktails,  Char grilled artichoke salad and Blinis with smoked salmon for starters, both ordered roast goose leg for mains and the chocolate mousse for pudding and a bottle of Rioja.

Finally, I get to relax and take in the atmosphere and the surrounding. It was still early but the restaurant was already filled with lovers in love. The lighting in the room are just on the right side of being romantic, not so dark that you feel like you have suddenly been dump into the black hole. Still, the chap sitting on the next table appears to have come prepare; a small pocket LED light has been place right by his glass of wine. Is he predicting that London will suddenly descend into a blackout and his only means of survival is entirely dependence on his LED torchlight? 

The cocktails and wine arrive once again promptly. Unfortunately, while trying to uncork the wine, the waitress broke the cork in half. 'I think I have to get you another one, I'm so sorry about this.' says the waitress apologetically. Off she went and brought us another bottle of wine which she managed to uncork it this time, without any casualty. The pink martini were pack full of alcohol that I nearly choke on my first mouthful, delicious nonetheless but the star has to be the Roza Goska. It was absolutely divine (and for non cocktails lovers like us, we both seems to agree on this). The sweet and slightly tart grapefruit and the iced cold vodka is just wonderfully refreshing. 

The starter were delivered soon after and it was one of the best dishes I have tasted for a while. The artichokes were perfectly cooked, still with a slight firm texture to the bite. The smokiness from the char, along with the sweetness of the fig, peppery rocket and the nutty toasted pine nuts were a match made in heaven, absolutely superb. Such a simple creation but what a masterpiece. The roast goose leg were crispy on the outside and meltingly tender. For a fatty meat, this does not leave you with a greasy aftertaste. The portion were also rather generous. The sharp red cabbage cut through the fatty meat and were an excellent accompaniment to the star of the dish. The vegetables side were however, a slight let down. The green beans were a tad overcooked for my liking but at least not to the point of no return. The attentive waitress cleared our plates promptly after we finished and within minutes, brought us the chocolate mousse. This is rich, smooth and packed full of chcolatey yumminess. You can taste the abundance of chocolate even with a blindfold! For a dark chocolate fan like me, this is just the sort of pudding I like, robust and not too sweet. A great finish to the excellent meal.

Overall, this is definitely a great restaurant to try out if you've never been. Delicious, hearty Polish or other eastern european offerings in a beautiful setting.

Baltic Restaurant/Bar
74 Blackfriars Road

Tel: 0207 9281111

Baltic on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

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