Having lived in Warsaw from 1991 to 2000 and witnessed the phenomenal changes that democracy brought to the streets, I should by now be rather blasé about its new museums, shops and restaurants, but my Polish blood still flows that bit quicker when I come across something as exciting as Atelier Amaro. Situated on the edge of a leafy park in central Warsaw, this restaurant made headlines last year when Michelin named it in its “rising star” category – the first in Poland to have attracted such an attribute.
Owner/chef Wojciech Modest Amaro, who comes from the south of the country, has spent time in some of Europe’s best kitchens – most notably Copenhagen’s Noma and Spain’s El Bulli – but what he never managed to do was answer the question that was often put to him: to name an outstanding Polish dish. “I could list countless excellent ingredients from my country,” he said, “many of which are used abroad, but I couldn’t come up with a dish that could hold its own against those from other nations.” This is eventually what drove Amaro to return home and to start the journey to define Polish cuisine in the 21st century.
Wars and communism inflicted so much damage on the country’s larder and interrupted the natural evolution of the kitchen to such a degree that Amaro began with a blank cuisine canvas and had to build a supply chain to produce his creations. Before opening Amaro in 2011, he spent a year and a half exploring the countryside, to build a good network of suppliers – although Mondays still see him foraging.
The menus of this 30-seat restaurant offer three, five or eight dishes, described as “Moments”. Impressions of a forest in summer will be translated into culinary flavours, with fragrant wild strawberries paired with a boletus mushroom ice cream. Winter will bring rabbit liver and foie gras parfait with a cereal crust and wild rose and pine emulsion. Working within the spirit and tradition of the Polish kitchen, Amaro serves up new ideas and untried combinations, which, while preserving the essence of the Polish table, meet the expectations of today’s sophisticated palate.
But it is not just the food that represents Poland at Atelier Amaro – the whole restaurant is a showcase of all things Polish, from the plates to the chairs and, of course, the vodkas. Dispensing with the idea of foreign wines to partner his dishes, Amaro serves a range of clear and flavoured vodkas from tiny distilleries around the country. Some are specially made for him, others he tracked down. But from the single-distillation potato vodka I tried to the smoked plum liquor, the balance with the food was pitch perfect.
I hope that Michelin’s predictions turn into a star this year, not only for chef Amaro, who has dedicated himself so entirely to his restaurant, but also for Poland. I know I am biased, but it deserves it.