It occurred to me whilst perusing recent restaurant articles that there is a lot of information available to the reviewer (and reader) based on NEW openings and NEW places to “be” at.  I share the enthusiasm that abounds from the mere mention of a new eatery and there is an enormous amount of reassurance gained from exchanging knowledge and information to ensure every mouthful is fulfilling and no coins are squandered on bad experiences.  This does however inhibit us, nay, obstruct us from perhaps having a new experience at a more established restaurant; somewhere that has in fact survived the reviewing onslaught to emerge relatively unscathed and continue past it’s first year.

In a city as metropolitan as London I am curious to know how often a non-local resident returns to a favoured location when they come to London, as there is such a wide and ever increasing choice available.  So I’m attempting to mix up my visits in future, choosing not to restrict my lunch or supper outings to what I read in the latest Time Out or word-of-mouth whispering.  Instead I am going to actively incorporate old and reliable stalwarts to show support to what they must perceive as a very inconsistent customer base.  A recent closure of some of my own friend’s establishment (Bistro DéLICAT in case you need to look up its history.  Once a fine place for Austrian cuisine) triggered my more in depth contemplation, as it was a perfect example of this epidemic of ‘New Restaurant’ obsessing.  Open for 2 years, I served many customers throughout the 2nd year of my service, with opinions passed onto me that they had never really heard of it, so chanced a munch whilst passing through Battersea and had they known about it sooner, they would have frequented more often.  Professional reviews and articles are great instigators for the general population to venture further than their local but they may not motivate them to pursue a relationship with the place.  These things take time and require personal effort so if other distractions raise their hand, it is understandable (although a pity) that the eventual outcome of a lapse in attention after the initial honeymoon period leads to closure for so many.  Hence we have a turn mill of places to go.  One starts up, one closes.  The cycle and struggle of many a restaurateur.

So for my visit to Baltic, I was at considerable ease knowing they were well established with a  decade of experience already gained, with a menu concentrating on Polish & Eastern European cuisine.  The outside seems unassuming but as you sweep aside heavy, crimson curtains that envelop the doorway, you are greeted by a candlelit bar on entry, hearing some foreign language scatter the air among some bar flies enjoying a drink & nibble.  I am drawn towards the rear of the building where the eye range widens considerably towards their impressive sit-down area, where I was also pleased to spy some musicians setting up. A perfectly muted atmosphere with the soothing swirls of a saxophone on a cold Sunday evening seems to fit my own muted state of mind (although I will admit that the headiness of a late Saturday night’s unsober experiences are waning in attraction).

Upon scouring the profuse menu, my Hungarian gullet hummed as I pondered between a wide range of starters, dumplings, blinis and main courses.  Fish was a dominant character on the menu, as well as a wide choice of meat ranging from Rabbit and Venison to Pork Ribs and Schnitzel.  Vegetarians may feel a little neglected by the food options however there are  couple to test out (I paid little attention to these though).  There was such a wide choice that it was indeed difficult to settle decisions, however, after much deliberation we chose the selection of Blini (combining a lovely mix of Smoked salmon, Marinated Herring, Aubergine Caviar & Mushroom and a Keta Caviar) and the Kaszanka (a Grilled Black sausage with Potato Pancake, Apple & Onions).  The selection blini can be a small or large portion but we opted with small which was satisfyingly generous. Slivers of salmon were sliced off swiftly with a fork to top off a soft blini, adding smears of the Aubergine Caviar (as well as the pink Keta version), amidst further smears of Mushroom and the Marinated Herring (which was pungent however I enjoy fish in most forms and did not consider this taste overpowering).  The Kaszanka was a simple & Polish take on Pork and Apple; a rosti-like pancake topped with sweet, caramelised onion mixed up with small chunks of apple, combined perfectly to offset the salty, black pieces of sausage as it’s crown.

Our main courses were both fish options as the meatier choices did not sit with my current mindset of making a concerted effort to eat healthier (what a bore when faced with a great menu!) so the Roast Hake with crayfish and pearl barley in a tomato broth and Salmon made their way from the kitchen to our eager place settings.  A side of green vegetables & garlic (generously smothered in a herbed butter) which encompassed a gathering of broad beans, cabbage and green beans was our sole side.  My hake was perfectly cooked and rested gently on top of a comforting bed of pearl barley and crayfish, with the tomato broth adding some necessary moisture.  The salmon dish was enveloped in a light pastry with a shredded mound of herbs on top (looking much like chervil), the parcel was a mixture of a rice-like grain as well as salmon.  Still moist and not overcooked, the dishes were both very filling, however the satiety we reached was largely contributed to by the bountiful carbohydrate-based offerings throughout our courses (including a selection of breads the moment we sat down).

As is always insisted upon for 1st visits, dessert menu was ordered in the form of a Polish Pancake which encased a mixture of walnuts, cream and sweet cream cheese and the Apple Pie with cinnamon ice-cream, flecked with a crisp pastry on its top.  2 hot teas prepared with proper tea-leaves in removable tea strainers washed down these sweet treats, which although not particularly ground-breaking in presentation or perhaps taste were nonetheless scraped off the plate with fork & spoon.

A tiny error in bill at the end was met with profuse apologies by the staff, although the error was not even noticed by our slumber-lust minds, with even a shot of warming honey vodka (compliments of the house) to ensure redemption.

A common mistake among visitors or even within interactions with those of Eastern European origin (Baltic is operated by a majority of Polish workers, with the owner himself Polish/Canadian I am told) is that there is a coolness to the personality, perhaps less outwardly engaging & a sternness at times in presentation.  Nonsense I say; I consider this misfortune in circumstance and possibly also a reflection of the mood of the originator.  A wonderful and attentive team of staff, Polish friends and colleagues I have worked with have possibly been the most diligent persons I have been around with a strong ethic and care for what they do.  Even with the bountiful & highly potent vodkas, liquers and cocktails that they also offer at Baltic, you can be sure that regardless of the night before, their service and gentle care for the customer will be consistent.

A warm welcome indoors before venturing back out into the actual ‘baltic’ air, I most certainly will return to join the list of regulars that have thankfully graced their doors in the last decade, officiating what can be considered an ‘institution’ with no sign of lacking trade.  A strong advantage to Baltic in this tempestuous restaurant world.