Kluska Restaurant Review
When it comes to hearty, home-cooked polish food, there’s always one place that comes to mind: U Babci Maliny. Sitting in a basement below an obscure staircase, you’ll have to tread along a quaint cobbled street in Krakow’s old town, pass through tall and imposing university doors and make a left sidestep into a courtyard crawling with greenery to find it.
This hidden treasure is a traditional Polish restaurant whose literal translation is ‘Grandma Raspberry’, and appropriately, it offers food just as grandma makes it. Everything about this place lends itself to the title, even down to the actual grandma; quietly knitting in the corridor, covered from shoulders to toes in a floor length puffy dress, complete with a shawl and tea-cozy hat.
The interior decorations, wooden tables, chairs, walls, floors, low ceilings and warm lighting, all perfectly relay the concept at hand: the conceit of dining at your grandma’s cosy, isolated winter cabin. These architectural quirks paint a pretty picture and set the perfect mood, but it is the food that completes the idyllic familial setting. U Babci Maliny is everything you ever wanted in Polish food (including the price), with traditional dishes (think pierogi and the meatiest meat dishes you ever saw), in huge servings, loaded with flavour.
I’ve been to Krakow twice. I have been to U Babci Maliny twice. I can’t visit Krakow without making a trip to this moreish culinary gem. For all the activities there are to do and all the sights there are to see in Krakow (and of those there are many), U Babci Maliny consistently makes it on my to-do list. If that isn’t a vote of confidence, I don’t know what is.
Living on the other side of the world (in the land down-under) has its benefits, of course. Being one of the most multicultural countries in the world, Aussies are not short on varied fare. But while Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, Italian, Spanish, Greek and a wealth of other cuisines are all well represented, there is a notable lack of eastern European food in the restaurant circuit. Given my love of Polish specialties, this is an absolute crying shame.
You could imagine my intense joy when I discovered that there was a Polish restaurant sneakily hidden (as they tend to be) in an old converted home, in the suburbs, not more than 10kms from my home. It didn’t take long before I’d called to make a reservation with the fervent fever of somebody harbouring the paranoid fear that the place would spontaneously close and forever deny me the pleasure of its sustenance. My enthusiasm taken into account, it seemed almost impossible that this restaurant could possibly live up to my dreadfully high hopes. But it did. Authenticity is all I ask, if it’s authentic then it cannot fail. And it certainly did not.
If U Babci Maliny represents the highly idealized version of grandma’s house, then Kluska gives us the faithful reality. Its hallways are lined with photos of family in eastern Europe. On your left you’ll find the kitchen, where all the magic happens right there on the premises. On your right you’ll spot the small and unassuming dining hall scattered with a handful of charming tables and chairs lined with pillows. And then there’s the menu.
While not extensive by any means, Kluska’s menu offers an assortment of pierogi, soups and nalesniki (Polish pancakes) for entrées, a varied 13 mains, including Golabki (cabbage leaf filled with pork and beef mince, topped with homemade tomato sauce and mashed potatoes), Bigos (traditional stew, slow cooked over five hours) and Kopytka (polish style gnocchi, served with mushroom sauce or beef/pork goulash). For dessert, a selection of classic sweet pierogi, cakes, homemade ice cream, donuts and for some fancier fare, poached pear with sweet coffee sauce. The refreshments on offer reflect some of Eastern Europe’s classic beer institutions, including the Czech Republic’s Pilsner Urquell and Polish brands, Zywiec and Tyskie. While on the topic of institutions, Kluska offers no less than 17 varieties of Vodka, even touching on some of the famed flavoured assortments, like cherry and walnut.
Quiet, hidden, homely and full of flavour, you don’t even need to close your eyes to feel as though you’ve snuck inside the home of the Polish grandmother you’ve always wanted, and tucked into one of her finest Sunday lunches. Hidden away in a suburban home in southeast Victoria, Kluska plates up a hefty bite of grandma’s hearty, home-cooked Polish delights that keeps you coming back for more.