Piotr Pietras

Learn the rules, then break them: so goes the thinking of Polish sommelier Piotr Pietras, a zealous wine drinker whose resume includes the title of World’s Best Young Sommelier (2017), being a judge for the Decanter World Wine Awards, and lecturing at the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers (of which Pietras is a member). After managing the UK’s largest wine list at HIDE, he’s back in his native Warsaw where he now runs Terroiryści, an importer of vanguard wine labels, and Kontakt, his new neighborhood bistro and wine bar.

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A Food Scene That’s Evolving

The Warsaw food scene is still evolving. Places are run by young, hungry and passionate people as well as well-recognised industry people who have already established themselves in the capital. I’m sure that the future holds a lot of interesting places, developed to cater to different eating and drinking habits, but we are not just there yet. Nonetheless, Warsaw today is vibrant, young and ever-evolving.

Polish Hospitality at its Best

If friends come to visit for a couple of days, I would start by taking them to Stary Dom on the first day and follow with visits to a contrasting place. It is not a progressive place at all. It is quite classical actually, but it convinces a lot of people. The people who run it are hospitality masters. There is so much enthusiasm and passion in everything they do which makes everyone feel at home. When I take anyone there – even someone from a three-Michelin-starred background – they all love this place. The owner is always there. The restaurant makes hearty and generous Polish dishes. Its specialty is a beef tartare that is prepared tableside by one of the chefs, along with the duck breast with zasmażana kapusta (pan-fried red cabbage). I follow a gluten-free diet, so dough-based dishes are a no-go for me personally, but there are plenty of them at Stary Dom and my friends always order pierogi, cepeliny or kluski leniwe (dumplings). They have a wine list but that is not their focus. Instead, they will suggest something with a higher percentage of alcohol, like a liqueur or a potato vodka from their single harvest vodkas. It will always be local and artisanal.

The Polish Meat (and Wine) Connoisseurs

The contrasting place I would follow that visit to is in the Centrum Praskie Koneser complex, a space that consists of many different spots, including the Polish Vodka Museum. Koneser Grill is right next to the museum and was launched by well-known Polish restaurateur, Daniel Pawełek (of Butchery & Wine, Brasserie Warszawska and Rozbrat 20). The focus is on a different cuts of fine Polish meats, which is smoked and grilled. They also have a few non-meat starters and mains that appeal to non-meat eaters. Chef Piotr Wójcik applies some of his London experience so the menu has some twists to it. His food is well-executed with lots of bright ideas, and changes often so it’s never boring. Head sommelier Kamil Wojtasiak is very knowledgeable about wine and has written a list that includes both classic bottles and off-the-beaten-track ones. End your meal with a couple of spirits because that’s what people usually do here after a hearty meal.

A Long Theatrical Journey Through Old Polish Recipes

Epoka at the Raffles Europejski Hotel is a rather new fine-dining experience run by Marcin Przybysz. He’s a talented young chef who is full of ideas. He revives old recipes from Polish cookbooks and offers a long tasting menu: make sure to have plenty of time reserved for your meal (three to four hours for lunch or dinner). The dishes are superbly executed and the service can be quite theatrical but you are well looked after.

For All Mokotów Neighbours: Here’s Your Go-To Indian

Tulsi is my go-to place in Mokotów (a district of Warsaw) and is a few steps away from my apartment. It’s an Indian restaurant named after the Asian basil and run by a Polish lady and her Indian husband. The staff comes from different parts of India and the menu is a reflection of that celebrating dishes from the north to the south. I usually stick to their classics as they are excellent. Dishes like paneer butter masala, chicken tikka masala and southern classics like masala dosa made from fermented rice and chickpea flour. It’s genuine Indian flavours. The prices are approachable and the service is super kind and attentive. They basically put their heart on the plate. I love it.

Coffee, Tea & Natural Wine

CoffeeDesk had one shop on Wilcza Street and opened a second one during the pandemic (CoffeeDesk Próżna). It’s a local leaders in all-things coffee, from beans to equipment. I know the owners personally – they are super relaxed, down-to-earth people and it shows in their business. The coffee shops are cosy, unpretentious and modern in style and make you feel at home. The coffee and tea are top quality. I’m not a big coffee drinker, but I love my rooibos. They have a small natural wine selection too, which you can buy to take home or enjoy on the spot.

The Perfectionist Kingdom of Sweets

Since I mentioned tea, Odette is another spot for that in central Warsaw. Krzysztof Rabek and his partner Kasia Zieniewicz are behind Odette, one of the top pastry projects in the city. They make everything from macarons and chocolate to cakes and tarts, and leave nothing to chance, tea brewing included. They recently added artisanal ice cream to their portfolio. Beside Odette’s confectionery location in the centre, I often visit their small tea room (Odette Tea Room) not far from the Palace of Culture and Science (Pałac Kultury i Nauki).

What Local Celebrities Queue For

I avoid supermarkets and prefer to support local vendors. If I want to buy something to cook at home, I shop at Bazar Olkuska, a small market hall with several stands offering delicious meat and produce. Darek is a super nice gentleman that sells home cooked fish dishes, salads and soups to take away on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and does the prep with his wife and daughter on the remaining days. He mainly uses Polish sweet water fish and fish from the Baltic Sea. He also sells smalec (lard) and artisanal bread, all homemade. You will easily spot him as there is always a queue leading up to his stand which usually includes a few local celebrities. The stand became popular during the pandemic, but that has not changed. Early in the morning when things are still quiet, don’t be surprised to find him napping.

The Best Places To Buy Wine in Warsaw

Since I import wine myself, I don’t usually buy wine on retail, but I recommend two places for that. They offer completely different wines and have different vibes, but share a modern, progressive approach. Lalou is a recent project by one of the leading sommeliers in the country: the charismatic, ex-Geranium Head Sommelier Norbert Dudziński. He runs it with his wife Tita in a new complex called Browary Warszawskie. They sell a super-wide selection of organic, biodynamic and natural wines from Europe and California since Norbert is a big fan. The design is minimalistic with a clear Scandinavian soul. By contrast, Wine Taste by Kamecki has a bit of everything for everyone. You’ll find all sorts of wine you can imagine, from natural and biodynamic wines through to absolute classics and super-premium wines. I adore and respect Piotr Kamecki who is an industry veteran and the vice president of the International Sommelier Association. It’s another quality-focussed shop that always has qualified people working in it. It is on the ground floor of the Cosmopolitan skyscraper, where the Odette Tea Room is.

Another One of the Best Wine Selections in Town

Ale Wino is one of the first places I recommend to people. It does bistro-style food: very simple but very well-executed and full of flavours. You’ll find Asian influences applied to Polish produce. The staff is knowledgeable and will guide you through a wine selection that is probably the best in town. I want to say that it’s fully natural and biodynamic, because they love that style of wine, but if someone is looking for the classics, they will find them too.

Polish Gin and Tonic in a Spectacular Hotel

Bars and their staff bartenders were the ones to get hit hardest by the pandemic. Fortunately for the scene, some places remained open (although my favourite bar in Warsaw was Cosmo which was a zero-waste bar that sadly did not reopen). It may be disappointing to know that I am not a big cocktail guy. If I have want a cocktail, it is usually a gin and tonic.My favourite is at the bar in Hotel Warszawa. It has a great gin selection including Polish ones. The hotel itself is raw in style and truly spectacular. It is owned by the Likus family who are leading the local industry.

The Biggest Wine List in Poland

Rozbrat 20 and Dyletanci are two great spots for food and wine in the Powiśle district. Dyletanci is known for having the biggest wine list in Poland. Recently they began redirecting their food menu towards less meat and more vegetables which I respect.

Late-Night Satisfaction

ĆMA is a concept by Mateusz Gessler that fills a gap in Warsaw’s Hala Koszyki district and is open 24/7. It is truly a banger. There aren’t many places to go out eating late at night so expect it to always be packed. People also head there for their last drink before calling it a night as it is in a very central location. If I find myself there at 3 or 4am, I order fried eggs with bacon. The offering is not overly ambitious. No one is expecting fireworks late at night. It’s all about finishing your evening full, satisfied and well-surrounded, and minimising the effects of a hangover.

Where You’ll Find Me

I opened bistro and wine bar Kontakt late October of 2021 and wanted it to be laidback and appeal to all people regardless of their expectations. I wanted to sidestep the stigmas attached to places opened by people who come from a fine-dining background. I teamed up with progressive chef Janek Wojtalik who hails from Michelin-starred restaurant Senses and other top dining establishments. The idea was simple: to serve one-, two- and three-ingredient dishes that are full of flavour and pair them with good natural wines. Three rooms are divided into the dining room, the wine bar and a chef’s table by the kitchen where people can enjoy their wine while the chefs hand out dishes

Photography Credit: Jarek Nakielny

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