The place that makes you wish you had a Polish grandmother and hadn't worn a belt.
On a surprisingly snowy February day in Birmingham, I decided to try one of the best-reviewed restaurants about- The Karczma.
The first thing one notices about the Karczma is the homely-yet-touristy decor. An abundance of ikea sheepskins drape over plastic-shaped-like-wood benches (which are fixed to the ground too far from the tables, annoyingly), the ceiling is lined with hay and the walls are painted with twee murals of traditional Polish farm labour. While initially impressive, the juxtaposition of the rustic shutters with the widescreen television silently playing Sky Sports inside it does rather give the impression of a mud hut with mod cons. However, you didn't come here to get gooey over adorable crochet tablecloths, you came here to eat hearty Polish food.
|Do try to look past this|
Once you've ordered, you're told to help yourself to the little table by the bar, which has huge loaves of bread, a pot of pickled gherkins and (most pleasingly), a vat of seasoned pork fat. This really separates the men from the boys- spread that stuff on like peanut butter, it's delicious, and a taster of things to come. If your date shies to this then she might as well go home right now.
I'll just mention now that the wine selection at the Karczma is unsurprisingly poor, since their wide array of flavoured vodkas is the main attraction. Of course, this only clicked into place in the first sip of my warm California Bay Chardonnay from a single-portion bottle: unbeknownst to me, the only wine available by the glass. Just bear that one in mind. Go for beer or vodka.
rest of the meal.
|Adorable soup caddy|
The dumplings were as heavy and delicious as expected- three beautifully steamed packages that could easily be a small meal each. The goulash soup wasn't too salty, my usual complaint, and was presented in a small hanging cauldron with a tiny wooden ladle. The beef itself was falling apart on my spoon, and had a beautiful sheen from yet more animal fat. The roast pork was particularly good if a little dry in places, with a dark, rich, slightly nutty mushroom sauce and three salads to cut through the heaviness.
The atmosphere at The Karczma is incredibly relaxed. Fortunately,
they opted away from trying to play traditional Polish music, and instead the same three euro-pop tracks spin round. The bar is friendly and inviting, the benches, while uncomfortable, are big enough for at least ten people, but don't feel empty with just two.
|Roast pork with wild mushroom sauce|
Price-wise, you'd struggle to do better. Starters and small meals (like the dumplings) are around five pounds, which larger meals like the pork are around ten. Portion sizes are enormous, so it would be best suited to a group of friends who'd like to share everything, or just popping in for a small soup for an inexpensive, warming meal. The bill came to just over £30 for two, though there was enough food for at least three.
For a restaurant in an unusual location with such an unimpressive front, The Karczma is incredibly well-reviewed. Their Tripadvisor page has endless reviews from happy customers, mainly because they are reminded to on the back of the business card given with the bill, but also because The Karczma presents something of a local secret- homely, different, but budget-friendly enough to frequent.
The Karczma, Polish Millenium House, Bordesley Street, Birmingham, B5 5PH