It’s been a while since I last ventured to the old Rynek for a review. I’ve repeatedly claimed in this very column that it’s an over-priced tourist trap, largely selling bland, inoffensive but unadventurous fayre, and that any self-respecting gastronome is well-advised to steer well clear for the hipper hinterlands of Krakow. All of which left me feeling I would be serving myself a large slice of humble pie should Szara Gęś turn out to be decent, as I dodged the umbrella-wielding sirens attempting to lure me to different pleasures of the flesh on ul. Grodzka. Nevertheless, I was determined to find out if ‘Grey Goose’ was worth sticking my neck out for…
The first thing to say about this restaurant is the location; plum on the Rynek (although the address doesn’t suggest so); it’s right next to Wierzynek, that hallowed institution which must have seen a thousand competitors come and go in the centuries since it first opened. The second thing is the view. As I took my seat for an apperitif – a refreshing mojito, served with just the right amount of ice and mint – I looked out at St.Mary’s Church, the Cloth Hall, and Town Hall, and wondered if many better views were to be had in any Krakow eatery. The restaurant interior is undoubtedly impressive also: all vaulted arches, shiny fittings, bas-reliefs, and tasteful watercolours of Krakow, the place exudes class and atmosphere and with the accompaniment of a pianist. It’s the kind of place you bring people to impress, and dress up – well, at least a bit. It’s by no means stuffy, though.
The menu, it has to be said, does reflect this, and it’s firmly in the higher end of restaurants when it comes to price. It’s a Polish/international menu, focusing on goose as its speciality, as the name suggests. My starter, foie gras, came in at 36zł, and even though it was deliciously creamy and came with some fantastic homemade bread (served with goose fat), some might balk at these prices. I like a restaurant that brings a big basket of bread before the starters arrive though, so I gave them extra marks for that. The foie gras came carefully disguised as a piece of fruit – one of the many nice touches in the evening. Another was that the waitress brought a different glass of wine for each course (recommended by the chef), this one was a dry French red, Chablis Maison Chanson. A soup followed – a bulion with slices of smoked duck, small beetroot dumplings, and wild garlic (16zł). A delicate, savoury flavour which was complemented by a glass of Volpollicella Classico. The service was spot-on, and after every glass was emptied, our waitress was quick to spot it and offer a refill. There’s a knack to good service without being over-attentive or obsequious, and it’s a hard balance to strike – but I was impressed with the effort here.
On to the main course, which was goose breast confit – what else? – with a creamed mousse of chestnuts and a side order of pan fried potatoes, caramelized onions, and sweet beetroot (59zł without the side dishes) The goose confit had been slow-cooked to perfection, whilst the accompaniments were well-judged and well-presented. On the pricey side, no doubt, but this is a special occasion kind of place. A glass of dry Folle washed down the goose breast, and all there was left to do was to order the dessert: the piece de resistance. I ordered one simply entitled ‘Szara Gęś’ (27zł) which piqued my curiosity. I was served a goose-sized white chocolate egg, served on a nest of flakey chocolate. Inside, a ‘yolk’ made of mango mousse. Extremely tempting. I was, to put it mildly, a little shell-shocked, but recovered sufficiently to crack this unusual dessert. The effort that had been made just to present this was worth the cost alone, and the proof of the pudding was, as they say, in the eating: it was delicious, and I’d highly recommend it. The wine we were given for this course – Moscato d’Asti, a sparkling sweet Italian – was well-chosen and a nice wine to finish the meal with. It was all I could do to waddle out.
All in all then, Szara Gęś has made me reassess my somewhat blinkered view of the Rynek. This is fine dining at its best, in charming surrounds, with superb service and top quality food and a selection of wines that would keep all but the fussiest connoisseur happy. In particular, this is a place for someone seeking to impress without being too flash, for despite the (relatively) high prices for Krakow, the overall feel is still tasteful enough to qualify as understated, and relaxed. A place of this quality in the UK, for example, would probably have a door policy. That said, I’m glad I didn’t have to pay the bill, which, like a goose’s, would be rather big – 400zl+ with wine for two. My advice is to get here soon, before the tourists arrive. They’ll be flocking here.