Despite a recent upsurge in interest in sushi bars, Asian food is poorly represented in Poland. It is most commonly found in dingy Vietnamese joints and comes with tinny pop music and a side order of cabbage. The Polish palate seems unsuited to the perceived ‘ostry smak’ (spicy flavour) of food from further east than the Bosphorus. Vietnamese restaurants have survived, and even thrived, by producing a hybrid cuisine that resembles Asian food but compromises to suit local tastes.
Since April 2011, Yellow Dog has been aiming to buck this trend by offering Cracovians uncompromising authenticity. The Polish owner, Luiza, is married to Singaporean-Malay chef Trisno, who trained at Le Gavroche in London. Their philosophy is clear: “We want to offer a progressive Asian menu to our customers. Food is constantly in a state of flux and we want to move with the times. We don’t only cook tried-and-tested dishes, we experiment and try our own ideas.” What this means is a menu that is both modern and traditional, fusing Vietnamese, Singaporean, Indian, Chinese, Malay and Thai styles while refusing to bow to popular taste. Behind it all is a chef committed to excellence, who goes to great lengths to ship in vital ingredients.
The menu is minimal, with just twelve main dishes on offer – seven rice and five noodle – plus seven sides: a sure sign that everything will be well-executed and fresh. The choice includes five vegetarian options and one with fish. There are also weekly specials on the blackboard above the counter, which are well worth checking out. Prices range from an incredibly reasonable 7–8 złoty for spring rolls or kimchi to a maximum 26 złoty for roasted duck. Your best bet is to come in a group and blitz the menu, so everyone gets to try as much of the delicious fare as possible. We did just that and ordered a total of ten dishes, some of which went home with us in doggy bags.
For starters we had Bee Hoon Pecel – the fusion of a Javanese peanut sauce with Chinese rice noodles – and a noodle dish called Wonton Mee – a wonderful soup containing boiled wontons stuffed with prawn, chicken and thin egg noodles. Both were hearty, warming and the kind of food that feels life affirming. Pho Bo was next – a Vietnamese noodle dish with sliced beef, spring onion, peanuts and bean sprouts in a cinnamon-ginger broth that was equally beguiling in its originality and freshness. We tried a special off the board, fish curry with mango and mustard seeds, that was as tangy and interesting as it sounded, then four mains from the menu: Massaman Beef (an intensely satisfying spicy coconut curry), tender spare ribs in a lip-smacking sweet-and-sour sauce, Chicken Tikka Masala and fried chilli fish – a flavoursome and original Singaporean dish with chilli-egg sauce, peanuts and coriander.
Every dish was prepared with a huge amount of care and attention. The curry dishes had the requisite level of spiciness, but there is much on the menu to suit a palate used to milder fare – the wontons, spare ribs and Pho Bo being examples. Not all Asian food is spicy, but all good Asian food blends the subtle and interesting flavours of simple and fresh ingredients. This is what Yellow Dog does so well.
My only gripes were that the lighting could be toned down a notch – candles might be nice – and that the drinks list is rather sparse, though I was told this is soon to change with the introduction of some Polish micro-brews and a range of wines. We left after ordering a couple of desserts for the road – Banana Tiramisu and ginger crème brulee – neither of which are particularly Asian, but demonstrate the owners’ commitment to experimentation.
I was extremely happy to have stumbled across this stray pup, given the continuing shortage of restaurants of this calibre in Krakow. If you are curious about new food, this is the kind of place that deserves your attention. It is the only, truly authentic Asian fusion cuisine in town and the only place with a Singaporean chef. You’d have to be barking to miss it.