In the February issue of the Krakow Post I blithely asserted that Krakow lacks half-decent Chinese cuisine. This month I am forced to eat my words – awkwardly, with chopsticks. Chinski Pałac (China Palace), in the suburb of Biały Prądnik, has been in business, in different forms and at various locations, since 1993. For a restaurant with such vintage, it is remarkably poorly known. The location is not ideal – you need to hop on a tram to Krowodrza and get another bus if you want to avoid the taxi fare – but it’s well worth the trek.
The first thing that sets Chinski Pałac apart from other restaurants of its ilk is its size – the main room is spacious, and there are a couple of side rooms for parties – one with a revolving Chinese banquet table. The décor is pleasant, with traditional bucolic landscapes, statuettes of pot-bellied Buddhas, and photos of great and revered Chinese figures past and present. It’s warm and welcoming, inviting one to linger.
The owner, Mr Tan Yaolin, divides his time between his restaurants here, in Warsaw and Vienna, and is circumspect about the restaurant’s longevity. He says he just wants to provide quality food at affordable prices, but he acknowledges the dearth of quality Chinese eateries in Krakow: “It’s a shame, but most do cater to Polish tastes, and that means compromising on their food. We try not to do that.” His experienced chefs, imported from restaurants back home, he says, are chosen above Polish cooks for their commitment to preparing authentic Chinese food. As we sat down, a dozen satisfied-looking Chinese customers were on their way out – usually a very good sign.
To start, we had a dish that I have definitely not seen before, in Poland or anywhere else – pickled eggs with marinated beef. It doesn’t sound appetizing, but the dark, musky-tasting eggs were a flavoursome delicacy, and the beef was subtle and thinly sliced, almost melting in the mouth. Jing Si prawns followed – tiger prawns battered in fried, grated potato, served with a delicate creamy sauce. This was also unusual and beautifully presented, and the tiger prawns were crunchy and delicious. We also sampled the fried duck slices in sesame coating served with a chili-ginger dip. The duck pieces were tenderly cooked and the dish was another superb starter. Altogether, these starters came to around 60zł.
The wine list was perfunctory, but Chinese restaurants are hardly known for good wine, and there were a couple of tasty beers on offer. Our main courses were ‘chrysanthemum fish’ (fried and battered white fish in a sweet and sour sauce), beef slices in a spicy Szechuan sauce with cabbage, and crispy pork meatballs. When I find dishes spicy enough to choke on, I’m happy, and there was certainly no shortage of chili in the beef dish, which was my favourite of the lot. The fish, intricately woven pieces (presented with an artistically constructed bird carved from carrot), was also very tasty, and the meatballs were crunchy and satisfying. Each dish was priced in the 25–35zł range – about 20% more than in your average Chinese eatery here.
Chinese staples such as stir fry, chow mein, chop suey and fried rice are absent from the menu, and there is a lack of cashew nuts and water chestnut, but it is clear that the Chinese food on offer here is a cut above the rest in Krakow. The recent addition of crispy duck and various types of dim sum to the menu shows a commitment to authenticity and choice. The thoughtful touch of a fortune cookie rounded off the meal nicely. Mine said I would soon make a chance discovery, which was a bit previous given that I had found Chinski Pałac the month before.
ul. Mackiewicza 14B