Drop In: Morela

It’s been a while since a review of a Polish restaurant has appeared in this column, and with the plethora of Asian, European and other options available in Krakow these days, homegrown food has been slightly left to one side if not completely forgotten. Which is a shame because, when done well, Polish cuisine has a lot to offer. It’s sometimes accused of being heavy, bland, stodgy, and repetitive, and if you limit yourself to milk bars and cheap eateries – or even the many identikit tourist-orientated, over-priced options around the Market Square – you may hold similar prejudices. I myself am guilty of some of the above thoughts from time to time, especially after one too many plates of pierogi or a dreaded Polish Christmas dinner. Naturally, the better Polish diners have had to up their game. So I dropped in to Morela (‘Apricot’ in Polish) on Stolarska, a relative newcomer, to see what a modern Polish eatery can offer.

Located on the street of embassies just a block from the Main Square, Morela couldn’t be much more centrally located. We took a seat on a mini-mezzanine overlooking the Dominican Monastery and impressive church opposite. The overall vibe of the restaurant is smart but casual; ideal for a date, business dinner, or just a place for tourists to sample some local fare. Pleasant black and white shots of old Krakow contrast with a bright modern vibe and stencilled images of Krakow sights on the beige walls give a relaxing air. Music is low and tasteful, as is the lighting. The menu is pitched at mid-range.

The wine list is pretty extensive – a range of European and new world options, ranging from 70-150zł a bottle. I got a glass of Argentinian dry red (12zł), recommended by our attentive waiter. Beer options are fairly predictable – mainly Żywiec, although IPA, wheat, and dark options are available.
The first thing that struck me about the menu was that it offers quite traditional Polish dishes – with an international twist. A selection of soups are on offer, żurek and rosól included, but I went for a cream of tomato with basil pesto (16zł). It also came with sliced quarters of baby tomatoes. It was one of the best tomato soups I have had for a while. Creamy, full of tomato taste, rich and zingy.

As a follow-up I went for a tempting-looking starter – Polish black pudding served with apples, marjoram, and butter toast (22zł). I was a bit dubious about this as a starter because I know from experience that kaszanka, though usually delicious, can be a real filler, especially with bread. It’s often enough in itself as a meal. Sensibly though, the philosophy here is “less is more”; about 150g portion more than suffices. It was served with a crispy pastry topping so that it resembled a kind of pie, and the stewed apple accompaniment, a traditional one, was ideal – the two modest pieces of buttery crusty bread also satisfying.

So far, so good. My only reservation at this stage was, as my partner observed, that vegetarian options had been pretty limited. Of the starters, only the tomato soup, a creamy celeriac and walnut soup, a goat’s cheese salad, and fried sheep cheese with cranberry sauce (which she had and enjoyed) were available to non-meat eaters. To be fair, Polish food is not, and has never been, a great vegetarian cuisine. It’s meat, meat and more meat usually. Still, the main course did feature a fish dish for her (cod loin sous vide) which looked very good indeed and was indeed given the thumbs-up. There is also buckwheat with vegetable letcho for veggies.

For my main, I was torn between several dishes: an intriguing-looking duck burger in homemade black roll (39zł), beef sirloin (69zł) and braised pork cheeks (44zł), and goose breast in dark gravy (49zł), all of which I could easily go back for. In the end though, I plumped for a Polish favourite – duck breast (48zł) served sous vide (fancy word for vacuum sealed cooking done to cook to the perfect temperature) with cabbage and Silesian dumplings. The duck breast, as you’d expect, was cooked to perfection – plump, juicy meat, with just the right shade of redness and a crispy skin done post-sous vide. The accompanying caramelized red stewed cabbage (again, a traditional side for this dish) was sweet and tasty, and the dumplings buttery and filling without being stodgy or bland. A very well presented and executed dish, and a good choice. I’d certainly go back for any of the above options on this evidence.

To finish, my partner ordered an Austro-Polish classic, an apricot strudel with a scoop of ice cream, whilst I had just about enough room for a chocolate souffle served with vanilla ice cream and blueberry sauce. It was dark, rich, oozing warm chocolate sauce inside and just generally lovely. Superb comfort food for these cold winter days, and again a well-proportioned serving, not too heavy and yet not leaving you feel short-changed. A glass of grzaniec (hot wine, 18zł) to finish off and then, generously, a free shot of nalewka (home made fruit vodka) gave us a warm glow.

Overall, we both came away from Morela feeling very happy with the experience. It’s a place to linger, and enjoy an evening, and the very pleasant service only reinforces that. Sure, it’s not anything mind-blowingly original or different – and vegetarians may come away feeling disappointed. But if you’re looking for quality Polish food done with a touch of French know-how and a nod to modern cooking methods, presentation and style, you’re not going to be disappointed.

ul. Stolarska 13

Location: 5/5
Service: 4/5
Quality: 4/5
Value: 4/5
Atmosphere: 4/5

Overall: 4/5

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