Food Blog | Cooking Blog
This truly unique restaurant and bar is nestled in the heart of Southwark, just a stones throw away from the station. Enclosed by a small entrance that signifies a sort of casual and unremarkable bistro, Baltic is a surprisingly big venue, with a glowing amber light installation lining the rear brick wall and a vast conservatory roof supporting its long white panelled walls. The gorgeous contemporary setting includes a large main dining room, a semi-sectioned private dining room and a long sleek bar studded with bar stools and faced by many more low rise leather banquettes. It is heaving. It is immediately visible that the bar at Baltic has been the subject so much fuss and attention, as every seat is occupied by enthused customers sipping magnificently colourful cocktails. The same may be said for the restaurant, the vast space is filled to the brim and what we could see of the food looked authentic and gorgeously presented. It did not disappoint. Baltic is a brilliant restaurant for those that are curious about foreign foods, yet there is something for even the most unadventurous eater - appetisers, blinis, potato pancakes, salads, dumplings, meat, fish - the list goes on. And as for the alcohol, whether you are after an evening of cocktails, wine, vodka or whisky - the selection is expansive and the quality is exquisite. Ambient, delicious and authentically Nordic: this one is a must.
Whilst trying to decipher the meaning of the perplexing Polish menu, we chomped our way through bread and Nordic pickles. From an expansive selection, I opted for a fresh chollah and the plus one for a poppyseed sourdough. Both were delicious, warm and went brilliantly with the pickled peppers, gherkins, cwikla - a piquant Polish relish of chopped horseradish root and beetroot, and salted butter - strong flavours that provide a bracing start to the meal. After an exchange of confused expressions, the plus one motioned for a waiter to help us translate parts of the menu. He was helpful and charming, and generously offered recommendations. We did not, however, struggle to understand the list of cocktails, me choosing a Basil Grande (Wyborowa vodka, Grand Marnier & Chambord shaken with fresh strawberries and basil leaves) and the plus one, a Ginger Fling (Jameson Irish whiskey shaken with lemon juice). The list went on - for anyone who likes a well made cocktail, this one is for you.
We begun our meal with a selection of starters that spanned four different sections of the menu. First, a few slices of dill and vodka marinated gravlax served on warm potato latkes. The salmon was packed with flavour, cured in salt, sugar and dill as per Nordic tradition, with a sharp and fleeting kick from the vodka. It was soft and fresh tasting, dressed in a mustardy vinaigrette, dolloped with creme fraiche, and served atop two latkes, which are large savoury cakes resembling a sort of hash brown.
Next, we sampled a plate of fine egg dumplings pan-fried with peas and bacon. This was a recommendation from our waiter, and most certainly was not what we expected. The dumplings were closer in resemblance to pasta than any dumpling I have ever had: long, slim and without any sort of filling. The flavour, however, was not dissimilar to a butter milk pancake, with each panfried strand firm and cakey in texture and mildy buttery in taste. They absorbed the flavours of the bacon, peas, red onion and chopped parsley brilliantly, coming together to make an authentic and delicious dish unlike anything either of us had tasted before. Next, we shared a portion of marinated herring blinis, a signature dish of the A La Carte dinner menu. The herring is marinated and pickled onsite, and as such is fresh and tender. The naturally salty flavour of the oily fish comes through the powerful taste of the white vinegar marinade, and the flesh is extremely soft and slippery in texture. As the herring was marinated in the traditional combination of vinegar, seasonings, red onion and dill, it was complimented by the slices of raw red onion, sprigs of pickled dill and slices of gherkins that accompanied the blinis. A dollop of cool creme fraiche, a few wafer thin slices of tangy green apple, a mollrop of herring sprinkled in chives and these well matched garnishings contributed to a flavour packed, authentically Nordic tasting blini. The yeasted pancakes themselves were fluffy, thin and much larger than expected. Apparently, when part of a meal (as opposed to a canapé), buckwheat blinis are supposed to be flattened out, so as to bed a substantial mound of different ingredients. Other blinis included mushroom caviar, smoked salmon, meta caviar and Royal Belgian Oscietra Caviar... Imagine the amount of caviar required to cover a bagel sized blini! Yes please!
We sipped another round of cocktails whilst waiting for our main course, and proceeded to order a selection of vodka shots from the unbelievably long list of flavours. It isn't every day that you have the chance to taste Bison Grass or Sweet Plum vodka served warm, so the plus one and I (true to form) seized the opportunity. Each one was more delicious than the last, and before we knew it, we had tried over six of the different flavours... My favourite was the Winter Berries, but the Cucumber and Dill was also fantastic. It is the type of liquor you don't have to endure swallowing; you want to sip it slowly, and enjoy the different flavours that hit your taste buds before and after the warm punch of the spirit. I would definitely recommend trying a few!
For my main course, I ordered the Chargrilled Leg of Lamb with Smoked Aubergine, Tomato & Pepper Salad. The meat was butterflied and sliced in to thick juicy medallions that were served pink and warm, having been well rested. The Meditteranean influence of the dish was a welcome change from the Eastern European flavours that had been confusing my tastebuds all evening, and the smoked aubergine jus got on famously well with the rich musky flavour of the lamb. The portion was generous, so a recommended order for someone with an appetite! The plus one, by contrast, ordered a Roasted Cod with Spinach, Mushrooms and Kasza (buckwheat) risotto. The cod was soft and buttery in texture, falling apart with ease and melting in the mouth in a matter of moments. The flesh tasted clean and salty like any fresh oily white fish should do, and it was cooked just enough so that it could maintain its shape, although I imagine plating it without letting it tear must have required dexterity. The cod was roasted in a mild chilli spice, and laid on a gorgeous bed of fluffy risotto that the plus one gobbled up in no time at all.
On the side, we shared a portion of Kasza with Bacon and spring onions and a bowl of chive mash. The Kasza itself was served at room temperature, bland in taste in the same way as quinoa, but the bacon and quinoa gave it crunch and flavour that made it an interesting accompaniment to the fish in particular (matching the risotto, of course). The chive mash, however, was anything but bland. My god, it was light, fluffy and lump less throughout - like it had been whipped for hours and hours. It tasted buttery and rich, and the generous helping of chopped chives, together with the roughly ground black pepper gave it a brilliant punch.
Finally, and rather glutinously, we ended our meal with two delicious and equally unpronounceable Polish classics that were recommended by our waiter: sernik, a traditional white chocolate and vanilla cheesecake, and racuchy, pan-fried apple fritters served with cinnamon ice-cream. The cheesecake was dense and velvety in texture as a baked cheesecake should be, and the sweet and creamy taste of white chocolate went ceremoniously with the warm sugarless berry compote. The fritters were similarly scrumptious, although I always find fritters a little too heavy as an end to a meal. They were warm, doughy and flavoured through with sweet winter spices that were balanced perfectly by the thick and creamy cinnamon ice cream. Seriously indulgent, but the Polish do seem to know how to do dessert! A brilliant end to a brilliant meal. Highly recommended!