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Tuesday 23 November 2010

London Restaurant Reviews - Gessler at Daquise

Polish Fine Dining in Central London (Updated on 20th March 2011)
Co-written with Marta Karcz

An old-established Polish family of restaurateurs, the Gesslers own some of the top restaurants, delis and confectioners in Warsaw. They are highly regarded in their native country and their flagship restaurant "U Kucharzy" is the only one in Poland to have been awarded a Bib Gourmand for two years running by the Michelin Guide.

It was only in 2008 however that the Gesslers took over Cafe Daquise on Thurloe Place, South Kensington, giving the foodies in London the opportunity to see how they truly measure up. Since its opening in the 1940s, Cafe Daquise has been the place where the Polish community based in the UK would go for a reminder of their homeland and to dine on some of their favourite national dishes.

I have made quite a few Polish friends in London over the years but I have to admit knowing little about their cuisine. So when I was invited to review Gessler at Daquise, I called on some expert knowledge from Marta Karcz, a Polish food blogger (Muscovado Cafe) and friend I had met at a recent London Cooking Club dinner. Marta kindly agreed to dine with me at Gessler, educate me on her native cuisine and has also co-written this review.

Marta writes candidly about her first impressions of the restaurant - the early, nostalgic smells of her childhood - vinegar, beetroot, fried onions and bread, coming back to her as we entered the dining room. The simple, if somewhat austere decor, reminded her of similar home style restaurants with antique, dark wooden cabinets contrasting with the plain white tiles, soft lighting, and the starched white linen. At the entrance, a large wooden table laden with desserts, cakes and bread helped to give an invitingly informal feel to the restaurant and a glimpse of the delicious food that was still to come.

The menu has many of the classic Polish dishes, all sounding very delicious, making it hard for us to come to a decision. But soon after Marta's brief introduction to the more unusual dishes and our host’s (Rafal) suggestions, we chose the two starters, soups, and main courses of the evening. It was notable that most dishes were brought to the table in their cooking pans with some being finished there - adding a real sense of theatre.

We started with a mixed portion of "Pierogi" @ £10.  These are freshly made dumplings with fillings of meat or cheese, potato and onion. Traditionally served with melted butter, fried onions and sometimes sour cream, they tasted authentic and were delicious. Both fillings were well seasoned but the cheese filled one was our favourite. It tasted of lightly caramelised onions, butter, black-pepper and with a tangy, savoury quality from the "twaróg" (Polish curd cheese).

The "Tatar" @ £10.50 (or Steak Tartare) was next. The beef fillet was patiently minced and seasoned with a myriad of ingredients including capers, onions, gherkins and an egg yolk by a chef at a small table next to ours.

It was a fun thing to watch - the beef tasted fresh and the finished mixture if slightly under salted for my taste was also very good.

The "Zurek" Soup @ £7 (Sour Rye Soup). As tradition dictates, the soup was served with hard-boiled egg and chopped fried sausage and had a distinctive sour taste from the addition of soured rye flour. The combination of flavours (smoked sausage, sour rye flour and boiled eggs) was delicious and hearty.

The "Barszcz zabielany" @ £7 (Red Borstch)– was a creamy beetroot soup – served with a separate plate of generously buttered mashed potatoes studded with bacon and fresh dill. Rafal explained that the soup had been infused with orange and cloves and tasted sweetly aromatic.

He also explained that while eating "barszcz" we should take some of the potato mash on a spoon and plunge it into the soup so that we had a perfect mouthful of both. The mash was intentionally salty to contrast with the sweet beetroot soup.

For mains we shared "Kaczka Pieczona" @ £19 - roast duck with mashed potatoes, red cabbage, apricots, baked apples and cranberries and "Ges Pieczona" @ £24 - roast goose with stuffed buckwheat and served with red cabbage, raisins and fresh cranberries.

Once again, we witnessed a culinary performance – a couple of chefs came out of the kitchen with a table laden with pots and whole roasted birds, and gradually we saw our plates being filled with generous carvings of duck and goose, servings of mashed potatoes and cabbage, buckwheat, baked apples and the topped with the concentrated jus from the roasted meats and a luscious cranberry sauce.

Other dishes I was very interested in trying were "Krolik Duszony w Tymianku" @ £18 (saddle of rabbit stewed with thyme, served with egg noodles and carrots stewed with honey and ginger) or "Golonga z Dzika" @ £22 (knuckle of wild boar stewed in juniper and served with egg noodles and roast beetroot). There is also an evening three course tasting menu at £30 (starter, soup and main) or four courses including dessert for £34. The same tasting menu is also available at lunch time for £19.90. To view their full menu, click here.

By this stage we were replete, but succumbed to Rafal’s suggestion of pancakes with cheese filling for dessert. Unlike in Poland, where pancakes are served with a thin layer of jam or "twaróg" mixed with cream and sugar, pancakes at Gesslers were definitely a rather sophisticated affair. They were lovely and thin, filled with cheese, raisins and cinnamon and  served with a warm sauce of stewed cranberries.

As a digestif, Rafal brought us a glass of "Wiśniówka" @ £3.50 – cherry vodka – which was the perfect end to a magnificent meal.

Cost: The London Foodie and Marta Karcz were guests of Gessler at Daquise. The tasting menu is priced at £30 for three courses or £34 for four courses. I estimate that a three course meal from the a la carte menu will cost between £35 and £40 per person (excluding drinks).

Likes: I liked all the dishes we ordered, but particularly the soups, roasted birds and "pierogi". I also enjoyed having my food served hot from the cooking pot, and the attentive, unhurried service we had. It does seem a little pricey, but then the ingredients are top quality and the portions are very generous. Gessler has nearly all of its produce imported from Poland.

Dislikes: The wine list is a let-down given the quality of the food. There are many bottles below the £20 mark which is commendable but the lack of detailed information about the provenance of the wines is unfortunate in a restaurant of this quality.

Verdict: I was very impressed by my introduction to Gessler and Polish fine dining. Good, authentic food with delicious and unusually interesting flavours in a very charming setting. I cannot think of a better cuisine for this wintry London weather and look forward to returning soon. Very highly recommended.

Gessler at Daquise on Urbanspoon

...What Others Are Saying...

Jo Kruczynska on 20th March 2011: After reading your blog about Gessler at Daquise in South Ken, we took my Dad there for his birthday yesterday. It was such a lovely evening especially as the food is very traditionally Polish and brought back so many memories of my Polish Grannies cooking. They really looked after us and plied us with special flavoured vodka's. Thanks for the recommendation!


  1. What a lovely meal and review! I love pierogi and the rest all sounds great too. Will have to make my way there and try!

  2. I recently visited for lunch with my brother and we had some delightful perogies there. Also was impressed by the offer of a two course lunch (soup + main) for only £6 (or £6.50, something like that)! Another table ordered it and it looked great, generous portions brought out and plated by the chefs, as you experienced. It was my first visit ever since Gessler took over the restaurant and it was very promising. Glad to see it's good at dinnertime too!

  3. Good find! I've been to a Gessler restaurant in Warsaw and whilst I'm no big fan of the cuisine in general, the roast duck dish is very good and it's good to see it served here

  4. Luiz, what a lovely review, you've depicted the whole experience beautifully. Thank you for your company and a memorable evening. I agree - this restaurant is a gem and higlhy recommended.

  5. The meal looks really comforting and warming, needed at the moment eh! Liking the look of those dumplings!


  6. What a gorgeous post Luiz! Lovely photos as usual and what a feast of amazing foodie!

  7. This place looks great - especially the pierogi.

  8. @ Kavey - I am a complete "pierogi" fan since being introduced to it at Bob Bob Ricard when you invited me to join you for lunch there all those many ago...

    @ Su-Lin - thanks for sharing your lunch experience with us, I will definitely would like to return to Gessler and take Dr G, will definitely try their lunch menu next. Such good value!

    @ Mr Noodles - I have never been to Poland, so I would be interested to hear how the London branch compares to your meal there. Let us know when you visit.

    @ Mo - yes, you should definitely try and it seems like the lunch menu is an excellent way to do it on the chep.

    @ Pumpkin - hey Marta, thank you so much for accompanying me to Gessler and helping me to choose the dishes and explaining them to me. I wouldn't have enjoyed it nearly as much without you there.

    @ Dnaequalsfood - indeed, ideal for this type of weather. Can't think of anything I would like to eat more right now than that lovely betroot soup!

    @ LexEat! - thanks Alexis, I think having the pics blown up like this is more effective.

    @ Trudi - the decor is quite simple but the food is in my opinion exceptional, and I really recommend it. Thanks for your message.

  9. I was first taken here as a child and continued to come here from time to time over the past 25 years. The old Daquise was a South Kensington family favourite, a familiar, old-fashioned and unpretentious restaurant that was as much a meeting place as a place to eat. The typical dishes such as the Herrings and Pierogi were always tasty and the portions were generous. Drinks were reasonably priced too. I always felt contented and satisfied after a meal here. Unfortunately this was not entirely the case on my last visit to the newly made-over Daquise.

    I would like to make a few suggestions (should the new owners wish to take note):

    1. The service is correct but distant and formal. It needs to be warmer and more personal (though not over familiar).
    2. Portions are not sufficiently generous for the price. 6 pierogi at nearly £10 is unjustified. Either provide more Pierogi per portion (10 would be good) or please reduce the price to reflect the small portion.
    3. Herring - please serve with less oil. The oil seeped into the other ingredients on the plate and this was not appetising.
    4. Please bring back the Polish rye bread to serve on arrival. Much more authentic and tasty than the Pizza Express-style dough balls currently served.
    5. Restaurant was freezing. Granted the weather is cold outside, but feeling cold while eating in a restaurant is simply not on.
    6. The coldness of the air temperature was heightened by the visual coldness of the decor. Needs warming up: floor rugs perhaps. Ceramic wall tiles and wooden floorboards is more appropriate for a fish restaurant, is distinctly chilly in atmosphere and doesn't match the style of food. Introduce a log fireplace perhaps?

    Please would the owners take these points into consideration, and the points of other reviewers, as I am sure we all wish this place to survive for as long as the previous Daquise.

  10. My wife, 2 other friends and I booked this restaurant for dinner after reading your review and other reviews online. Basically, I was expecting the food to be unusual (as we had never tried polish food b4) but good and the service to be unpredictable.

    We arrived and were seating efficiently. They even offered to take our coat, which is nice given that the restaurant is pretty packed. The Pizza Express dough ball is a bit of a disappointment as this is definitely not polish.

    The girls had the tasting menu while the man decide to be brave and tried ordering from the menu. To be honest, the food is rather delicious. It is well cooked, well seasoned and the portion is slightly on the small side.

    Most of the online review commented on the service. We kind of like the "free-style" service. Having the kitchen staff bringing up pots and pans from the kitchen and distributing the food is a GREAT idea. At least u can see that they are wearing clean kitchen over-alls.

    U can tell that the waiters are trying their best - some of them are more experienced and some less. However, they all tried and were very friendly. There were a few mixed-ups and some comedy moments but it actually bring out the charm of the place.

    My wife and I had eaten our way round the world this year and this place actually come in as one of the top 5 restaurants we had been to this year. It is not somewhere i will bring my client or my in-laws if i want to impress them. It is somewhere i will go with my wife and my mates to have a hearty meal.

  11. Have you tried dumplings and roast ducks? They are the famous and traditional Beijing dieshes. And also bird's nest soup? Its a delicacy in China.

    Enjoy your days~~~


  12. My mother, Jozefa (Josephine) Rutowska Buryn, was the head chef at this restaurant just after WWII. We lived in Ealing and emigrated to the U.S. in 1955. I have childhood memories of this restaurant, and hope to visit it soon.

  13. My nephew, Marek Strozik, visited your restaurant during a business trip and spent time with the owners relating my mother's contribution to the restaurant as head chef following WWII--Jozefa Rutowska Buryn. I remember as a toddler a few times sitting in a booth outside the the kitchen while my mother managed the kitchen. My father was Wladyslaw Buryn, multi decorated war hero. So many memories and honor of being a daughter of phenomenal warriors and survivors of WWII.


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