19 May 2008


BEHIND A pretty Georgian façade, Baltic extends. A long vodka bar opens onto a wider platform, where Eastern European jazz bands regularly perform. This is flanked by an Alizarin coloured brick wall, under a fibre optic amber mobile. The journey finishes in a large sunken square: white walls, black floor, flooded from skylights forty feet up.
I have been wanting to eat in this former coachbuilders since spotting it en-route to an interview in nearby Valentine Place a few years ago. I was interested in working with Optomen at the time, the pixellating force behind the ‘F-Word’.
This unusually chic Eastern European restaurant is the brainchild of Jan Woroniecki, restaurateur behind Wodka and most recently Chez Kristoff. It is an impressive, if aloof space.
At £17.50, the set Sunday menu, available all day, offers the best value. Three courses and a Bloody Mary or Bellini. Our waitress, who is either shy or a little bored, arrives with a pot of beetroot ‘caviar’ spiced with horseradish and a dish of tangy, but not vinegary pickles. She offers obviously fresh bread from what must be one of the most beautifully presented selections in the capital. I opt for Baltic black: sturdy, chewy, with moist, almost caramelised crusts. Unfortunately no side plates ensure a fair amount of mess. But maybe this is Workoniecki’s way of saying it’s okay to cut loose on the crusts, “relax”.
A la Carte, I choose a small Blini of Keta Salmon Caviar (aka ‘dog’ salmon) for £9. The small bright orange marbles are inappropriately served with a lemon wedge. I enjoy spooning little pots of ground boiled egg, crisp onion and fluffy sour cream onto the soft pancakes.
Stepping back onto the set menu, I eagerly scoop my vibrantly fresh Salmon Tartar, crowned with more Keta and dusted with dill. My Polish companion likes her monochrome marinated Artichoke, Broad Bean and Rocket salad.
My lamb meatballs with meaty, glossy cherry sauce are pressed into a mash concealing occasionally gristly porky cubes. Nourishing and heartily against the minimalistic surroundings.
Pan Fried Pollock beached on whole chicory leaves, infested with pomegranate seeds which look like poisonous beetles, is designed more for the eye then the palate. The bitter endive and sweet seeds fight. A dramatic oily onslaught had been applied in an attempt to bind everything together. A serious miss.
Lusciously ripe Mango Sorbet topped with a faworek (pastry ribbon) and coffee-chocolate scented Pistachio Ice Cream revived the spirits.
The loos are amongst the darkest I have ever seen and confusingly arranged. Infra red probably wouldn’t help. Tables are too close (although the place is not exactly heaving). Office fabric grey chairs are beginning to wear. The room needs colour, even if only from some flowers on tables. Service lacks warmth. Many people who walk through the door, along the dark corridor, and into this blank canvas will be trying Eastern European food for the first time.
Obliging staff, prepared to lead new customers through the culinary window of their world, would leave a lasting impression.
Baltic - 74 Blackfriars Road, London. SE1 8HA. T. 020 7928 1111
Close to:
Anchor & Hope & Waterloo Bar & Kitchen
Tube: Southwark
I am off to Poland next week, so expect more Eastern European eating...

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