Eastern European cooking passed down from babcia’s kitchen is the order of the day at this unpretentious and convivial favourite in Southwark.
Push aside the dark curtain swathed across Baltic’s entrance and you enter a bar packed with people drinking, eating and making merry. The triangular space narrows away so that the cavernous restaurant beyond comes as something of a surprise. The long metal bar with its slick bartenders preparing vodka cocktails has a modern vibe, but the restaurant beyond has an altogether different feel. Minimalist in style, the room is lent warmth by candlelight, exposed brickwork and wooden beams, which trapeze across the high ceiling.
In a word, the atmosphere is buzzing. The restaurant proper is a generous space, yet it’s full, even on a midweek night. Waiting staff are delightful, appearing at all the right moments and making helpful suggestions regarding the menu and drinks choices. Given Baltic’s location and unassuming entrance, this is clearly a place for those in the know - the media crowd fresh out of working at ITV’s studios nearby, smartly dressed men and women on dates and birthday parties. This is no one-trick pony.
The Eastern European menu is large, yet neatly divided into starters, dumplings, blinis, meat, fish, dessert and cheese. Pierogi, the classic dumplings made with unleavened dough, come with four different fillings, each a soft, dense mouthful. If you’re hungry, try the starter of blinis with a full selection of accompaniments – smoked salmon, mushroom caviar, marinated herring and Keta caviar. It comes with a healthy dollop of soured cream on the side and the blinis are thick and pillowy. This is generous, unpretentious food. Both dumplings and blinis can be taken as mains or starters, which fits well with Londoners’ passion for small plates.
The menu is diverse, packed with hearty Russian soups, Polish stews and aromatic fish dishes from the Caucasus. You’ll need the appetite of a hunter to eat a full dish of bigos, the Polish hunter’s stew. Baltic’s version is dense with venison, beef, sauerkraut and hunks of Polish sausage, even if it is a little salty. Crisp yet tender pork schnitzel is a delight, and a dessert of sernik (Polish cheesecake made with thick curd cheese) is firm and creamy. Don’t leave without trying a slice of poppy seed cake (makowiec), which takes days to make and just seconds to eat.
Baltic has an extensive drinks list with wines from the New World to Georgia and back. But, say the words smoked salmon, blinis and caviar and surely a shot of thick, clear Russian vodka is in order? That, or champagne, of which Baltic serves seven different houses. Take a look at the vodka menu and you’ll find more than 60 varieties, all served in frozen glasses or by the carafe.
The Last Word
If you’re looking for food and drink to warm the soul, this is it. In typical Eastern European style all are welcome, so invite friends and make an evening of it.