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Off to the North Pole

Published 12 February 1995
Style Magazine
84th article

'A real find': customers at Zamoyski, which sells 34 kinds of vodka, and a nine-course mezzo for £5.50 (George Jaworskyi)

One of my favourite people, Miss Helen Zahavi, the writer of Dirty Weekend and a great admirer of the excellent film of the same name, has only recently stopped calling me her sister. She still calls me a Holland Park ponce. Helen asked me to take her to Zamoyski in Hampstead so long as I paid the bill. I was somewhat apprehensive about this. It would be the only time in my life that I have eaten two nights running in north London, the previous time being disastrously at Frederick's in Islington. So when Zamoyski, a smallish place next to a supermarket, loomed and I saw the heavy wooden windows and somewhat bunker-like appearance, I thought "Oh dear".

We were shown to a large table in the corner, big enough to seat six. But the cane and wood chairs were a bit too small. On the wall opposite a blackboard listed 34 types of vodka. The menu looked interesting. Polish dishes with real Polish names and an English description.

It put me in mind of one of my favourite restaurants of all time, the Silver Spur in South Kensington, once owned by a monocled Polish general, now sadly gone. There I would watch the young Antony Armstrong-Jones, before he married well and became Lord Snowdon, dining with a photographer whose studio was opposite. I remember discussing with him a 16mm film he had made of some social events, but which he could not afford to have processed!

Zamoyski is larger and not as plush as the Silver Spur. But the waitress, Rosalia Gawron, was very charming and the prices looked unbelievably low. Mind you, they had to be, because I had no money and no credit cards. "I knew this was going to be a cheap date," said Helen, trying to decide whether to sample local dishes. I do recall with great pleasure a few trips to a very strange building in King Street Hammersmith, which looks like a seedy government office. In fact it houses the Polish Social and Cultural Association and a Polish restaurant open to the public called Lowizanka. That too has quite extraordinarily good food at very low prices. So cheap that I ordered three main courses just to have the pleasure of tasting have kaczka (a form of roast duck) or the dzik pieczony (wild boar). We both had some honey vodka and things became rosier. The place has brick walls on three sides and a bar with bottles in racks on the other. It definitely exudes atmosphere. By the time I'd eaten the first course I knew it was a real find. I hate to recommend real finds because they get crowded beyond belief. But Zamoyski is absolutely terrific. My borszcz Ukrainski (beetroot soup) was tip-top and I had, as an extra, a bit of their set menu called Polskie mezze which is nine courses for £5.50! This was sweet marinated herrings coated in onions, apples and sultanas. Totally exquisite.

The main courses, some sort of blini and lamb for me, the duck for Helen, were quite superb. By now a genuinely talented violinist and guitarist were playing, anything from show tunes to Russian-Polish folk music. Rosalia the waitress had risen from good to Winner award for best waitress in the world, and the owner-chef, Christopher Witkowski, came over. He used to be a maintenance engineer at the Holiday Inn, Mayfair! Maybe some of our other over-chic chefs should use that as a training ground?

I must admit a great liking for Polish cooking. I don't think it's because my mother was born in Poland as sadly she never cooked the it each. But there the waitress was extremely snooty about it as she tried, with difficulty, to fit them all on the table.

Back in Zamoyski, the musicians on overdrive, Helen finished with a semifreddo for dessert and I had a szarlotlta! They were both near-historic. You'll have to go there to find out what they were in English! The bill including two vodkas, three courses for Helen, four for me, plus coffee and mineral water, was £32.80 for two ex service! A bargain. Even if I couldn't pay it.


I wonder if I am alone in concluding that if Michael Winner likes a restaurant, then that is a message to steer well clear. So it was with some concern that I began to read his column about Frederick's restaurant in London (January 29). I need not have worried. He managed to pick holes in just about everything, so we can assume he won't be going back, and the coast is clear for us regulars. When he complains about poor service, he means that he didn't get special attention. Well, why should he?
Paul Goodman, Pinner, Middlesex

I refer to Michael Winner's review of Frederick's restaurant in Islington, a well-known and well-respected neighbourhood restaurant. I have been a patron for many years and have never found reason to be critical of its service or ambience.
Jane Priestman, London N1

I have eaten at Frederick's on a number of occasions and have never failed to have an excellent meal. Mr Winner must be very unlucky to have so many bad meals, or is there another reason?
Jonathan P Seltzer, Ilford, Essex

Like Michael Winner, I, too, have eaten at Frederick's. I found the attitude of the staff identical with his experience. The meal was so-so, but what was most surprising was that while the menu stated rack of lamb, the plate that arrived had large slices of cold lamb on it. We sent it back to get it warmed up. This generated quite unnecessary hostility from the waiter. When it came back, it was still cold. The following day, I wrote to the manager, asking why this had happened. My letter was not even acknowledged. The establishment is undeserving of public custom.
Bruce Rutherford Duff, London W4

I am amazed at the consistently snobby attitude of Michael Winner. I have never read any article of his that was wholly positive even of a restaurant he seemed to enjoy. His hypercritical attitude is enough to strike terror into any restaurant staff and indigestion into his dining companions. I am surprised he has not himself expired from his own sense of disgust and disillusionment at being unable to find the highest-of-high quality ambrosia in his years of restaurant criticism.
David Cross, Blackpool, Lancashire

Two friends and I had dinner at Quaglino's the other week. Our food was enjoyable, but the overall experience was unpleasant. This was due to a couple who smoked constantly even when eating. The close proximity of their table to our own made it impossible to avoid their smoke and consequently our meal was ruined. One of my friends asked to speak to the manager to discuss the question of offering a no-smoking area, but was told that nobody was available. Our dinner cost in excess of £40 per head; a not inconsequential sum. Until Quaglino's can organise itself to offer comfortable surroundings for its diners, I fear that I shall not return.
C H Gough, Orpington, Kent

Last month it was my good fortune to be invited to Chesham's at the Sheraton, Belgravia. The menu was interesting, the food beautifully cooked and exquisitely served. The staff were attentive but unobtrusive and the atmosphere was excellent. The wine list impressed my Australian host, the Ladies room was quite the best I have ever visited, and altogether the evening was perfect.
Geraldine Walters, Horsham, W Sussex

Remember the days when you could visit your local fish and chip shop and enjoy fresh, succulent, flaky cod? Well, I have found the shangri-la of fish restaurants in the family-run Louis & Son, South Harrow, Middlesex. The owner, Louis, states that his fish is always fresh and not frozen; that is why it tastes so good. My wife and I now make a regular pilgrimage and are keeping well within budget at around £6 per head, including the trimmings of pickled onions, cucumber, mixed salad topped with olives. The seating is comfortable, and the atmosphere endearing. A real find for fish-lovers.
Sydney Waissel, Bushey Heath, Herts