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Tay Ho eatery serves up Polish with flair

Update: August, 17/2014 - 17:41
Main course: Served on butcher's blocks, the dishes offer rich cuisine in balanced portions. — Photos David Harris/Word Vietnam

 

One of the newest additions to trendy Tay Ho District, Pyza upgrades Poland's traditional meat-and-potatoes fare. Elisabeth Rosen reports.

 

In the warm, sticky Ha Noi night, we fought over the last pierogi by the light of a flickering candle. Absent the blaring of motorbike horns, we could almost have been in Europe two centuries ago.

Polish food has been conspicuously absent from the dining scene in Ha Noi, despite the growing number of Eastern European options, like Berezka, Cafe CCCP and Bud'Mo. Young Vietnamese and expats jostle to get their first taste of the hearty dumplings, washing them down with imported Karpackie (VND75,000), at this converted tube house on To Ngoc Van Street. (Follow the branch that juts off downhill from the original street at number 33. If you get to a dirt-road construction site, you've gone too far.)

Owners Bach Duong and his wife Ngan, who grew up in Poland, saw the dearth of Polish food in Ha Noi as a business opportunity. They opened a place called V&B (Viet Nam and Ba Lan) in 2012, but despite its location on expat-populated Doi Can Street, the restaurant struggled to attract customers. After a recent move to trendy Tay Ho District and name change to Pyza ("dumpling"), however, they're consistently packed.

This isn't your grandmother's Polish food. Chef Piotr Dabrowski worked at five-star hotels in Poland before moving to Asia; here, he crafts quietly elegant plates that pay homage to the cuisine's peasant roots. The star of the night is golonka, roasted pork hock (VND110,000). Mounted on a round butcher's block alongside smooth mashed potatoes and ribbons of cabbage, the tender, fat-streaked slab makes a convincing ambassador for Polish fare.

The pork chop (VND80,000) is also a consistent winner, although minor details can be inconsistent. The first night I ordered it, the dish came garnished with a Black Forest crafted from shiso and coriander; the next, it featured a caramel-hued gravy. Still, you can't quibble with the result, deftly pan-fried and topped with a perfectly fried egg. More problematic is beef stew (VND70,000) which is a bit of a misnomer: practically drizzled onto continent-sized potato pancakes, it contains so little meat that it could nearly be termed vegetarian.

Polished Polish: Chef Piotr Dabrowski delivers elegant takes on traditional dishes.

The signature pyza come in potato and meat flavors. Made with potato dough, they are denser than the pierogi, large flour dumplings stuffed with garlicky spinach (VND80,000) or creamy cottage cheese (VND90,000) and served the traditional way with fried onions and sour cream. A bowl of the vinegary beetroot soup called borscht, presented on the side, serves to cut the richness.

Pyza

Address: 60 To Ngoc Van Street

Tel.: 04 6252 2277

Hours: 11am-10pm (closed Mondays)

Price Range: VND80,000-200,000

Comment: Reasonably priced Polish food

Despite all the fat and cream, portions are balanced: you won't stagger out the door feeling more stuffed than the cabbage rolls. The cause of fullness is aided by a basket of black bread baked in-house, which one smears with a generous swipe of smalec, a lard-based spread with bacon and raisins. It's delicious, though the accompanying pickles lack the requisite snap. Should you want to prolong your feasting, there are homemade pastries like apple cake with vanilla ice cream (VND35,000) and decadent karpatka (VND70,000), a Polish take on cream puffs. The name refers to the Carpathian Mountains, ostensibly because their rugged surface, dusted with confectioner's sugar, evokes those craggy peaks, although the portions are also suitably mountain-esque.

The decor is minimalist verging on non-existent. Diners eat in brightly lit private rooms (the better to see your food with?) with sparse white walls. Lucky groups can score the slightly more ambient terrace, which seats about 16 and delivers, on occasion, an accidental Old World experience. One night, a blackout abruptly swept the house into darkness. Servers rushed up with candles. Fortified by the dim light and those rich pierogi, it mattered little. — VNS

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