Baltic

Tel: +44 (0)20 7928 1111
Address: 74 Blackfriars Road, Southwark, SE1 8HA
Cuisine Type: Eastern European
nearest tube station Southwark (JUBILEE)

If you thought that Eastern European cuisine was stodgy, their style questionable and the language inaccessible, you’d be wrong – well, on the first two counts anyway. Baltic puts paid to those misconceptions with panache. A bit like the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the modest, almost inconspicuous entrance leads unexpectedly through to a long and glamorous bar, minimalist and beautifully decorated with amber, before opening out, Tardis-like, on to the 40ft atrium roofed dining room, with its contrasting mix of sleek white and grey furnishings and exposed wooden beams.

Look out for the gorgeous hanging amber structure and the art on the walls; they wouldn’t be out of place at the Tate Modern. Even the staff look refined, dressed in slate grey and black. The only thing that dispels this aura of sophistication are the tacky plastic-textured paper tablecloths they place over the linen ones underneath.

As soon as we sat down a basket of fresh bread was whisked under our noses, with a choice of white, rye and caraway seed. The chocolate coloured rye bread is particularly good. We also ordered some vodka as an aperitif – a strong plum brandy variety (Sliwonica) – from the extensive vodka list, which has well over 20 different flavours (strawberry, ginger, lemongrass…), some of which are produced by the restaurant itself.

To start, we shared a large blini selection (£11), with smoked salmon, marinated herring, pickles, keta caviar, aubergine and mushroom mousses and sour cream. The Bloke remarked that there was nothing special about the dish, except that the quality of the constituent ingredients made it stand out, and he could put something similar together (that’ll be the day…). There are heavier starters for those not on the Atkins Diet (or in fact any kind of diet), including pierogi filled with potato and cheese, siberian pelimeni (dumplings filled with beef and pork) and Kaszanka (Polish black pudding with pickled cabbage).

For main course I ordered rabbit with bacon and fennel (£12.50) while The Bloke opted for haunch of venison with cherries and caramelised pears (£14). Asked how I would like my meat cooked, I said medium rare, but it came well done anyway. They didn’t ask the Bloke how he wanted his venison and it was definitely on the uncooked side of medium rare. Fortunately, he likes his carpaccio, so this wasn’t too much of a problem, but I would have struggled or, more likely, sent it back for a couple more minutes in the pan.

“Doneness” aside, we enjoyed our main courses, though we both agreed that mine was the better of the two: mildly gamey meat with crispy bacon on a bed of solid mash formed a hearty, but surprisingly not overly heavy, meal. The venison could have done with marginally more flavour, but what it lacked in its cooking was definitely made up for by generosity of the portion.

The waitress did try to get us to order some side vegetables too (braised red cabbage, beetroot and apple salad etc), but I think we would have struggled to finish them, or would have forgone dessert. Which would have been a shame, since we enjoyed a shared plate of nalesniki (£4), crepes filled with sweet cheese, nuts and vodka-macerated raisins.

The wine list is unexpectedly short, but is compensated for by some good value choices (prices range from £12 – £42/bottle) several of which come by the glass, including a perfectly serviceable Domaine de Callory 2000 for £3.25/glass. There’s also a fabulous cocktail list, many of which incorporate the eclectic flavours of vodka on offer. We decided to finish with Goldwasser, a syrupy aniseed vodka flecked with gold leaf and served in a frozen shot glass – highly recommended.

Our only other niggle – Baltic is let down by the service. Hard to get a waiter’s attention when you want it, and yet our main courses were cleared from the table before we had finished. That aside, although we are still trying to get our tongue round the names of the food and drink, Baltic offers good value and competently executed cooking, and style to aspire to.

– Tracy Yam, 8/2003

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