I have been writing our Let’s Do Lunch series for two and a half years now and enjoyed every minute of it.
After a year I was asked if I would like to try going to press nights to write articles promoting restaurants and I was only too pleased to oblige. Then came, ‘How about doing some theatre reviews?’ Once more I responded in the positive. From there we progressed to Farmers’ Markets and all seemed well but imagine my surprise and shock when I received an email asking me if I would like to try Smak. I remembered the ‘Just Say No!’ Campaign of the mid eighties and was about to write an angry reply but then I noticed that there was no letter ‘c’ in it.
Now I might not know much about Class A drugs but I do know how to spell them and being aware of what a stickler Leeds Living’s copy editor is I knew it could not be a mistake so I googled ‘smak’ and found that it was Polish for ‘taste’. It is also the name of an establishment on Kirkstall Road which serves the food from that particular Eastern European country. Once I had composed myself I agreed and put a lunchtime aside for a visit.
There seems to be a burgeoning international food scene on this part of the thoroughfare opposite Cardigan Fields Leisure and Entertainment Centre, of which Smak is the latest addition. Their aim is to serve traditional Polish food but give some of it a modern twist. For quite some time now I have been bemoaning the lack of Polish, Jewish and West Indian restaurants in a city which has a sizeable population of each of these groups, and whose cultures we should be celebrating, and what more appropriate way is there to celebrate than by eating and drinking.
I was told by Moniker, the owner, that Smak is more of a coffee shop than a restaurant and, as such, the portions were a bit on the small side so she suggested I order two dishes; the idea being that people not used to Polish food could test the water. There was a special lunch dish but I wanted to sample the specialities on the normal menu. The specials change on a daily basis anyway so would not be the same should you decide to pay a visit.
I know from my Polish friends that Pierogi is more or less the national dish so I just had to try those. Pierogi are dumplings which are cooked by boiling them in water. There are as many recipes for the dough as the fillings but it is basically flour and water, although some people add an egg or even mashed potato. There is a choice of three fillings, one of which is vegetarian and another vegan. I went for the third, being ground pork, beef and herbs. They were well worth the wait of all those years, being very light and the filling beautifully seasoned, with the flavour of each of the two meats discernible which takes some doing. They were topped with chopped chives and small pieces of bacon. A dollop – pardon the technical term – of mayonnaise completed the dish. An absolute delight and worth a fiver of anybody’s money.
My second dish was a Kanapka z Kietbasa (smoked sausage sandwich) of which there is a choice of three, mine being Angry Bull – beef and pork with chilli. It came in a lightly toasted bun containing house slaw, Polish gherkin, cheese and horseradish sauce. There were salad leaves with a pesto dressing on the side. The sausages were extremely tasty and had the required chilli kick, although not overpowering. The slaw and gherkin cut through the flavour of the sausage to form a formidable combination. If I have one criticism it was that the toasting of the bun dried it out a little. All of the sandwiches are £6.
I asked what would be the appropriate drink to have with the meal and I was recommended Summer Fruit Kompot, a homemade juice drink which was extremely refreshing and not too sweet at £1.50.
When I had finished lunch and revealed that I was there to write a review I had a conversation with the owner, who is obviously passionate about what she does and told me the story behind the dishes I had. The pierogi were made to her grandmother’s recipe and the smoked sausage her grandfather’s. He would smoke them using the pork from the pigs on the family’s small farm, selling them to the villagers nearby, Moniker now uses finest Yorkshire pork. During the war, her father used to take the kielbasa into the local forest to feed the resistance fighters who were holed up there. That’s a dangerous job if ever there was one.
Should you pay a visit, and why wouldn’t you, I suggest that you just have one of the dishes on offer so as to save room for a piece of the home baked cake for dessert. Unfortunately I didn’t have room but it was plum sponge cake with a crumble topping and looked divine.
So children, be like the kids from Grange Hill in that advertising campaign and if someone enquires if you want to try smak ask them to spell it. If it is with a ‘c’ Just Say No! If it is without a ‘c’ definitely Just Say Yes! – please.
Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.