Michael Dea­con at Bar­bakan in York

Our critic en­joys some hearty East Euro­pean cook­ing, but longs for a lie-down af­ter­wards

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs: Christo­pher Nunn

AL­MOST TWO YEARS since I sug­gested it, I still haven’t found a restau­rant that’s taken up the idea, which is ob­vi­ously mad, be­cause it’s a nailed-on win­ner. Crit­ics would purr. Tri­pad­vi­sor would drool. Book­ings would soar. And it’s all so sim­ple.


You know the feel­ing. You’re at a restau­rant and you’ve just pol­ished off the fi­nal crumb of an all-con­quer­ing gut­buster of a meal. Your shirt is strain­ing, your belt is groan­ing and your eye­lids are droop­ing. What you need, right now, is a lit­tle lie-down. A light snooze. Just for half an hour, un­til your belly’s gone down a bit, and you no longer look like a snake that’s swal­lowed a can­non­ball. If only you could slither a few feet into the next room and flump down on to a bed.

But you can’t. Of course you can’t. Restau­rants don’t have beds.

They should, though. Ask an an­cient Ro­man. They ac­tu­ally ate on beds. Or near enough. They ate while re­clin­ing on spe­cial couches. Sit­ting on chairs to eat was only for chil­dren. Very wise, those Ro­mans. We should have lis­tened to them. They gave us straight roads, aque­ducts, cen­tral heat­ing, in­door plumb­ing, pub­lic li­braries, paved streets and cab­bage – yet for some rea­son, we turned up our noses at the most cru­cial Ro­man in­no­va­tion of all: eat­ing on beds. We’ve been fools. Bloated, drowsy, un­com­fort­able fools.

From a lo­gis­ti­cal point of view, I ap­pre­ci­ate the dif­fi­cul­ties. For a restau­rant owner, mak­ing money is hard enough as it is. You can only af­ford a small space, and nat­u­rally you want to cram it with as many chairs and ta­bles – and there­fore as many pay­ing cus­tomers – as pos­si­ble. Beds take up so much room. But I prom­ise: they’d be such a hit. Es­pe­cially if the dishes you’re serv­ing are big and hearty and hefty. Such as the food at this week’s restau­rant: Bar­bakan, in York.

Bar­bakan is Pol­ish – and the Pol­ish like their food heavy. I went for lunch with my wife, son and par­ents, and we were taken aback by how big the por­tions were. Not nec­es­sar­ily in size, but in den­sity. ‘That’s the Pol­ish way,’ said the Pol­ish wait­ress, shrug­ging. ‘Although,’ she added wryly, ‘some Pol­ish peo­ple are com­plain­ing that the por­tions are too small.’

I’ve never been to Poland. If they think Bar­bakan’s por­tions are too small, I can’t imag­ine how big their own are. They must have to lower food into their mouths with a crane.

The menu at Bar­bakan is al­most wholly in English, which is help­ful, be­cause for us hap­less monoglots Pol­ish looks in­sur­mount­able. So many Cs and Zs and Ss, one af­ter an­other, in a pum­melling bl­iz­zard of con­so­nants. Czc­szc­szcs. It’s like the static from a walkie-talkie.

My first dish ac­tu­ally wasn’t Pol­ish: it was the Hun­gar­ian potato pan­cake. Not that it mat­ters where it came from, be­cause it was ter­rific. The pan­cake thick on the in­side and crisp on the out­side, and spilling from it a de­li­cious slick of beef goulash. I also had a proper Pol­ish dish, the go­labki: cab­bage leaves stuffed with spiced minced pork and rice, and served in a tomato sauce.

Again, very good. Both of these, I should ad­mit, were ac­tu­ally mains. I felt I had to or­der two mains be­cause I was the only one at the ta­ble who wasn’t either a veg­e­tar­ian or a fouryear-old child. My son does at least eat meat, so I sup­pose I could have re­viewed the chil­dren’s menu, for the ben­e­fit of any tod­dlers read­ing. (‘The meat­balls were exquisitely pi­quant, but I fear the crayons were woe­fully un­der­done.’)

I no­ticed, in­ci­den­tally, that the chil­dren’s menu was clipped to­gether with the pre­mium-beer list. They start them young in Poland.

My par­ents both had the zaw­i­janiec, which was an­other kind of pan­cake, this one stuffed with buck­wheat and veg­eta­bles, baked in a tomato sauce, and topped with a huge fat rug of melted cheese. It was served nu­cle­arhot, but was other­wise ex­cel­lent. My wife had the cour­gette frit­ters, which, for Bar­bakan, were un­usu­ally light, but also a lit­tle bland.

Other­wise, every­thing was tremen­dously fill­ing. I felt like a wal­rus pil­ing on ex­tra lay­ers of blub­ber for a hard win­ter. My mum liked her main, but said she’d have pre­ferred it to be half the size, with the other half re­placed by a nice dainty salad.

Then again: if she thought her main was heavy, she hadn’t seen the pud­dings. These were mon­u­men­tal. They were all slices from dif­fer­ent, but equally grand, cakes. Of course, a slice doesn’t sound like a lot. But it de­pends on how big the cake is. Each of these must have been the size of a hov­er­craft.

All slices were topped with enor­mous fluffy clouds of whipped cream. Mine bulged with jumbo chunks of ap­ple. My wife’s was mint choco­late, which she found a bit flavour­less. The best was def­i­nitely my dad’s: white-choco­late mousse and straw­ber­ries. A floaty, bil­low­ing dream of sweet­ness.

Nor­mally I feel neu­rot­i­cally com­pelled to fin­ish every­thing on my plate, even if I’m no longer hun­gry. But at Bar­bakan I just couldn’t. I was de­feated. Bliss­fully de­feated. A great lunch – but how I’d have loved that liedown af­ter­wards.

We stag­gered out­side, and rang for a taxi. Frankly, we could have done with an HGV.

Spilling from the potato pan­cake was a de­li­cious slick of beef goulash

Right Hun­gar­ian potato pan­cake with beef goulash and sour cream. Op­po­site

Zaw­i­janiec, a buck­wheat and veg­etable pan­cake in tomato sauce

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