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Celebrating Time-Honoured Bonds: Central and Eastern European Cuisine in London

Bryan Lavery
Written by Bryan Lavery

Eastern European bonds of culture and cuisine are closely tied to the changing borders and economic renaissance of the region following lengthy periods of conflict and turmoil. In recent years, Eastern European cuisines have been overlooked and underrated by the food media in the West. The cuisines are overshadowed, stereotyped as unremarkable, heavy and not particularly innovative. This is the opposite of my own experiences.

The Budapest and the Marienbad restaurants have long served as London’s quintessential restaurants for Eastern European-style dining, but the list does not end there. If you scratch just beyond the surface, you will find that London can boast a comprehensive regional variety of cooking styles which includes, among others, Hungarian, Czech, Ukrainian and Polish cuisines. 

London has a standout gourmet food emporium in Alicia’s Fine Foods on Trafalgar Street near Highbury. Alicia’s stocks a vast selection of Eastern European food products with a focus on Poland, everything from confectionery and chocolates to preserves, condiments, canned fish, chestnut paste, pączki and other challenging-to-find products. Pączki are essentially fried and glazed doughnuts made with a rich dough mixture of eggs, fats, sugar and yeast, filled with fruit purée or custard. Alicia’s has an extensive delicatessen counter, large bakery and pastry selection, and a European grocery section with many Eastern European versions of products. 

Anna Turkiewicz is a well-known caterer and has been a Covent Garden Market mainstay for the last two decades. She is the friendly, hands-on owner of Kleiber’s Deli (at the Market since 1940) and known for her quality delicatessen and gourmet products, which are procured from across Poland, Germany, Holland, Switzerland and other parts of Europe. Well-known to downtown food enthusiasts, for whom Turkiewicz prepares her signature soups, cabbage rolls, schnitzels, sausages and refutably the finest pierogies downtown for take-away. This is the style of home cooking Turkiewicz enjoyed when growing up, and later as a cook and dietician in Czestochowa, Poland, where she met her husband Andrzej, also a professional cook. There are often line-ups that attest to Kleiber’s popularity. This is where you can purchase marzipan, quince jams, mustards, and holiday confectionery. Turkiewicz is also the caterer at the German-Canadian Club, where she operates Anna’s Catering. 

At the Market at Western Fair there is Agnes Petenyi’s Hungarian-inspired Butcher’s Wife and Evi’s Deli which is known for Hungarian sausages, pepperettes and garlic spread. Across the street from the Market, Miki Hambleck’s The Hungary Butcher makes over 40 varieties of European-style handmade sausages with quality ingredients that are mainly gluten-free. Hambleck uses all-natural casings and no nitrates or fillers. The family-owned and operated Bogal Homemade Pierogi at the Market at Western Fair source local ingredients, many from within the market, to make small-batch pierogi from scratch using a traditional recipe with a contemporary twist. 

Ukrainian “Happiness” in Downtown London

1. Entremets —multi-layered mousse cakes
2. A Signature Wedding Cake
3. A Variety of Cupcakes

Nothing entirely represents a city like its café culture. Olga and Anatolii Prytkova’s family-owned Happiness Coffee and Desserts, on Wellington Street across from One London Place, features Ukrainian-inspired-style coffee and scratch baking, including seasonal and specialty cakes, macarons, cupcakes and chocolates. They offer an excellent selection of delectable high-end doughnuts such as glazed pistachio, crème brûlée, caramel-filled with salted caramel, mango, and passion fruit. There are croissants, waffles and some of the best European-style sandwiches you will find in the city. The superb coffee for their espresso-based drinks comes from specialty craft roaster Hatch in Toronto.

The premises have a clean, modern feel with plate glass windows allowing lots of natural light. There are cups suspended from the ceiling like mobiles and other cheerful and whimsical touches.

The name Happiness originated when the Prytkovas lived in central Ukraine in the town of Kropyvnytskyi (formerly Kirovohrad). A family friend purchased a box of cakes that Olga had baked and said it was like a box of happiness, and the name stuck. At the time, they didn’t have a café, just a small kitchen for custom orders. They named each of their boxes, “Box of Happiness,” Prytkova’s said. “When we decided to open our café in downtown London, we said now it’s not a box, it’s a place of happiness.”

When the family initially moved to Canada they settled in Winnipeg for a year and a half. Olga worked for chocolatier Constance Popp, where they made fresh premium artisan chocolates, pastries and frozen treats. The Prytkovas did not like the colder prairie climate and decided to relocate to London, which is closer in size and weather to their former hometown in Ukraine. 

In addition to their exquisite icings and glazes, Happiness can laser print images on their cookies, French macarons, mousse cakes and chocolates. “People choose selfies, logos, or sweet messages,” says Prytkova. “Your logo will not only look great but will taste great too.” 

Happiness Café
430 Wellington Street, London
519-204-2854
myhappiness.ca

Tuesday to Friday: 8:30 am–6 pm
Saturday: 9 am–5 pm
Sunday: 10 am–4 pm
Closed Monday

Budapest Restaurant’s Renaissance 

Owners Anita Tasonyi & Eduard Nagy

The landmark Budapest Restaurant has been operating since 1956, and owners Eduard Nagy and Anita Tasonyi, 20-year veterans of the establishment, have been operating the restaurant for over a year. Protégés of the legendary restaurateur Marika Hayek, they continue to delight clients by offering authentic Hungarian food and drink. The restaurant is having a renaissance; the kitchen has recently been renovated and modernized, menus have been refreshed, the glassware and silverware updated. There is a new street-side canopied patio for al fresco dining.

A local gem, with bohemian ambience and a Roma Gypsy-style aesthetic with plush velvet valances and curtained alcoves and comfortable armchairs, the décor is a mix of traditional designs, embroidery, lace, textures, prints and photographs.

Two main rooms lead back from Dundas Street linked by an arched passageway across the middle, with an elevated ornate banquet hall for private functions at the far end. The feel is Old World European with heart, and a deliciously authentic menu. Confident, expansive cooking keeps traditional Hungarian flavours front and centre — think classic offerings flavoured predominantly by woodsy, smoky Hungarian paprika — dishes that are precisely prepared and expertly flavoured. Paprika is not just a superficial specialty to garnish food, but an integral element. Budapest is much more than a venerable schnitzel house. It is home to classic stroganoff and blintz, all indicative of the cuisine.

1. Hungarian dinners — served with nokedli (regional Hungarian dumplings) — are always delicious
2. Signature dishes include superb schnitzels, dipped in egg batter, coated with breadcrumbs and golden fried.
3. Chicken Schnitzel on a Kaiser
4. Braised cabbage roll served with nokedli and Debreceni sausage

Goulash (gulyás) originated as a humble soup-stew, cooked over an open fire by Hungarian herdsmen. Still, the addition of refined varieties of paprika from ground red chillies, tender beef, and a rich tomato base have made the dish an international staple. Goulash is served here both as a hearty soup and as an entrée. House-made pierogies filled with potato and dill, fried golden and topped with sour cream and bacon, are a new addition to the appetizer selection. Signature dishes include a variety of superb schnitzels, dipped in egg batter, coated with breadcrumbs and golden fried. Iconic cabbage rolls are delicious parcels of spiced pork and rice with a creamy paprika sauce and served with debreceni sausage. There are medallions of pork tenderloin with garlic and Hungarian spices, and slow-cooked roast lamb shoulder with a cream and mustard sauce. Traditional combination platters or special prix-fixe Hungarian dinners — served with nokedli (regional Hungarian dumplings) are always delicious — but save room for dessert. On offer are a stunning classic walnut roll, house-made strudels and palacsinta (crepes). At the heart of the restaurant’s 64 years of success is food thoughtfully prepared and crafted with quality ingredients.

Chef is an innovator, adding interesting contemporary twists to the dishes and the plating. The passionate kitchen takes a handful of top quality ingredients and allows them to shine. That is Marika Hayek’s legacy.

Friendly staff can accommodate dietary requirements and restrictions. The family-run restaurant offers banquet facilities and is available for lunch and dinner parties, celebrations, business meetings and weddings. Located downtown in the hotel district, the restaurant is a short walk to the Delta Armouries, DoubleTree by Hilton and RBC Place London. 

Budapest Restaurant
348 Dundas Street (at Waterloo)
519-439-3431
budapestrestaurant.com

Monday–Thursday: 11 am–2 pm; 4 pm–10 pm
Friday: 11 am–2 pm; 4 pm–10 pm
Saturday: 4 pm–10 pm
Sunday: 4 pm–9 pm

Food photos by Nick Lavery

A Modern Polish Culinary Perspective: Unique Food Attitudes in Old East Village

Owner Barbara Czyz. Photo courtesy of London Free Press

Barbara Czyz has operated Unique Food Attitudes as a catering business for 24 years. Her seven-year-old bistro in Old East Village across from the Palace Theatre and the Ark Aid Mission has been an ongoing success due to its accessible modern Polish culinary perspective. The bistro with its black slate counters, chrome accents, comfortable seating, window seating and large storefront windows with lots of natural lighting continues to draw clients from all over the city for the food and the warm and friendly vibe.

Czyz and her husband, Jaroslaw (Jarek), immigrated to London from Poland via Greece in 1989. When Czyz graduated from Fanshawe College’s Culinary Management course in 1996, she and two classmates formed a catering company. One partner left after six months and the other after two years, leaving Czyz as the sole proprietor. Czyz really upped the ante when she signed exclusive catering contracts with Delta Emco and Trojan Technologies, where she operates the employee cafeterias, aided by Chef Julianna Guy.

Traditional Polish cuisine with chalkboard specials and minimalist flair

The menu and chalkboard offerings at the Unique Food Attitudes bistro feature traditional Polish cuisine with a seductive, clean and minimalist flair. This is the cooking of Czyz’s mother, the food that speaks the truth of her family. The kitchen showcases its versatility with house specialties such as traditional kurek soup with kielbasa and egg, and earthy red borscht with a distinctive sweet and sour flavour. There is goulash ladled over crispy placki (potato pancakes), krokiety (crepes), bigos (sauerkraut-mushroom-meat stew) and tender pierogies (dumplings) filled with sauerkraut and/or mushrooms, meat, potato and/or savoury cheese, with fried onions. Specials have included stuffed beef rolls with pickles, peppers and onions smothered in a zesty mustard sauce served with shredded carrot salad and two perfect scoops of mashed potatoes.

1. Breaded Pork Cutlet with potatoes and mizeria (cucumber salad)
2. Polish Poutine (cheddar pierogies covered with goulash sauce and Cheddar cheese) and surówka z czerwonej kapusty (red cabbage salad)

House-made cabbage rolls are slow-cooked and made of pork, rice and bacon. Sauce is often the main difference in regional variations. Czyz is known for a lighter sauce that is a perfect complement to her cabbage rolls. Signature Polish poutine features house-made Cheddar pierogies with goulash and additional Cheddar cheese. We love the crispy and perfectly balanced mizeria (cucumber and sour cream salad). There is sauerkraut salad and a shredded red cabbage salad that is otherworldly. There are apple pancakes with fresh fruit and whipped cream, French toast, crepes, omelets and deli sandwiches on the breakfast menu. There is sensuality to the food and presentation. One day our server recommended the lemon posset, on another day, the szavlotka (apple cake) and we have been devotees of the desserts ever since. Czyz has built a reputation for wedding and holiday cakes, including her handmade krokettas and schlegye that remind her European clientele of their homelands.

Her son Matt is often serving in the front of house, and daughter Patrycja when home is on hand in the restaurant. A staunch member of the Polish community, Czyz continues to support many community events. 

Bigos (sauerkraut-mushroom-meat stew) and fresh bread

 

Soup of the Day and Deli Sandwich

 

Goulash with Placki (potato pancakes) and surówka z czerwonej kapusty (red cabbage salad)

 

Raspberry and Chocolate Cake

 

Unique Food Attitudes
697 Dundas Street, London
519-649-2225
unique-food-attitudes.com

Monday–Wednesday: 9 am–6 pm
Thursday–Saturday: 9 am–8 pm
Sunday: Closed

 

Hungarian Tradition & Authenticity at Aranka Csárda

The casual white-linen dining room offers comfortable seating and lots of natural light

Aranka Csárda is a family-run Hungarian restaurant on Longwoods Road, beside Millar Berry Farms, just outside of Lambeth. The Komaromi family take pride in ownership and serve authentic, quality food. The decor and colour scheme are meant to reflect the ambience of an authentic Hungarian csárda (traditionally a tavern on the outskirts of town). Renovations on the former premises of George’s Family Restaurant, which more recently had housed Yia Yia’s Grille, commenced in the summer of 2016, and Aranka Csárda officially opened for business in November 2016. Recently the restaurant survived six months of unrelenting road construction.

Owner Zoltan Komaromi and Chef Eva Szilagy

Aranka, a popular traditional Hungarian name derived from the Hungarian “arany” meaning “gold”, translates to Goldie in English. It is the name of Zoltan’s wife, who is known for her cooking skills. In 1993, during the civil war, Zoltan and Aranka, with two six-month-old twin boys and a three-year-old daughter, left the town of Ada in the former Yugoslavia (now in the province of Vojvodina, Serbia) and immigrated to Canada. Zoltan spent some time working with the Hungarian Independent Film and Video Association of Budapest, owning and operating Zoli Video Productions after he arrived in Canada.

The casual white-linen dining room has banquette seating as well as tables and chairs. There is lots of natural light and the artifacts and stoneware adorning the walls and windowsills have been donated by the local Hungarian community. 

Chef Eva Szilagy is a Budapest native and it is undoubtedly paprika that characterizes her cuisine. Traditional recipes have their heart and soul in the Hungarian classics. The cuisine uses a lot of onions and sour cream, and butter is the base for many of the homemade recipes. 

1. Chicken Paprikash: Stewed quarter chicken with creamy paprika sauce over nokedli
2. Somlói Galuska: “Hungary’s favourite cake” — a decadent, trifle-like cake seen here with fresh Apple Strudel
3. Hortobágyi Palacsintae: Savoury chicken stuffed crepe with paprika and sour cream.

Meats are sourced twice a week from the Tribizan family-owned Mount Brydges Abattoir, located 15 minutes outside London. The family is known for quality fresh and smoked meats, especially the sausages. Zolton says, due to the abattoir owners’ Slovenian background, they were able to introduce Hungarian Ribs on the menu. These ribs require a special cut with lots of meat on the back ribs. Traditionally Hungarian Ribs are 7–8 cm thick, multi-layered and juicy. Additional fat makes the ribs more tender.

Cabbage and sauerkraut are sourced from St. Jacob’s Foods, a family farm in New Hamburg. Zoltan’s 81-year-old father makes the trip regularly to New Hamburg to pick up supplies. Sour cabbage, a traditional Eastern European staple, is a full head of cabbage, core removed, that has been fermented in salt brine which they use for their signature cabbage rolls. Sauerkraut is made of shredded cabbage mixed with salt, which draws out the natural juices of the cabbage, creating brine for the lacto-fermentation process.

The menu offers gulyásleves, classic Hungarian goulash with braised beef, potatoes, carrots and nokedli (dumpling-like pinched noodles) and töltött káposzta, marinated cabbage rolls with fermented leaves stuffed with minced pork and rice served with sauerkraut and tejföl (sour cream). There are traditional töltött paprikas, which are peppers stuffed with ground pork and rice and a sauce of paprika and tomato. Marhapörkölt is Hungarian beef stew served with nokedli and pickled vegetables. The Csárda Platter for two consists of marinated pork steak, breaded cod, garlic-paprika meatballs, potato wedges, steamed rice and homemade coleslaw. There is also a Pig Roast Platter for two consisting of house-made liver sausage, garlic and paprika sausage, marinated pork steak, potato wedges and sauerkraut.

The designation “Hungary’s favourite cake” is given to somlói Galuska, a decadent, trifle-like dessert composed of sponge cake layered with vanilla custard, chocolate, walnut and whipped cream, served here in a coupe glass. There are fresh and flaky strudels made in-house with apple or cherry filling. An Eastern European staple, these strudels are firmly of the Hungarian school. In season, the restaurant features fresh strawberries sourced from their neighbour Millar’s Berry Farms and strawberry palacsinta (crepes) become a house specialty. Aranka features Hungarian wines, beer and the world-famous pálinka, the traditional, fermented fruit brandy.

Aranka Csárda 
7447 Longwoods Road, London 
519-652-9696
aranka.ca

Tuesday–Thursday: 11:30 am–9 pm
Friday & Saturday: 11:30 am–10 pm
Sunday: 11:30 am–9 pm
Monday: Closed

 

Marienbad Restaurant: A Czech-Inspired Classic

Marienbad shares a seasonal
European-style sidewalk patio
with partner Chaucer’s Pub

The Marienbad is one of downtown London’s landmark restaurants where you are sure to find European clientele, who come for the relaxed ambience and traditional offerings. More than half the items on the menu are dishes the Marienbad has been serving since 1974. The defining characteristics of the cuisine are traditionally Czech and deeply connected to other Central European dishes due to ever-changing borders.

Marienbad endured construction outside the restaurant for two years while Fanshawe College was being built at the site of the former Kingsmill’s Department Store. Times were difficult. Owner Jerry Pribil has said he was indebted and thankful to his loyal clientele and dedicated staff. Without them, the Marienbad would not have survived. Pribil persevered, keeping staffing to a minimum. Fortunately, Pribil had additional employment teaching hotel and restaurant management in the United States and Europe.

Recently renovated, the restaurant exudes Old World style and elegance

Chef Klaus Campbell, originally from Germany, took over the kitchen in 1988 when he became the head chef. Chef’s thick and creamy dill pickle and potato soup is, to many people who question the pickle, surprisingly tangy and complex. Especially popular are house specialties like goulash with Bohemian dumplings and earthy chicken paprikash served with Haluska (cabbage and noodles). The Carlsbad rouladen is thinly sliced beef wrapped around ham, a gerkin and egg and served with dumplings.

Hungarian Goulash is tender beef in a hearty sauce with Bohemian dumplings.

Schnitzels have always been a mainstay at the Marienbad, and they are more varied than you might imagine. The ideal schnitzel has a crispy, dry crust that rises like a soufflé and shatters with the touch of a fork, revealing tender, thinly-pounded meat within. A variety of classic schnitzels are on offer, such as crisp Jäger schnitzel with a creamy mushroom sauce, and Franz Josef schnitzel stuffed with ham and Swiss cheese and lightly seasoned with mustard. Classic Wiener schnitzel (meaning Viennese cutlet) is prepared traditionally with veal. During the Schnitzel fest at the Marienbad, they offer a variety of schnitzels that include Devil Schnitzel, which is natural pork topped with sautéed mushrooms and hot peppers. There is also Franconian Schnitzel, which consists of breaded pork topped with roasted bacon, mushrooms, cheese and Hollandaise sauce. Other iterations include lamb and tuna steak schnitzels.

Jäger Schnitzel, tender pan-seared pork served with a decadent mushroom brandy gravy.

Classic Czech open-face sandwiches are all about the taste, and characterized as being rich and complex in flavour. Creamy chicken liver pâté piped open-face onto pumpernickel and garnished with green olives is reminiscent of quality liverwurst. At lunch there is a Russian egg, an open-face sandwich with a chopped egg on potato salad topped with salami, ham, Swiss cheese and caviar. The traditional Czech Ploughman has house potato salad on French stick topped with mildly smoked Prague Ham. Wenceslas cheese, a Czech classic, is Edam cheese, coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried to gooey perfection. Sharing similar characteristics in aroma and flavour, beer and cheese complement each other. The Ploughman and Wenceslas Cheese are ideally suited to beer pairings. The natural carbonation in beer elevates the palate and accentuates the nuances in the cheese.

There is apple strudel, a variety of cakes and several versions of palatschinka with liqueurs —similar to French crêpes — thin and golden brown, served with chocolate or hot raspberries. We like the semi-frozen Marienbad Bombe, a house specialty with brandied fruit over ice cream. 

The adjoining Chaucer’s Pub offers a casual ambience and is comfortable and pleasant, featuring a selection of craft beers and imports that will surprise the most discerning patrons. Try one of the 12 European beers on tap, poured and presented according to tradition. While there is an emphasis on Belgian beers, there are roughly 85 different brews from six continents. As well, there is an exceptional selection of single malt scotches on offer.

The Marienbad boasts a variety of private rooms such as the “Fireplace Room” that seats up to 85 people, the “Prague Room” seating up to 45, and the “Atrium” with its mural of Carlsbad, which seats up to 40 guests.

The Marienbad’s most preferred dish is their celebrated Wiener schnitzel — no matter what time of the year. The second most requested crowd-pleaser is the hearty goulash. 

Marienbad Restaurant 
122 Carling Street, London
519-679-9940
marienbad.ca

Monday–Thursday: 11:30 am–10:00 pm
Friday & Saturday: 11:30 am–10:30 pm
Sunday: 4:30 pm–9 pm

Restaurant photos by Steve Grimes.

About the author

Bryan Lavery

Bryan Lavery

Eatdrink Food Editor and Writer at Large Bryan Lavery brings years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry, as a chef, restaurant owner and consultant. Always on the lookout for the stories that Eatdrink should be telling, he helps shape the magazine both under his byline and behind the scenes.

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