I moved to Warsaw three years ago but don’t seem to have spent a lot of times in cafes yet when I lived in Portugal and France you couldn’t get me out of these places. I guess there isn’t the same balmy weather all year round or laid back atmosphere in a city like Warsaw. People seem to always be darting around and as you know the winters are freezing and the best thing to do then is stay indoors.
However, there is one café that I do just pop in now and again when I am shopping for clothes, shoes or books and it belongs to the Blikle family and is situated in the Arkadia shopping centre on the bottom floor.
Before I tell you about the café I will just mention about the Blikle family and the Varsovian café scene……
The earliest cafes were established at the time of the Wettin dynasty in the 18th century and although the Varsovian palate was first conquered by the royal confectioner Lessel, who managed the buffet in Saski Gardens here in the centre, the Blikle family also has a long history in the confectionery business. Their company was established in 1869 at No.35 Nowy Swiat by Antoni Kazimierz Blikle and was active up until the Warsaw Uprising. The original shop was a meeting place for artists, actresses who worked as waitresses during the war, and it was and still is famous for the best Varsovian paczki-glazed doughnuts with rose jam filling. Five generations on Andrzej Blikle opened the famous café close to the original shop on Nowy Swiat in 1993. These days, there are a few more Blikle cafes in the city and also in Krakow. The one I am going to review is in the Arkadia Shopping Mall. I use this one because it is only a 20 minute walk from my home and I prefer to walk then jump on a tram to Nowy Swiat.
Café Blikle has a very Viennese feel to it but I am guessing this look is what Polish cafes looked like before the war. By this I mean the lighting is very mellow and subdued and the furniture, glass cabinets, tables and chairs, even the waiting staff have a very prim and proper look. Every cake sat on its silver tray looks perfect – not too glamorous – just the right amount of sophistication and elegance. Every piece of cheesecake, poppy seed cake, almond pastry and croissant are served with such a delicate precision – a true art-form.
The café doesn’t seat many people. I would say there are about 6 or 7 of those very highly polished circular tables with chairs that have arched backs and spindly legs. There are a couple of tables also outside the café but this is a very busy spot and I have never sat here because people passing all the time would put me off. Glass cabinets line the left hand side of the café displaying liquers and different brands of coffees. The glass doors of the cabinet shine and shimmer like a frozen lake in the moonlight and the handles are made from polished brass. The counter is at the back of the café and is very attractive to look at with various kinds of packaged confectionery like home-made biscuits and of course, Blikle hand made chocolates. These are a bit like Thornton’s chocolates but are much more elegant to look at. The chocolate covering of each flavoured filling looks like soft marble. I just can’t explain how perfect they look – obviously created at the hands of a master chocolatier. The packaging of both biscuits and chocolates is very simple; high quality wrappings in an off white colour with the name Blikle beautifully scribed across the top of the package with a simple ribbon. Simple, but gorgeous.
Three or four staff man the counter and I have always found the staff to be beautifully dressed in black and white and have impeccable manners which isn’t always the case in Polish cafes and shops. It is usual to order whatever you wish to drink and eat from the counter, pay and then one of the waitresses will bring your order to the table. All the different varieties of cakes are displayed in the front cabinet which gleams and sparkles with coloured icings and whipped creams from behind. My favourite cake is cheesecake but it isn’t like you buy in UK it is of the real Jewish variety. Just a small square of fluffy cheese with raisins or slices of peach drenched in a chocolate criss-cross top. This tastes delicious with a cup of coffee from one of the south American blends. African coffee is also served and you can order tea whether black, fruit, mint or camomile. Black tea is always served in a white porcelain pot with a dinky, delicate cup and saucer, extra jug of hot water and milk is available hot or cold if you don’t like your tea black. This also comes in the sweetest of porcelain jugs and a serviette. One single white flower whether it be a rose or carnation sits alone on the highly lacquered table-top.
On other occasions I have tried the doughnuts and they live up to their reputation. The Polish nation celebrates Shrove Thursday rather than Shrove Tuesday and on this day you will have to queue to buy a doughnut at this café. It is worth queuing though because they are very delicious and I don’t even have a sweet tooth. There is a perfect balance of crispiness and lightness and the sweet rose jam oozes out of the centre with every bite. Icing delicately covers the top of the doughnut and just finishes the taste off nicely. You can also buy these to take away as all the other cakes and these are packaged in a cardboard box with an inlay of greaseproof paper then tied up with fancy string.
Other delicacies to try and ones that I recommend are a slice of Opium; a dense piece of chocolate pie filled with poppy seed and finished off with a snazzy chocolate design. Or there is a square of Mucor. This is another kind of chocolate cake that resembles shortcake. It is filled with fruit jam and has a meringue topping which is slightly dusted with fine icing sugar. My mother-in-law’s favourite is apple-pie. A lovely little number where the sliced apples have been roasted made into a pie then topped with chocolate and toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds rolled into a smooth caramel sauce. Delicious but I hate to think of the calories in this one. Still, she’s 73 and very skinny so I don’t think a few extra will do her any harm. And another favourite speciality of mine is a tube made from flaked almonds and pumpkin seeds that have been embedded in toffee and then filled with light, fluffy chocolate cream and alcohol. Superb!
When I go out for a coffee and a cake I like to take my time and not rush in, stand at the counter, gulp down a small Espresso and then rush out again like many of my Portuguese friends. I like to listen to soothing music whether it be classical or jazz, sit at an elegant table, be served with a smile and eat my cake gracefully so I don’t get indigestion. I can do all of this at Cafe Blikle in Arkadia, one of Europe’s top shopping centres and it costs me about 20 zloty (approx £4). I think that’s good value and I highly recommend this traditional and very stylish establishment.