Salto Restaurant, Warsaw

Before heading to Warsaw I contacted the man in charge of Poland’s only Michelin star kitchen, Modest Amaro… although his restaurant was shut he highly recommended Salto Restaurant. This relatively new eatery is housed in the luxurious Hotel Rialto (elegant art deco accommodation in the city centre) though operates very much as its own entity.

Salto is the creative venture of Argentinian-born Martin Gimenez Castro, winner of Poland’s 2013 ‘Top Chef’ competition. Passionate and innovative, Martin has carefully designed every aspect of the venue, including the beautiful unique plates and bowls in which his food is served. The food is intricate but employs bold flavour combinations and unusual cooking techniques. It is like nothing else I tried in Poland, the recipes are braver and tastes more powerful.

Salto features frequent reminders of Martin’s background and heritage, with South American flavours, an abundance of fish and seafood as well as famous Argentine beef. I peeked in the small kitchen where Martin and his petite team conjure up endless immaculate plates of food. Out in the full restaurant, guests seemed to be audibly enjoying their food, discussing the successful dishes amongst themselves.

We had our fingers crossed for steak, and four courses in, an impressive cut of Argentinian beef tenderloin was placed in front of each of us, perfuming the air around us. Alongside the steak came white truffle sauce, pak choi and baked Jerusalem artichokes. It was wonderful, a triumph of indulgent ingredients and fine silky meat.

Salto is known also for its remarkable wine list. The eager staff chose wine expertly to complement each course, producing one rare vintage after another. Particularly memorable was the 2004 Cavas de Weinert from Mendoza which married well with the steak.

A colourful and light dessert arrived to mark the end of the meal. An artistic arrangement of chocolate and beetroot components. It was my favourite flavour pairing of the night and I embraced the final plate of creativity gratefully.

Poland’s food scene is flourishing, and Martin Gimenez Castro is one of the most talented chefs leading the revolution. A meal at Salto is a must for any foodie visiting Warsaw.

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Things to do in Warsaw

Poland is not a top tourist destination and the capital city Warsaw is always in the shadow of the more architecturally attractive Krakow. Recently though this industrial setting has become home to many culturally ambitious and successful projects. The city has been destroyed more than once and the proud and patient Poles have rebuilt a glorious new “old town” for whimsical wandering. The landmarks are sparse and yet explore a little deeper and you will find cool contemporary art collections, trendy and cheap underground bars, design focussed concept stores, and daring and delicious eateries. Even after three days in Warsaw there was more to do and see, and discovering this lesser known city brought me great joy and excitement.

To stay

H15 Boutique Hotel – the only design hotel in Warsaw starts from just £50 a night. Housed within a transformed 19th century building just south of the city centre it has 46 spacious rooms and suites imaginatively designed by Mariola Tomczak.

To eat

Salto – this is the creative venture from Argentinean-born Martin Gimenez Castro, winner of the 2013 edition of Poland’s ‘Top Chef’ competition. Passionate and innovative, Martin has thoughtfully designed every aspect of the venue. The food, though intricate is full of bold flavour combinations and unusual cooking techniques.

Concept 13 – found on the fifth floor of the smart Vitkac shopping centre, this stylish restaurant offers panoramic views of the city. The food lives up to the luxurious location with indulgent international dishes including foie gras with quince and sichuan pepper, and tagliatelle with truffles. The service and atmosphere are lovely ensuring you will have a special evening.

Kraken Rum Bar – just across the street from our hotel Kraken provided us with a hearty lunch in Warsaw. Wonderfully fresh fish dishes are available, and next door at Beirut Hummus bar you can feast on Middle Eastern delicacies. Kraken is a lively evening venue too, filled with young locals.

Warszawa Wschodnia – one of the places I discovered in the Soho Factory area of Warsaw. Chef Mateusz Gessler offers a delicious three course lunch for the equivalent of £4. Sit at the bar and enjoy the show from the open kitchen.

To drink

Ministry of Coffee – arguably the best coffee in town, this café serves coffee from Sweden’s Koppi and is also the host of the Polish AeroPress Championship. I had a smooth and tasty Flat White here after arriving off the flight from London.

Pies Czy Suka – a little design shop with an in-house bar. We tried the unusual molecular foam cocktails one night before going on to dinner, and the classics looked good too.

Café 6/12 – this sophisticated venue has a grand marble floor and high ceiling, and with 76 types of smoothies it is the ideal stop for breakfast. I had a punchy freshly squeezed juice here in between shopping stints.

Filtry Café – a 10 minute tram ride from the city centre, this speciality coffee shop was the first of its kind in Poland. Filtry opened in 2007 (apparently the first venue to serve brewed coffee) and has had many renowned Polish baristas behind the bar. It is a charming café serving a variety of seasonal blends and the Kofi brand.

To do

Palace of Culture and Science – built in 1955 this impressive building is the tallest in Poland. Travel up in the lift to the terrace on the 30th floor to see amazing views over the whole city.

Museum of Modern Art – we wandered around the intriguing building on New Year’s Day and saw a great architecture exhibition. Offering temporary thought-provoking shows it is definitely worth checking out whilst in the city.

Wilanow Palace – this royal residence was built in the 17th Century. As well as the impressive palace building itself, the accompanying gardens are worth seeing (in either sun or snow!)

To see

Neon Museum – based in the Soho Factory complex, the Neon Museum displays a huge collection of cold war neon signs. These important signs which were used to glamorise consumerism in the mid-century slump and illuminated the cityscape.

Poster Museum – Opened in June 1966, The Poster Museum is the oldest institution of its kind in the world, and has a collection of over 55,000 posters.

Fotoplastikon Warsaw – A Fotoplastikon allows viewers to watch changing three-dimensional images. Built in the early 20th century, The Warsaw Fotoplastikon is one of only a few in the world still in working condition.

To shop

Galilu Olfactory – this airy and bright little shop stocks a wide range of wonderful perfumes. The sophisticated scents are from unique brands all over the world and the staff will give you expert help choosing the right bottle for you.

Horn & More – a seductive girl’s boutique stocking fine underwear, statement jewellery and aromatic scented candles. It is a treat for all the senses.

Magazyn Praga – Located in a former glue warehouse this little shop features relics from its industrial past that mix with their high-profile selection of new and vintage fashion and furniture. There are irresistible design items everywhere, I wanted it all!

Wedel – this renowned Polish confectioner is the ultimate chocolate emporium. Leave the chilly streets and head inside for the creamiest cup of hot chocolate, or a taste of the famous handmade torte with layers of wafer and chocolate. We returned several times for more.

Things to do in Krakow

Krakow is the most popular city to travel to in Poland. An historic destination dating back to the 7th century with beautiful buildings and a vibrant cultural scene, it makes for a lovely weekend break. During the day you can wander around the iconic Wawel Castle and try the Polish specialities in the vintage milk bars, then at night the bars come to life with music, smoke and cocktails as the hip residents enjoy their time off. Those interested in experiencing the grittier side to Poland’s history can venture out of town to Auschwitz, a chilling but significant day trip. For a family excursion visit the remarkable and magical Salt Mines deep underground. I only spent a day and a night in Krakow but it was enough to see a glimmer of this characterful city. Just two and half hours by train from Warsaw, it is easy to do both destinations in one trip.

To Sleep

Wentzl Hotel – one of the few hotels with a location on the old town market square, Wentzl has magnificent views overlooking Krakow. An historic hotel with modern amenities, the generous rooms have a grand feel decorated in deep reds and dark wood, with gold framed paintings hanging majestically on the walls. It is the perfect home for a weekend away.

To Eat

Ancora – this restaurant was recommended to me and it didn’t disappoint. A quiet stylish eatery down a side street in central Krakow, the kitchen specialises in creative local and international dishes. We tried some of the Polish tapas and delicious meat dishes for main course.

Charlotte – Perhaps the best breakfast in Krakow… this chic café has a lovely communal dining table and serves top pastries and hot dishes, fresh juice and great coffee.

Pod Temida – you must go to a retro milk bar while in Poland and Pod Temida is one of the best still in existence. These cheap and basic canteen-like eateries are making a comeback, and are a great place to try traditional Polish food. I recommend trying the meat or cheese pierogi (dumplings) here.

To Drink

Coffee Cargo – you can almost smell the roasting beans from the street. The coffee cargo crew expertly roast and brew the best coffee in Krakow all served from a warehouse on the outskirts of town. We sampled a smooth and sweet drip coffee from Ethopia.

Wesola – the coffee scene in Poland is really thriving and this little cafe has a great vibe and make a mean flat white. Located behind the main train station I got a cup to go before jumping on the train back to Warsaw.

Nowa Prowincja – allegedly the best hot chocolate in Krakow and certainly the finest we tried, this cosy little venue serves up a sweet thick drink that will warm you on even the coldest winter days.

Alchemia – this popular local hang-out has it all, great food, cheap drinks, live music and a buzzy atmosphere. Weave your way through the crowds to the downstairs gig room where we heard a great 14-piece brass band from France whilst sipping Polish beer. Apparently they do a great brunch menu too.

Le Scandale – it may look a little uninteresting inside but take a seat at the back bar and the friendly bartenders will whip up a delicious cocktail.

To See

Wawel Castle and Cathedral – this gothic castle was originally built in the 14th century and was mostly rebuilt in the 16th century after a devastating fire. Found at the top of a hill along with the impressive cathedral, it is the main tourist attraction in the city centre today.

Rynek Underground – opened in 2010 after an excavation under the main market square, this high-tech underground museum of tunnels walks you through Krakow’s history from 2000 BC to present day.

Out of Town

Auschwitz – a still and silent place filled with the sorrow of its horrific past. Auschwitz and nearby Birkenau were the main Nazi concentration camps and are now a museum and memorial. Here you will learn the details of the barbaric mass killing and walk around the camp buildings. An informative film shows footage of the rescued prisoners and the awful conditions they were made to live in.

Wieliczka Salt Mine – just outside Krakow this UNesco World Heritage site receives thousands of visitors every day. It was mined for 900 years and was once one of the world’s most profitable establishments, when salt was very valuable. The 2km tourist route takes a trail through the passages, caverns, lakes and chapels to 135 metres below the earths surface. In summer months the salt mine lakes are used as a healing spa.