It is seven years since the gal was last in Warsaw and not only was it high time for a return but a tasting of vodkas also got into the agenda. First up was the Polish capital’s iconic luxury hotel, The Bristol, now part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection. It was bought in 2012 by London-based lawyer, Jonathan Lourie, who also owns the gorgeous Norman, in Tel Aviv – and yes, this hotel oozes with similar tender loving care. The Bristol, shown above, is heritage, built in 1901 for pianist Ignacy Paderewski, 1860-1941, and his lawyer Stanislaw Roszkowski. Every detail of what is now a 202-room hotel seems to have been preserved by conservation authorities.
The corner Café Bristol, for instance, is just as I imagine any proper café to have been, forever – it has chequerboard floor tiles, hemispherical standing and chandelier lights, and tweenie-type servers, in crisply-starched bibbed aprons. It serves coffee and cakes but, surprise surprise, last year the best-selling Bristol sandwich was revamped. No longer are ingredients hidden between two thick slices of tasty wholegrain bread. Now, Polish cheeses and sausages, plus beetroot and pickled pear and greens are arrayed, pretty as a picture, Danish-style atop one slice. The other restaurant, the Marconi, is more elaborate, with lots of starched table linens and napkins.
Here, in Marconi, came the first vodka, Ostoya, made from wheat and not as sweet as its potato relations, apparently. It was served in a thimble-sized shot, as a great prelude to a Sicilian Nero d’Avola. My first night in town had to be Polish food, so I started with a superb whole Baltic matjes herring surrounded by delicate blobs of beetroot foam – this preceded a hearty steak, described as ‘Polish aged bull entrecote’, which certainly provided energy. There was subsequently no space for plum pudding with suska sechlonska prunes. Breakfast was to prove another insight into Polish products and cuisine: a dedicated room off the main Marconi dining space must have had 200 or more items, including Polish crèpes with cottage cheese, stewed fruits, and dozens of cold cuts and cheeses. I was quickly to be reminded that coffee and breads are, invariably, first-class in Warsaw.
This luxury hotel’s elegant bedrooms include the unique Paderewski Suite, #211, with his music on the vinyls for the floor-standing His Master’s Voice gramophone. The suite also has a 1926-vintage sit-up-and-beg typewriter, a well-tuned Petrov grand piano – and views directly across Krakowskie Przedmiescie. This wide street will, incidentally, be closed this Tuesday, April 10th, 2018, for a 30,000-strong march to remember the fatal crash, eight years ago, of the Polish Air Force Tupolev Tu-154 that killed all 96 onboard, including President Lech Kaczynski (the outstanding concierge, Michal Borowiak, who sensibly even gives his direct contacts on the hotel’s local map, will find people ways in, and out, of course). I must also mention both the superb sixth-floor gym, re-designed by a Jonathan Lourie favourite, David D’Almada of Sagrada, and the pop-up displays of local modern art arranged by the hotel’s number-two manager, Piotr Madej. I will have to return to meet his boss, Roman Goetsch, sadly out of town during my too-short visit. AND NOW SEE 211, THE PADEREWSKI SUITE