Restaurants: Eastern approaches

Polish food gets a Nineties spin and a touch of feng shui in W8, says Vivienne Heller
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If you want to spice up your sex life, then dinner at Wdka makes a stylish alternative to Ann Summers undies. It's not just the classy clientele, nor the richly sensuous fare, but the influence of something far more potent than a shot of its famous vodka.

Founded as a Polish eatery by the father of the present owner, 39-year- old Jon Woroniecki, this Kensington stalwart had a subtle new-age makeover about five years ago. "I was quite interested in feng shui at the time, and my acupuncturist mentioned that he knew a master," explains Jon. Hence a Malaysian with a Brummy accent and a country-music fixation turned up to retune Wdka's chi. The back wall mellowed from white to yellow, mirrors and flowers broke up angles and window reflections, and certain tables were designated prime sites for business affairs, families, relationships - and sex.

Has it worked? "Well, I took it only semi-seriously at the time," Jon admits, "but we certainly got a lot busier." This could, of course, have been due to expansion, but the money plant, strategically placed near the entrance, may be less innocuous than it looks.

Hocus-pocus or not, Wdka has proven remarkably resilient, shaking off trendy rivals with a combination of old-fashioned staples and contemporary touches. Certainly, its modern art and waxed plaster walls are a far cry from the faded charms of London's other long-standing Polish restaurants, Daquise and the Polish Hearth Club, and happy chatter here mingles with jazz, not gypsy music. This mix of old and new is faintly schizophrenic, but Jon's undoubted charms and fierce pride in his roots are a seductively unifying force.

The menu retains a strong Polish flavour, with a few concessions for Mediterranean foodies, if not for vegetarians. And the chef takes his duties seriously: the authentic ingredient for Wdka's barszcz (borscht) is a distillate from beetroot fermented in rye bread - with heavenly results that had one client on Monday begging for the recipe. Other staples that fans demand are golabki (stuffed cabbage leaves), kaczka (roast duck with beet-root and sour cherries), and, bizarrely, fishcakes. If you are pressed for time, or money, simply feast on free gherkins and order blinis with smoked salmon, foie gras or caviar.

And what of the vodka? "It's more a hook to hang the place on," confesses Jon. "When the restaurant opened, vodka was a novelty and everyone wanted to get smashed. Now people are more sophisticated." Oops. And there I was sinking another shot of sliwowica. This is just one of the 35 types available, and your correspondent can personally vouch for most of them. The hot honey and plum are the perfect antidote to chilly evenings, and guaranteed to get you into the spirit of things.

One word of advice: if you do bag the "sex" table (No 23), but the language of love eludes you, then stick to the script: pierogi, kaszanka, makowiec... yes, yes, yes!



12 St Albans Grove, W8 (0171-937 6513). Around pounds 20 a head


20 Thurlow St, SW7 (0171-589 6117) Around pounds 12 a head

Polish Hearth Club

55 Exhibition Rd, SW7 (0171-589 4635) Around pounds 25 a head