“ Address: Mostowa 5 / 85-110 Bydgoszcz / Poland / Tel: +48 52 3661100 „
*Please note that I did ask Dooyoo for a separate suggestion for the cafe I am reviewing as it is in Warsaw not Bydgoszcz but they asked me to write in this spot.*
Adam Sowa (owl in Polish) is the man responsible for introducing quality confectionery to the cities of Poland. In 1946 he set up his first shop in Bydgoszcz and with his natural creative flair and business acumen he was able to branch out, opening a further 9 shops including a very stylish restaurant. Other shops were opened in Torun and Warsaw. The wise owl then spread his wings not only to the city of London but to the street where I live. Yes, you can find my favourite café on Ul. Zawiszy 14 next to the bakers and the Italian restaurant, Papryczka (see my review).
As you enter the front entrance you will be greeted by the warm, cosy smell of home-made biscuits and cakes. The coffee pot will be spluttering and gurgling and with every splutter comes an aromatic wave of roasted coffee beans. A delicious and evocative moment! To the left is the glass, chilled cabinet displaying a four tiered glass cloud of beauty, hand sculptured cakes and desserts beckoning you to reach out and take a slice. Here, also is the till and counter. Behind the counter are 5 or 6 very large hand woven rattan baskets containing a selection of cookies. Every time I visit my eyes can't help but wander to the basket filled with the chocolate variety. I have tasted these and they are so delicious. On the outside, firm and crunchy but once bitten into, soft and crumbly with a taste of burnt, dark chocolate. Other types of cookies are vanilla, orange, hazelnut and almond. You can purchase a single biscuit or one kilogram. Everything in the shop that is edible is sold by weight.
To the right is the seating area; white leather sofas and armchairs with brown soft velvet cushions. Contemporary in style, as are the accompanying jet-black, matt rectangular tables. The walls are painted a shade of honey which adds to the warmth and cosiness of the café. Along the back wall are two or three large canvas prints of coloured flowers adding a touch of colour and vitality to the area.
I usually order coffee at the counter and choose from the cabinet a piece of cake. In the summer there is aother chilled cabinet at the opposite end of the room. This is where ice cream is displayed and you can order a bowl of your choice which can be eaten inside the café. Coffee pot, cup and saucer, made from white porcelain, come to the table on a silver tray covered with a starched white linen tray cloth. A small jug of milk and matching sugar bowl are extra accompaniments with my cake selection perfectly placed on a glass dish. Serviettes are already on the table in a rack. Assistants are always young girls and very friendly with good language skills. The owner of the shop sometimes comes in for a chat - she is a really nice lady and speaks very good English having lived in the States for several years. Her English is much better than my Polish and she often speaks to me in Polish to make me try harder. One day I will surprise her and be fluent!?
Rather than list all the varieties of cakes on sale I will just give you a selection of cakes I have eaten in the café or taken home. My favourite is apple pie but the pie I have here is a little different to the traditional apple pie we know in England. The base is sponge rather than pastry and the filling is chopped baked apples with cinnamon in a sort of pulp (like apples go when stewed). It's always a generous filling about 2 inches deep and then topped with a thin layer of thick custard followed by a deeper topping of crumble mixture which is dusted with icing sugar. This is very tasty because the apples are tart which I like. The blend of cinnamon and custard is a nice balance and I love the crunchy crumble mixture on top.
There are three other types of apple pie sold in this shop/café. All good. One is more like an apple sponge cake, the second is like my favourite pie only peaches are added to it as well as apple and the third is my husband's favourite. This is more like a traditional apple pie with a pastry bottom and top. Crystalised sugar is sprinkled on the top layer of pastry which gives it a crunchy sweet texture. Too sweet for me.
Sowa's cukiernias are famous for their tortes and oh boy, some of them are fantastic works of art - it always seems such a shame to cut into them. You can actually buy whole cakes but they are very expensive - in the region of £25 depending on weight. They all look magnificent and taste out of this world but if I had to choose two I would go for Torte Morocco (obviously being a traveller). This little beauty consists of a light, fluffy chocolate mousse blended with orange juice and Cointreau. This is the centre of the torte but then it is exquisitely wrapped in Belgian chocolate to look like a circular box of chocolates. I don't think I have to describe the taste - I think you get the mouth watering, drooling picture.
The second torte I recommend is the Truffle cake. Are you ready? Layer one is filled with a mixture of soft white chocolate, peanuts, citrus peel, raisins, and nougat. The layer is then covered with melted white chocolate which is left to set and then afterwards whipped cream has been added in the form of decoration with milk chocolate sculptured leaves and ribbons added as an extra touch. We had some of this at Xmas and it was unbelievable. I don't like to think of how many calories one small piece contained.
Mousse seems to be used quite a lot in the formation of cakes and is obviously one of the owl's favourite ingredients. Chocolate and vanilla mousse are used in many varieties of cakes. In theory, these cakes are meant to be light but I guess it depends on the slice size.
Other delicious cakes worth considering are; Black Forest gateaux, lemon cake, cherry cake, coffee cake etc
A good old traditional Polish cake which is popular at Easter and Xmas is Lemon Babka. This is meant to be baked in real Polish Grandmother style. It reminds me of a Madeira cake like you buy in UK (the plain sponge variety) and not the traditional heavy cake from Madeira that has lots of molasses and fruit in it. The Lemon Babka is very nice with a cup of strong tea - the cake is plain and buttery but has a very strong citrus flavour and the dusting of icing sugar is well - the icing on the cake!
There you go -a selection of what is on offer at Adam Sowa's cake shop and cafe close to my home on ul Zawiszy. A slice of any of the cakes I have mentioned will cost around £1.50. Coffee is £1.50. You can buy individual single cakes and whole cakes for special occasions such as Xmas and birthdays. Weddings too. These are sold by weight and have to be ordered at least a week before the due date. Last year I ordered a birthday cake for my Granddaughter's party and it was beautifully designed and packaged in a simple cardboard box with the owl sitting on the top. This was a two mousse design with chocolate sponge and a white chocolate topping. I think it cost me around £40 which at the time I thought was a bit expensive but when we opened it up at the party and cut into it - I soon changed my mind. It was unbelievable.
Highly Recommended - a quality establishment indeed!
A wise old owl of Polish cake-making, Adam Sowa has expanded significantly since its founding in 1946 to become much more than just a patisserie. That said, it was never *just* a patisserie; a slice of cake and steaming hot chocolate from Sowa is a calorific pleasure that lightens the bleakest winter day and fattens the slenderest stomach.
Branches of the patisserie/restaurant can be found across Northern Poland, but are primarily centred in Bydgoszcz, home of Mr Sowa himself. A suprisingly green and pleasant city of around 360,000, it isn't often a stop on the paths forged through Poland by tourism, although Ryanair flies daily to the airport on the northern fringes of the city - although I'm not sure that offers much endorsement in itself. Ten Sowa venues are spread across the city, including three small cake-based outlets in the shopping centres and a splendid new restaurant in the city centre, yards from Stary Rynek (Old Square) and the river Brda. This latter Sowa is the best exposition of the wonderful edibles on offer; opened in 2008, it's a large, airy restaurant with a modern design and an international/European-flavoured menu which mixes the best of Polish food with some creative foreign dishes.
Up until the opening of the impressive new building (on Ulice Mostowa, right in the centre of Bydgoszcz - the nearest tram stop is on Ul.Gdanska, a three-minute walk across the river), this flagship branch of Adam Sowa occupied a smaller, more intimate venue directly opposite the road which was more clearly divided into patisserie (or cukiernia, I'm not sure why I'm using the French word) for cakes and drinks, and restaurant, including an atmospheric wine cellar. In a way it's a shame they moved over the road, as the new build has something of a excessively open canteen-feel to it, although more tables means it's now much easier to get a seat; you needn't book ahead to be sure of eating at Sowa anymore.
The new restaurant is built around an open kitchen and extensive cake counter with plenty of space, including half a dozen outside tables in summer, perfectly situated for people-watching on busy Mostowa. Starters include Zurek, a delicious sour Polish soup; Greek Women, vine-leaf-wrapped fingers of feta and vegetables; a tasty Carpaccio and a nice variety of salads. Expect to pay 5-10 zlotych for your first course (£1-2).
Mains are primarily meat-based alongside some delicious Russian pancakes and a few unsurprising Italian dishes - new additions to the menu I haven't tried. Pay 10-30 zlotych (£2-6) for these, perhaps more for some of the fish dishes, which tend to be pretty good. Prices on the whole are just about above-average for Polish restaurants generally, but they bear pretty favourable comparison with the better places to eat, and you're assured of a good meal.
The dessert menu features some fantastic sundaes with hot dressings; those with fresh fruits are especially good. Naturally, there's no end of cakes on offer as well - peruse those on show and choose a generous slice for 2-4 zlotych. My long-standing favourite is an enormous, messy combination of meringue, raisins, walnuts and chocolate - although I suppose the enormous bit is just my greed. A good range of beverages, including a fair selection of vodkas (Pan Tadeusz goes down well) and a decent choice of wines accompany a meal.
Adam Sowa is a bit of a strange beast in truth (the restaurant, that is, not the man - I've never met him) in that it manages to be a fairly sophisticated place and a good choice for a special meal whilst also being an entirely comfortable, welcoming venue to have coffee or scoff cake. What atmosphere has been lost in the move to a larger building is made up for by the increased ease that comes with a bigger site, and it's still a friendly, relaxed place to eat, whatever the occasion or appetite. With nine other locations across the city (and rumours of one in London that I've never found), you're never far from a slice of Sowa's delectable cakes - a threat to waistlines, but pleasantly, not pockets.
What's more - and if you needed any further indication of the wonders of Sowa - they entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 2004 for creating the world's biggest wedding cake. Score.