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San Lorenzo (Warsaw, Poland)

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Address: al. Jana Pawła II 36 / 00-141 / Warsaw / Poland / Tel: +48 22 652 16 16

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      18.12.2010 21:16
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      Warsaw's top Italian restaurant

      San Lorenzo is a restaurant in Warsaw that I have wanted to visit since I moved here. It is situated in a good location on Jana Pawla II, the street named after Poland's favourite pope - Pope John Paul II. It's a street I walk down most days as it's near to Hala Mirowska, an old fashioned inside market and the flower market. I had often peeped through the window of the restaurant and always admired the mixture of styles inside the ground floor conservatory part of the building. Nothing seemed to match - cushions and chair coverings were always different. This isn't a bad thing; I quite liked the mishmash of styles and I liked all the Art Nouveau paintings on the walls. What always intrigued me was the lemon tree placed very near to the entrance. I always wanted to know if it was real or plastic.

      So why did it take me 3 years to enter the premises?

      Mainly because everyone I had spoken to, whether it be friends, family or business colleagues, all said the same thing, 'You can't eat there, it's where all the celebrities go and it is outrageously expensive.' Well, I don't personally know any Polish celebrities and the ones I know of from TV and film I can't ever imagine them popping in to San Lorenzo's for a drink and a meal but maybe they have and do.

      This summer, my husband had some very good news concerning a business project he had been working on and we decided to try out San Lorenzo's to celebrate and just to see if it is as expensive and luxurious as everyone says. Stepping into the conservatory, I spied the lemon tree and touched the lemons and leaves and it was as I thought - they were made from plastic so I was a bit disappointed.

      Walking through the conservatory, we decided to go through into the bar which is on the ground floor. At this point I suddenly became aware of the opulence of the bar area and felt extremely under dressed. Although I was quite smart I felt as though I should have been wearing a long frock, fancy Italian shoes, gloves and bag to match. It was a bit nerve-racking taking everything in. This bar was one of the most attractive I have sat in. The dark wood of the bar area and the upright wine cabinets complimented the glass windows, beautiful chandeliers and pink and grey marble floor. Table tops were made from the same marble and the chairs situated around the tables were contemporary in style made from fabric, clear plastic and soft brown leather. It was all very elegant, chic and oh so Italian. All furnishings must have been imported from Italy because I haven't seen anything like this before in Warsaw not in any other restaurant and certainly not in any design shops.

      As this was a special occasion we decided to order a bottle of white wine instead of two glasses of beer. The wine list is extensive and covers every region of Italy including Sicily and Sardinia. Prices are quite high, ranging from 100 zloty to over 500 zloty, but wine is expensive in Warsaw restaurants anyway. I liked the fact that the wine is on show in the bar and not hidden away down some dark cellar. The glass cabinets have been specifically designed to store wine in and inside the temperature is 16 degrees centigrade. It took about 15 minutes to decide on our choice of wine and in the end we went with a bottle of Pinot Grigio Lison Pramaggiore. This is a lovely, light white wine from the region of Venice and has a fruity flavour (peach and apple) with a hint of citrus. Very well balanced and quite dry on the palette. A perfect aperitif on a summer's evening. Cost - 129 zloty (just over 32 pounds).

      While sipping our wine (rather than guzzling, like I normally do) we studied the menu and boy, was it glamorous and quite extensive too. I was a little confused at why some of the prices of the starters (tuna tartare with avocados 89zl and prawns in lemon sauce 75 zloty) were nearly as expensive as the first courses and in the end decided not to have a starter and instead have a first and second course followed by a dessert. My husband was also happy with this arrangement.

      When we had nearly finished our first glass of wine a friendly waiter who was impeccably dressed approached us and asked if we would like to go into the restaurant to choose a table. He would follow on with the wine bottle and clean glasses. This is when I uttered words of astonishment as the staircase to the restaurant floors is impressive. The steps are wide and the balustrade is made from marble and very curved. To the right of the staircase is a gallery of photographs of all the celebrities who have eaten in the restaurant. I didn't see Kubica, Polanski or Wajda but then I didn't study every face. Above the picture gallery is a huge Tuscan landscape painting. This is pretty dramatic and covers the top half of the wall. The restaurant area is split into two floors. The first floor is large and seats around 50 people at a guess and the top floor is smaller and more intimate. Although the look of the first floor is very elegant with very high ceilings, contemporary furniture, long flowing white linen cloths, exotic plants and exquisite lamps we preferred the intimate top floor with it's cosy little corners, wooden floors, cream coloured walls, long slender candles and beautifully draped curtains.

      We eventually chose a table for two under an alcove and within minutes of sitting down the waiter had brought a small black table, placed it next to the main table, sat our bottle of wine down on a linen cloth and continued to pour a small amount in each large, clean glass. All very organised.

      On with the ordering. Like I said we passed on the starters but for those interested, things like mussels, oysters, duck, garlic bread, tuna, smoked salmon are on offer.

      Seafood and fish seem to dominate the starter menu and also the first course menu. Other dishes are suitable for vegetarians as they consist of pasta, egg and vegetables like mushrooms, tomatoes and courgettes. I fancied spaghetti and I could choose from spaghetti with half a lobster ( the most expensive dish on the menu @ 120 zloty) or with seafood or fresh tomatoes and basil. Call me boring but I went with the fresh tomatoes and basil (35 zloty). My husband chose tagliatelle with zucchini and shrimp (38 zloty). Both dishes were delightful and came served on large white, oval dishes. Immediately, I could tell by the texture of my spaghetti that it was freshly made and not out of a packet. It was beautifully presented and had a slight orange hue to the dish. The tomatoes had been crushed to release the flavour and liquid to form the sauce which was sweet yet tangy and the fresh basil just added the aromatic perfume and finishing touch to my chosen dish. My husband's tagliatelle was delicious (I stole about two forkfuls). I loved the way the meal had been perfectly tossed balancing all ingredients together. The shrimps were tasty and had been slightly browned; a strong succulent taste of garlic didn't over power and I liked the fact that the zucchini was only just tender and not too soft.

      For our second course we decided to have one fish and one meat dish and share. Fresh tuna is an old favourite from my Portuguese days but I am fussy about how it is cooked. On the menu it says the tuna is grilled with a delicate taste of the Mediterranean. It was certainly grilled properly and wasn't over cooked. The meat flaked away easily and was soft and full of flavour. The Mediterranean taste was one of olive oil, caramelised onion, garlic, rock salt, juicy tomatoes, lemon sage and coriander. Full marks - the dish was delicious. What about my husband - did he enjoy his Florentine steak? You bet. This is a huge steak; a piece of Chianina beef coming from cattle that are bred on the plains of Chianina near Arezzo. It was grilled to medium and served with a lemon wedge, pat of butter, white cannellini beans which are deliciously tasty and soft and potato wedges. To accompany this meal for a giant, my husband ordered a glass of Chianti which was about £4. The meal, including the wedges which cost extra, came to 118 zloty.

      At this point he wasn't sure if he wanted a dessert as he was feeling full to the brim. There was an excellent choice of desserts including crème brulee, tiramisu, chocolate mousse, chocolate cake with two ice creams. Prices range from 15 zloty to 35 zloty. I was still hungry but wasn't sure whether to choose a cheese selection which consisted of 4 Italian cheeses. This was very tempting as foreign cheeses are difficult to come by in Warsaw but that would mean an addition of another 40 zloty to the bill and I thought that was a bit steep so in the end I chose crème brulee with fruit and my husband chose lemon sorbet as I have always told him that sorbet helps digestion especially lemon. After his second main course he definitely needed something to aid his digestion.

      Now, I will tell you the price and probably faint when I remember how much we spent on that day in August. The total bill came to £116. Yes, all my friends and colleagues were right - it is expensive. However, this was a very special occasion and we had a remarkable meal in a beautifully designed restaurant with handsome, well-dressed and attentive waiters. I don't think I have experienced anything like it before - definitely not in Warsaw. I can now see why San Lorenzo has this fine reputation. Did I see any celebrities?I thought I saw the weather girl from TVN24 but looking at her slim figure, she must have passed on the pasta.

      Will we go back to visit? Not sure - a bit pricey. Perhaps when I'm a celebrity artist????

      Today's rate:1.00 GBP = 4.69161 PLN

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