Eating in Lwów

“Much has been written about the cafés of Lwów, and such places as the “Café Szkocka”, the “Atlas” or the “George” already have their loyal bards. The story of Lwów’s inns has long matured into a fable, a kind of a “text of Lwów”… The Poles, Ukrainians, Jews, Armenians, Germans all prayed in their own prayer houses, but they spent their time together in the pubs: at least there they tolerated each other.”

Bogusław Bakuła: Stage, carnival, revolution

On the old legendary cafés of Lwów, which now only live in the memory of the exiles, we will write in another post. Now, however, when proposing a series of journeys guided by us to the city, we consider it more urgent to say some words about the coffee houses and restaurants where the traveler can refresh and eat his fill in modern Lwów.

During our past journeys we have tasted and photographed nearly forty coffee houses and restaurants in the city. Let us start now with those which are located in and around the main square, and where we can sit down during a one-day downtown walk. But the list will soon grow.

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1. Mons Pius restaurant

The number one, for several reasons. During our first visit to Lwów, long time ago, this was the first restaurant where we sat down, and we still consider it one of the best in the city, as well as one of the most expensive ones. Expensiveness is of course relative: in three we paid 300 hrivnya, that is, about 30 euro for a complete dinner, where the excellent Lvivske 1715 beer was served in one-liter jugs. (The beers of Lwów are otherwise excellent in general, but on this we will write in a separate post.) Its best courses include roast pork and lamb chops as well as spicy fish soup with celery and pineapple (see in the mosaic below). The restaurant works in the medieval building of the former Mons Pius Armenian bank and pawnshop, to where the entrance opens from the romantic Armenian Courtyard or, through a small alley, from the Armenian Street. Its garden and rooms are decorated with the busts and portraits of the great Armenians of Lwów, including, immediately opposite the entrance, that of Jan Mordyrosiewicz, inventor of the flush toilet.

2. Kerosene Lamp Coffee House

This coffee house occupies all four floors of the medieval house at 19 Armenian Street, all decorated with the product of another local inventor team, the Polish Ignacy Łukasiewicz and the Hungarian Jan Zeh: the kerosene lamp, together with the photos and drawings of the late 19th-century Galician oil fields. Good draft beers, a variety of coffees, sauces offered with lavash – Armenian flat bread –, but the main attraction of the café is the glass roof terrace with magnificent view on the roofs and towers of the city.

3. Armenian coffee house

A small café preserving the air of a world not so long past at the corner of the Armenian and Printer Streets. Its specialty is to brew the Turkish (or as they say, Armenian) coffee in slowly heated sand. Because of the unique taste of the coffee thus prepared, and even more because of the ceremony you are recommended to sit here for an Armenian cake. And of course because of the atmosphere: this is how café life might have generally been in Lwów thirty years ago. Even though at our last visit to the city the inside of the café was being reshaped, and they only sold caffee on the street: who knows, perhaps these photos will be the last documents of this world.

4. Restaurant to the Golden Rose

The Restaurant at the Golden Rose, as the mix of its Yiddish and Romanized Ukrainian shop label indicates, is in fact a mix of a tourist-teasing and nostalgic dream about the one-time Jewish world of Lemberik and of a really excellent kitchen. The nostalgia has its price: the Golden Rose is also one of the most expensive restaurants of Lwów. In addition, the menu does not include the prices. You have to bargain, up to your talent, on the really high price announced by the waitress at the end of the dinner. I as an experienced bargainer managed, with a Russian-language detraction sprinkled with Yiddish terms, to reduce the four hundred hrivnya they originally asked for a cheese soup, tea and dessert to a hundred and eighty, but some others said they were so frightened at hearing they should bargain that they paid the full price instead. The walls are decorated with the copies of Bruno Schulz’s drawings (that of the front garden with one of the frescoes stolen from Drohobycz), while the wall facing the empty plot of the Golden Rose Synagogue with pseudo-old Yiddish food names, in the fashion of the rediscovery of the old Lwów wall inscriptions about which we will soon write more.

5. Fotoklubkafe Ch/B 5×5

The Black and White Photo Club Café at the small square next to the Golden Rose is essentially a private club, but this is not taken seriously. Anyone can come in from the street for a coffee or a beer to go visit the exhibited photos announced outside by the ever changing posters, to attend an exhibition opening, or to watch from a corner of the room the photographers living their club life. Above the entrance an old dark room lamp with a red filter, next to the entrance an ancient cast iron radiator which still seems to work, on the walls photo supplies not in use any more. And in the evening the club also goes out to the small square: they put out tables and chairs, and they tap the White Lion beer under the signboard of the white elephant.

To be continued soon!

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