Legend has it that this townhouse in Szeroka Street in Gdańsk has been playing host to guests and plying them with the best selection of alcohol and food uninterruptedly since the late 16th century. In 1598, a plant manufacturing vodkas and liqueurs was launched here, run by one Ambrose Vermollen. This citizen of Gdańsk with Dutch roots named his shop Der Lachs – meaning salmon. With time, the plant’s flagship product became a spice liqueur called Goldwasser, whose recipe was a secret closely guarded by successive plant owners. Its specificity – namely, an interestingly selected bouquet of herbs and flakes of 22-carat gold submerged in vodka – made it famous all over Europe. Tsarina Catherine II used to drink it with particular relish. Attached to the alcohol plant was an inn, which used to be well-known for centuries for its extraordinary décor and quality cuisine. Destroyed by World War II, the inn was not reconstructed until 1976. Since then, its fate has been bound up with the Robakowski family. Gerard Robakowski used to be the restaurant’s manager in the communist times, with his son Mieczysław as assistant manager. At present, it is Mieczysław who runs the place, assisted by his son Damian.
The restaurant’s décor draws on the 18th century; its interiors are full of antique furniture and stuccoes. The rococo hall that welcomes guests makes quite an impression. Moving on further to one of three rooms, you can get acquainted with a galaxy of celebrities that the place has played host to. These include presidents of Poland as well as heads of other states, such as the famous Iron Lady – Great Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. A special figure among those illustrious people is Pope John Paul II, who was served by the staff of the Pod Łososiem during his visit to Gdańsk. That festive moment is commemorated by a special showcase, in which, among other things, it is possible to see the tableware that the Polish Pope used during his meal.
Honestly speaking, we are not particularly fond of “museology” in gastronomy, but the atmosphere at the Pod Łososiem is genuine enough to prevent an impression of artificiality. These words are best confirmed by the fact that the restaurant is frequented by both business and individual guests from the Tricity.
Wishing to taste its traditional flavours, we inform the waiter right at the start that we would like to try the dish that has been the flagship of the Pod Łososiem for years – that is, salmon with 24-carat gold in thyme sauce with limes. We ask the waiter to recommend a soup that will make a good starter of the meal. The recommendation we receive is young carrot cream with the addition of green vegetables (peas, broccoli, spinach) with ginger and sour cream.
The cream has a pleasantly diversified taste. Carrots, delicate and simply sweet, interestingly combine with the spicy flavour of ginger. Plus, the dish plays with a variety of textures. The carrots are grated to velvety paste while the green vegetables have a perceptible structure. The dish matches the friendly weather outside perfectly, though it will work fine on a cooler day, too, thanks to the warming-up power of ginger.
After a moment, a nice waiter appears in the room, carrying an impressive dish. The first thing that draws attention is a glass of Goldwasser, sparkling with gold, in one of his hands. In the other hand there is a plate with a golden salmon and a crayfish lying on top of it. It all looks extraordinary. Luckily, as the waiter places the dish in front of us, Head Chef Janusz Małyszko comes up to our table and discloses some details concerning the pièce de résistance. He starts by reassuring us that the gold used is entirely safe (neutral) to the organism. Then he tells us a little about the ingredients. He assures that the salmon we are about to savour comes from the Baltic Sea and that the boletus mushrooms it is stuffed with were picked in the Kashubian forests. He also explains to us how the cones are made that accompany the fish. That is carrot and parsnip flan – an interesting addition and a successful substitute e.g. for the traditional potato. The taste of the golden dish is delicate, though at the same time full of forest fragrances thanks to the mushroom stuffing. It goes very well with a glass of herbal liqueur. Goldwasser will certainly facilitate digesting the substantial helping of delicious salmon.
Since we try not to limit the tasting to fish dishes exclusively while visiting the restaurants of Pomerania, we decide to try veal, too. We order veal shank with potato dumplings and beets. The dish is prepared according to a traditional recipe and using traditional techniques. The meat is first placed in marinade containing thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Next, it is slowly roasted so as to become soft and tender. The dish is served with potato dumplings, typical of Polish cuisine. The entire composition is pleasantly sweet and the aromas of the marinade stimulate the senses. This time we feel like a glass of red wine. The waiter suggests a white one, as the good old convention requires, but we do not fully adhere to the classic principles of wine matching. To our taste, dry red wine complements the dish perfectly.
Finally, we feel like having dessert. Although both of us have satisfied hunger a long time ago, legends of baked pancakes prepared according to an unchanging recipe fuel our appetite for a Gundel pancake. This dessert has been on the menu at the Pod Łososiem since 1976. Its recipe is based on that of the traditional… Hungarian pancake, but the dessert has become so much a part of the restaurant’s tradition that guests often ask about it. With the very first bite it becomes clear why. Moderately sweet, full of nuts, pleasantly soft and at the same time crispy, the pancake vanishes from the plate in no time.
The visit to “Pod Łososiem” gave us a real lesson in Gdańsk’s flavours and history. The restaurant can even be called a gustatory showcase of Gdańsk’s traditions. What we were captivated by was the atmosphere and the family character of the place. Few restaurants boast this kind of history and continuity. We can only wish Mr Robakowskis success in passing on their passion to the next, already the fourth, generation of Gdańsk restaurateurs.
Young carrot cream with the addition of green vegetables – 20 PLN
Salmon with 24-carat gold in thyme sauce with limes – 65 PLN
Veal shank on a bed of cream sauce with potato dumplings – 55 PLN
Gundel pancake – 20 PLN
Text and photos: Hubert Gonera
phone: + 48 58 301 76 52, 305 14 44
Restaurant is open every day from 12:00 until the last guest leaves.
[mapa]ul. Szeroka 52, Gdańsk[/mapa]