China Palace Review
Updated: Mar 29, 2019
Open daily 12.00-22.00.
Address: Józefa Mackiewicza 14B, 31-214 Kraków. Phone: +48 12 421 6841
I have heard it said many times that Krakow lacks any Chinese cuisine of a level that could even be described as half-decent, and that broadly categorized such restaurants are generic, dingy ‘oriental’ erstaz Chinese/Vietnamese food dives for people too cheap to eat out properly, usually serving side dishes of cabbage. I decided to challenge this stereotype this month at China Palace, on the fringes of the city in the suburb known as Biały Prądnik, which has existed, in different forms and at various locations, since 1993 (including on ul. Sławkowska until 2006). For a restaurant with such vintage, it is remarkably off the radar – especially for tourists or residents relatively new to the city. The location is not ideal; you need to hop on a tram to Krowodrza and get another bus if you want to avoid the 20-30zł taxi fare. Most visitors I suppose, like us, will arrive with their own transport.
The first thing you notice about China Palace compared to other restaurants of its ilk in town is the size – the main room is spacious, and there are a couple of side rooms for parties – one with a traditional revolving Chinese banquet table for movable feasts. The décor is pleasant, with your traditional Chinese portraits of bucolic landscapes, great walls and statuettes of pot-bellied buddhas, peppered with photos of great and revered Chinamen and women, past and present. Oriental muzak drifts from speakers, mildly soothing. It’s warm and welcoming, inviting one to linger. The owner, Mr Tan Yaolin, divides his time between his restaurants here, in Warsaw and Vienna, and is circumspect about the restaurant’s longevity; he says he just wants to provide quality food at affordable prices. At the same time, he acknowledges the general dearth of quality Chinese eateries in Krakow – “it’s a shame, but most do cater to Polish tastes and that means compromising on their food. We try not to do that.” His experienced chefs, imported from restaurants back home, he says, are chosen above Polish cooks for their commitment to preparing Chinese food authentically. As we sat down, a dozen or so satisfied-looking Chinese customers were on their way out; usually a very good sign.
We ordered a dish to start which I have definitely not seen before, in Poland or elsewhere. Pickled eggs with marinated beef – not the most appetizing-sounding admittedly, but the dark, musky-tasting eggs were not your 50p-from-a-jar variety you’d find in fish’n chips shops in the UK; rather a tasty delicacy, while the beef was subtle and thinly sliced, almost melting in the mouth. Jing Si prawns followed; tiger prawns battered in fried, grated potato, served with a delicate creamy sauce. This dish was unusual and also beautifully presented, and the tiger prawns crunchy and delicious. Another starter followed, fried duck slices in a sesame coating and served with a chili-ginger dip. The duck pieces were cooked tenderly and the dish was another superb starter. Altogether, these starters came to around 60zł; pricey by usual Chinese eatery standards in this town. I perused the wine list, which was rather perfunctory, but Chinese places are hardly known for good wine. Fortunately there were a couple of tasty beers on offer – Paulaner (8zł) and also Tsingtao (13zł) - as well as Zywiec. Our main courses arrived together to share – ‘chrysanthemum fish’, fried and battered white fish in a sweet and sour sauce, beef slices in a spicy Szechuan sauce with cabbage, and crispy pork meatballs. When I find dishes spicy enough to choke on, I’m happy, and there was certainly no shortage of chilli in the beef dish, which was my favourite of the lot. The fish, intricately woven pieces (presented with an artistically constructed bird made from carrot) was also very tasty, and the meatballs were substantial, crunchy and satisfying. Each dish was priced in the 25-35zł range; around 20% more than your average Chinese eatery here.
Whilst the menu lacks such Chinese staples as stir fry, chow mein, chop suey and fried rice, and there is a lack of cashew nuts and water chestnut, you can certainly see that the Chinese food on offer here is a cut above the rest in Krakow and that some thought is put into these dishes’ preparation. The recent addition of crispy duck and various types of dim sum to the menu shows a commitment to authenticity and choice. Our dessert, fried banana in a toffee sauce with ice-cream (15zł), was also better than most desserts you would find in a Chinese restaurant – usually an afterthought which is best forgotten – and the thoughtful touch of a fortune cookie rounded off our meal nicely. Overall then, a satisfactory meal, if not the most memorable Chinese I've had - it's not a patch on nearly any Chinese or Cantonese place I've been to in the UK for example (including most takeaways) but that would be to miss the point. Poland has never had a large Chinese community and its attendant cuisine and food culture imported en masse, so relative to what exists this measures up reasonably well. The bus-loads of Chinese tourists that periodically arrive here are testament to that. I'd balk at many of the prices here though, for the quality on offer. But make that effort and push the boat out for a one-off. After all, what do you have to lose? Except that side order of cabbage.
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