Updated: Mar 30, 2019
Open daily 10.00-23.00. Address: Szeroka 2, 31-053 Kraków.
Phone: +48 515 150 145. @ http://hamsa.pl/en/
Hamsa, or to give it its full and somewhat unwieldy name, ‘Hamsa Hummus & Happiness Israeli Restobar’, is a Middle-eastern restaurant in Kazimierz which fills a Rift Valley–sized gap in the Krakow Dining scene. Up until six years ago when it appeared, Israeli and Middle-eastern food lovers in Krakow had to make do with the odd glorified kebab shop, same bagel cafes or a phalanx of pricey Jewish restaurants, generally aimed at the tourist market, clustered on and around ul. Szeroka. What these restaurants tend to do well is serve up pre-war eastern European Jewish fare in an authentic manner, without really attempting any dishes that come from the Levant area – modern day Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. This is what Hamsa does attempt, with a touch of Moroccan thrown in for good measure. Surely a no-brainer, in a city of such significance to the present-day Middle East.
Meaning ‘peace’in Arabic, Hamsa’s logo is the hand of Fatima, an Arabic sign which is seen all over the Middle East as a sign of luck. We were unfortunate enough to find on a Thursday evening at 9pm that pretty much every table in the place was taken when we arrived – nevertheless a good sign of quality – so we went to a bar on Szeroka for a drink before returning an hour later. The impression of the place is that it’s bright, friendly, relaxed and welcoming. The décor is as you would find in restaurants in the Middle-east – low-key but tasteful. Tie-died lampshades, various herbs growing by the window, wooden tables and chairs painted somewhat shoddily and blown-up prints of Israeli scenes adorning the walls, while the lighting is turned up. Relaxing Middle-eastern melodies sooth you while you eat. Laughter and chatter filled the air as several large groups of young-looking people populated the eating area.
We were served quickly by a helpful waitress, who gave us first a wine aperitif – a decent Israeli house red called Monfort Carigan - and kicked off with four mezze – dips and snacks which come with olives, chili peppers and gherkins, and manakish bread baked on the premises. We had Jebneeh – fried goats’ cheese, Babaganoush – a dip from roasted eggplant, Muhammara – a thick dip of ground, roasted walnuts, pomegranate juice and spicy pepper, and hummus with fried lamb and roasted pine nuts. Priced 7-12zl, these starters are substantial, could serve as a filling snack, and were prepared to perfection. My favourite was the Muhammara, which, having tasted and loved when travelling through Lebanon and Syria, I can with some authority say was close to any as good as I've tried. The hummus with tasty Bieszczady lamb was also impressive. A real taste of the Middle East, and as good as it sounds. The whole dish was fresh, unusual and delicious.
I followed this up with a salad, lamb on eggplant with pomegranate and mint sauce, while my partner went for a Moroccan soup of chickpeas, beef and orzo pasta. My salad was astoundingly good, and the flavours of the sweet aubergine, crispy lamb, mint and bitter pomegranate together were a thing of subtle genius. Perusing the wine list further, I noticed they had a Polish dry white, five Israeli vintages and three Armenian – an unusual selection, priced 48-98zl. I went though for a local micro-brew beer from Radom – there are several unusual ones on offer. My main course was a meat dish called Near Eastern Beef Sirloin, priced at 39zl. The beef was marinated in baharat – an Arabian mix of spices - with lemon juice and olive oil, and came with potato wedges and Israeli salad. It was tender, fresh and tasty, and the portion was more than adequate. My partner’s Levantine chicken, large legs roasted with shallots, lemon and parsley looked quite mouth-watering.
There was little room for desert, but I tried a small selection of a few different cakes. The Baklava was honey-based and delicious, the Near Eastern chocolate cake temptingly tasty and the Kanafeh, a Palestinian desert made from kadayif cake, nabulsi cheese, atar syrup and saffron, calorific and captivating. I rounded the meal off with a Bedouin style coffee with cinnamon, feeling as rich and satisfied as an Arab prince. This restaurant has unquestionably filled that Middle Eastern gap in the market, and though I'd love to see even more adventurous and varied dishes on the menu from across the region, I am giving this hand of Fatima a massive high five. Hamsa is hands down the best Middle Eastern restobar in town.
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