Updated: Mar 29, 2019
Open: Mon 12.00-21.00, Tue-Thu 12.00-22.00, Fri-Sat 12.00-23.00, Sun 12.00-21.00.
Address: Starowiślna 15a, Krakow. Phone: +48 12 429 5141. @ http://www.ilcalzone.pl
One thing that cannot be said of Krakow’s dining scene is that it lacks in any way on the Italian cuisine front. There are literally dozens of pizza and pasta places in town, ranging from high quality trattorias to bog-standard imitations with bottles of ketchup on the tables, and these days it seems that even when Indian restaurants open they must bizarrely include pizza in the menu to keep everyone happy. Krakowians and tourists alike, it seems, cannot get enough of it. The competition being so fierce then, one has to take note of a restaurant that has survived since 2003, quietly earning plaudits without ever being overly-advertised.
Il Calzone, owned by Artur Schmidt and Marcin Pierożynski, is located between the old town and Kazimierz, tucked away behind Pugetów palace on Ulica Starowiślna in a quiet little courtyard which comes into its own at this time of year for al fresco eating. Named ironically (The owner’s surname being a form of the word pierog, also the Polish word for Calzone pizza), the first thing that strikes you on entering is the simplicity of the place. Compact with bare brickwork and exposed plaster, a few choice pictures of Italian vistas, wooden chairs and tables and low lighting, the trattoria feel is immediately welcoming and homely without being flash. Having visited on more than one occasion in the past (the first time about eight years ago), I knew that the pizzas were pretty decent. My Quattro Formaggi had been thin crust, oven-baked and with fresh ingredients, and I had also tried a respectable Carbonara here, but I decided to explore the menu a bit more fully this time and try some dishes which aren’t so ubiquitous around town.
The menu is extensive – there are 13 antipasti, 6 salads and 3 soups before you even get to the mains – but I went for a couple of starters as they looked so tempting, and good value, all under the 20zl mark. First off, chicken liver in orange and balsamic sauce. The simplicity of this dish is deceptive, but the collision of flavours in the tender meat and bitter-sweet sauce is a thing of wonder. A great starter, and my partner’s grilled slices of goose breast with provolone (Italian sheep’s cheese) and sweet, juicy sultanas was also succulent and delicious. I had a second starter, grilled camembert wrapped in parma ham on beetroot carpaccio. This was melted to perfection and extremely satisfying, and my only concern was that the portion was so large that I would be too full to enjoy my main. I was also a trifle disappointed that I had come on a Sunday evening because it meant that stocks of seafood were out - Tuesday and Thursday is the day to come to try dishes like oysters, mussels in mustard sauce or fried scallops with ruccola and dried tomatoes.
A word on the wine menu – the owners take a great deal of care in choosing their selection, traveling to various regions of Italy and Hungary to buy them, and the wine list is huge. Although wines from outside these countries are rather sparsely represented, there are over 50 wines from the Friuli-Venezia Giuli region of Italy, Eger in Hungary and also Brda in Slovenia. Our house red (27zl for 0.5l) was fruity, full-bodied and flavoursome, complimenting the meal nicely. The wines are available for take-out purchase with a 20% discount as well as with the meal, and for connoisseurs there is plenty here to consider splashing out on.
For my main, I sidestepped the bewildering list of 30+ pastas (including ravioli, torteglioni, gnocchi and lasagna), and the 20 or so pizzas, and instead went for a meat dish – grilled sirloin steak cooked in a balsamic sauce, medium rare with a side dish of pan-fried potatoes and spinach tossed in butter with fresh parmesan. Overall I found the meat satisfying and tender, and the vegetables well-cooked, but I still feel finding the perfect steak in Krakow is an illusive task. My partner’s swordfish in a sauce of chopped anchovies and green olives was unusual and tasty, and the grilled vegetables served with it fresh and crisp. With just enough room to squeeze in a dessert, we went for crème brulee and panacotta respectively, and both were admirable efforts, the creamy panacotta in particular, served with a tangy blackcurrant sauce, was a lovely way to round off the meal. Our waiter, attentive and excellent throughout, could not persuade me to have a coffee, or indeed a wafer-thin mint. Our compliments went to chef Grzegorz Grabos for a more than satisfactory feed. Il Calzone then, a veteran on the scene, continues to impress. It has seen off a lot of competition, and will likely continue to do so if it keeps up these high standards. Just don’t think of asking for any extra ketchup or garlic sauce with that pizza.
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