Updated: Feb 2
Open: Mon-Fri 7.30-21.00; Sat 9.00-20.00; Sun 9.00-18.00
Address: Warszawska 7, Krakow 31-155, Poland. Phone: +48 793 011 544.
Sweet Life Concept (SLCO from here on) started out life about four years ago as a straightforward cafe, serving coffee and cakes, and though it served up a decent cup and had some very tasty bites, I didn't go back after one visit. This was mainly because it's slightly out of my way (though it's still relatively central) and I'm not a huge fan of coffee - also there are hundreds of other similar places in Krakow. It seems many others felt the same way, since a little over a year ago a new American owner came in, paid off the debts the old place had built up, and decided to change the image of the place. “I just wanted to bring a bit of my mum's kitchen into Krakow” explains genial young San Franciscan Josh. “Korean food is basically comfort food and it's a simple cuisine. Fresh, healthy ingredients, nothing too fancy. I saw that Krakow lacked really good home-style Korean food and wanted to fill that gap.” Interestingly, he hasn't gone down the route of many new restaurateurs these days though, by doing away completely with what existed before – there were enough fans of the old bakery/coffee shop, it seems, so what has developed is a curious hybrid – cafe by day and restaurant by night. As Barry Norman used to say, "And why not?". I dropped in one evening the week before Christmas to see if this new addition to Krakow's far-from-burgeoning Asian eatery/coffee shop scene was an early present for us gastronomes.
When I arrived, mid-week about 8pm, there wasn't a free table, so my advice here is book ahead. Also, be aware that it's shut by 9pm most days and earlier at the weekend. The place has a nice airy, modern look – clean and unfussy, if not sparse. There are two main rooms at ground level, with a smaller connecting room. One large, round table dominates the main room, and a few more tables around the edges, including some stools and high tables and a bit of decorative shrubbery. Kitchen out of the way downstairs. There's a cafe-style bar where you go and order, with boards above displaying the food options Polish only (staff will happily help if you're in trouble) - there are only about ten options on offer, and presumably these change from time to time.
The prices are pretty uniform (and inexpensive) – 24zł for all of the noodle/rice dishes, 23-27zł for all of the curry/chicken dishes. A word on Korean food in Krakow (in my experience): it's been a general disappointment. It's either done in a down-market takeaway/cheap eatery type of way, which has inevitably left me unimpressed, or in a pseudo-Japanese/Korean way (these two cuisines are entirely separate, and sushi should not be considered authentic Korean, since it only came to the country when the Japanese invaded in 1910). Overall it's a fairly overlooked cuisine in Krakow, and obviously in Poland in general. Therefore, considering I haven't visited the country, I cannot claim to be an expert on the country or its food. What I can judge however is fresh, tasty and well-cared for food which has had a lot of love put into it. I had three dishes here (well, I had about half of each – the portions are massive) and I can report that each one had plenty of the above, and more.
First off, I had something simply called a Noodle Bowl. Served cold, this had the appearance of a salad-type dish, but make no mistake, it was filling enough for a main dish. This is no starters/main course dessert type of a place, so best advice if you want to sample a few things – bring some mates and share. Regrettably, I was here alone so had to battle on regardless. (Thank God for doggy bags). Back to the dish – which consisted of flat white vermicelli-style noodles, fried chicken, cubes of pickled radish, peanuts, cucumber slices, a couple of mini spring rolls and coriander/lime/chilli to add taste, with a small cup of tangy thin sauce. Simple food, but the flavours were tremendous; this is not a dish I've had the pleasure of tasting before, and I'd come back for it without a doubt. Pausing unhappily half-way through to leave space for the next dish, which was Bibimbap. This is a Korean staple, and is, roughly translated, a kind of hotpot which usually features rice, beef slices, sauteed and seasoned vegetables including cucumber, carrots, pepper, tomatoes, soy sauce and a raw or fried egg to top it off.
Again, the portion was ample, and the flavours of this subtle dish quite superb. I'd had it once before, but it wasn't a patch on this. The quality of the meat is key, as is the consistency and flavour of the rice, but of course the vegetables provide most of the flavour and here and, done so well, it was a minor revelation. There's something about Korean food which just tastes fresh and healthy, and despite there being a lot of it, it's not too stodgy.
Which is a good thing, because I still had the heaviest dish to come: a Japanese dish (okay, well they did go down the Japanese/Korean route but stick with me here). There were only four chicken dishes on the board, and I got something called a Donburi Katsu. This is one of the pillars of Japanese comfort food, and it really hits the spot. I'm no great fan of the Polski kotlet, but this was so different – a crispy piece of fried chicken on a bed of rice that had been fried in a sweet sauce with an omelette and onions, which gives it a sticky, more-ish quality that's just delicious. I'd have had seconds if I wasn't already stuffed by this point.
A word on the drinks at this point. No alcohol I'm afraid, which is a shame. However, lots of fruit juices – some freshly squeezed – such as orange and lemon – and some Asian style milk-drinks, as well as the tea and coffee. I went for an interesting beetroot-based freshly-squeezed option, which was tasty as well as too damn healthy for my beer-acclimatized gut. I ordered a coffee to finish up with, and a cake to go with it – coconut cheesecake. There wasn't actually much choice at this time of night, but I was assured that come morning, there would be a healthy selection.
The coffee, served proudly by the helpful barrista, was served filtered, in a glass, and though I'm not a massive fan of this style, the Costa Rican blend (10zł) was delicate and probably a better choice for an evening beverage, looking more like a cup of tea than one of coffee. The taste was delicate rather than rich, and, I'm told, is popular in the Far East at the moment. I'd like to come back and sample this place during the day as a cafe, because I get the feeling it'd also be well worth the visit; the choice of South American, African and Asian coffees was impressive. The cake, a generous wedge, went down very well despite my stuffed state, and I left clutching a bag of coffee I'd purchased to take home with me as a Christmas present (50zł for a 250g bag). So, as a concept, does SLCO work? Yes, to me this place is a winner. I feel it is going to do just fine in Krakow, and is already filling a niche which was missing. Korean food is tasty, healthy, filling and nutritious, and the cafe here is an added bonus. What are you waiting for? Feel the Seoul.
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