Updated: Mar 29, 2019
Open daily 07.30-23.30. Address: Rynek Główny 11, 31-042 Kraków. Phone: +48 668 471 718. @ https://urban-garden.pl/
Market Square reviews are rare for me, and as I've reiterated on many occasions, you have to be pretty choosy in this 'ground zero' locale when it comes to eating out. For every fine dining experience like Szary Géś, there is a Dominium Pizza or Sphinx. Get the tourists in, pile the plates high with average fodder, overcharge, repeat. It's a business model that clearly works, since these places are still doing good business after years of bland gastronomic underachievement. In streets just off the Square, there are worse places: dodgy kebab places abound on Grodzka and Florianska, and there's even a place calling itself 'Good Food' (as if) which I still haven't dared step inside. Culinary nightmares all. Don't even get me started on Gruzinski Khachapuri, an ersatz Georgian diner which has been trading under the wrong name for over a decade now and even has a mini-chain.
All of which brings me to Urban Garden, a relative newcomer (it opened last year) on the Rynek near the corner of the Grodzka turn-off. It sits firmly in the fine-dining category, and as if to distance itself from the riff-raff nearby, it's set back a bit from the square, and is entered via a small but attractive courtyard. There is heated and covered outside seating for the colder months; like any Rynek location, the views and atmosphere year-round are a major plus. The interior is understated, relaxing and calm. Bare brickwork and a few tasteful shots on the wall, pretty de rigeur stuff. There was actually only one other couple in whilst we were here, on a Saturday evening, so no problem getting a seat. I hoped that wasn't a reflection on the food. It was a weekend in early January though. There are three separate rooms for dining, and there is an open kitchen where you can observe the cooks at work, another popular feature these days. As is customary in this country, Christmas decorations were very much in evidence despite it being well past 6th January, adding to the cosy feel.
The menu is Polish/European. Dishes are seasonal and therefore the menu is relatively short – only five or six dishes available for each course. There is also a breakfast menu – the restaurant opens at 7.30am each day so is aiming for the tourist crowd. I noticed a Full English was available for a slightly steep 49zł. In general, the breakfast options are pretty extensive, with American, Polish, Italian and French options also available. I had a look at the wine list and it was also pretty extensive - a range of European and new world wines as you'd expect for a place like this, ranging from 75-200zł a bottle. I ordered a glass of house red, a Merlot. Beers were slightly less numerous, though a few IPAs and wheat beers are on offer. (15zł) We ordered a Prosecco aperatif before a small but tasty appetizer arrived – freshly cooked bread with butter and olive paste and a spicy olive oil, with sea salt and red peppercorns. I do like a good appetizer. Soup of the day was fish (19zł), which I ordered along with a Salmon Gravlax (38zł). The soup was served first. A soup at the this price should be pretty good, and to be fair it was – served professionally with a small jug of tomato-flavoured broth poured onto the cod chunks and prawns in our bowls. It was quite strongly-flavoured – for my partner too much so – a herb which I couldn't identify but may have been tarragon or thyme made it so – but I was delighted with this dish, full of flavour and with delicious pieces of fresh fish and prawn.
The Salmon came next, and was very nicely presented in a circular design on my plate. This is a Nordic dish (very trendy in culinary circles now) consisting of raw salmon, cured in salt, sugar, and dill. Gravlax is usually served as an appetizer, sliced thinly and accompanied by hovmästarsås, a dill and mustard sauce, either on bread or with boiled potatoes. This came with crusty brown bread and butter. I found it to be simple, light and delicious dish which made an excellent starter – no chance of over-filling oneself here. The sauce in particular was tangy and made a great accompaniment to the fish. My only reservation here, the price. But this is fine dining, and finding more adventurous cuisine like this doesn't come cheap.
For my main, I ordered a beef tenderloin steak (79zł), whilst Kasia went for a cod fillet (59zł). The four other dishes included one veggie option – cheese & beetroot gnudi served in a butter sauce. It's been said by many that one thing Krakow lacks in fine dining is a place to get a good steak, and that if you can find one, it's expensive. I can't really refute this, and yes I think that Pimiento probably still hasn't been bettered yet. I'd say 79zł is a pretty high price to pay too. But, again, quality comes at a price sometimes, and in this case I'd say it justified it. The 200g steak, served medium, had just the right amount of redness, was full of flavour and was served with an extremely complimentary pepper sauce (classic but good) and roasted potatoes and vegetables. Succulent, well-cooked and very good indeed. Kasia loved her cod also, served as it was imaginatively with kimchi mayonnaise, pickled turnip and roast potatoes.
All that was left was to get a dessert, and for once I wasn't too full to manage one. This type of food doesn't tend to leave you stuffed, and that's a positive when one is still feeling the extra pounds after Christmas. I had just about enough room for a chocolate soufflé served with vanilla ice cream and blueberry sauce (16zł) It was dark, rich, oozing warm chocolate sauce inside and just generally lovely. Superb comfort food for these cold winter days, and again a well-proportioned serving, not too heavy and yet not leaving you feeling short-changed.
There is a pretty wide selection of cakes on offer, making this a decent place just to come for a coffee and sweet, or even a sandwich or salad for lunch. I had a cappuccino to finish (12zł) (rich and satisfying) and decided that this place deserves some credit for what it's trying to do. This is fine dining without pretensions or fuss; it's refined yet relaxed. Service is with a smile, not stiff or sniffy, and that, to me, is a very good sign. Yes, prices are higher here, but it's a cut above and there was obvious care and thought put into every aspect of the dishes I tried here, and I suspect everything on the menu is of a similar quality. This is a place not for the culinarily naive, but for the urbane foodie or discerning traveller. It's a spot to savour and enjoy. So, avoid Good Food and its ilk, and get something a little better here, whilst avoiding those tourist traps.