“ Polish / Address: Upper Level / Princess Square / Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 8ER / Tel: 0191 261 0197 „
A couple of years back when lots of Polish people were coming to the UK to find work or to start their own business, often meeting the needs of their fellow migrants, a new restaurant appeared in Newcastle. When many of those Polish people packed up and went back home, we feared the restaurant might not be able to survive but to our continued delight, Gospoda remains open.
Gospoda might seem to be off the beaten track; it's in the city centre but it's tucked away under a block of flats and probably doesn't get much in the way of passers-by. It's situated just off a pedestrian plaza just behind Northumberland Street, around the corner from the Central Library. The unit has been a restaurant in one incarnation or another for years. Most local people remember it as the very popular vegetarian restaurant "The Supernatural".
The interior is very cosy and immediately welcoming. The walls are whitewash over some kind of artificial texturing to give a vaguely rustic effect, a look that's reinforced by simple wooden tables and benches (some tables have ordinary chairs but the tables with benches are good for larger groups) and traditional Polish decorations on the walls and hanging from the ceiling. This is no cutesy recreation of a traditional Polish inn, though; it also has nice contemporary elements such as the clean lines of the modern bar and the excellent lighting which makes the place cosy in the evenings but doesn't stop you from reading the menu.
Although the menu features a handful of well known Polish dishes, Gospoda, I would say, offers homestyle cooking rather than very authentic dishes. Family favourites such as bigos will no doubt make homesick Polish exiles happy but, on the whole, these meals are what most Polish mums serve up and not something you'd get in a traditional Polish inn.
We've eaten here at least half a dozen times now and between us we've tried a few of the different dishes but now we tend to go for our favourites. Himself loves the bigos, a hearty stew made with pickled cabbage and spicy sausage, real stick to the ribs stuff; the portion is massive and the stew is absolutely delicious (just £6.00 and served with Polish bread). For me it has to be the cabbage leaves stuffed with a mixture of pork mince and rice and cooked in a rich tomato sauce (£6.80; there's a delicious veggie version for the same price). It's served with a mountain of creamy mashed potato and I usually request a side order of warm grated beetroot to go with it. I love the beetroot at Gospoda so much that if I order a dish that doesn't come with beetroot, I make sure I ask for a side order. I'm probably committing some terrible Polish food faux pas, but I don't care.
Pork is always a good choice at Gospoda and it comes in many forms; the schnitzel style - breaded and fried (though not as thin as a traditional schnitzel) is delicious. There's also chicken and fish on the menu.
So far I've not tried the "pierogi", the traditional Polish dumplings which come with a variety of toppings and fillings. It's a dish I really like but one I find very filling and I prefer to have a more balanced meal with some vegetables on my plate. Given that all the other things I've eaten at Gospoda have been excellent, I'd possibly try a couple of the pierogi for a quick, cheap lunch some time.
We've only once had starters. From our first visit we've found the food so filling that we've not bothered with them. They were disappointing anyway: a tomato and mozzarella salad turned out to be just that - slices of tomato and mozzarella cheese with no seasoning and no dressing, and the vegetable soup was satisfactory but nothing more. Knowing how full we'll be after a main course, we tend to visit only when we're going straight home afterwards: we'd never go to Gospoda before going to a concert or to the cinema as we know that the only thing we want to do after a meal there is stretch out on the sofa.
A couple of Polish beers are available along with a range of Polish and international soft drinks. A full range of spirits is sold as well as a fairly good selection of Polish vodkas; the Krupnik, a honey vodka is my favourite.
While I've been quite generous in my praise so far, there are a few negatives at Gospoda. The first is that, after you've sat down and been given a menu, service is quite slow. Once ordered you don't wait too long for the food but, it is odd that the fewer customers in the restaurant the longer it feels like we wait. The waitresses often disappear into the kitchen and aren't around when you want to order another beer or ask for the bill. At least they're not pestering you all the time, I suppose.
Another downside is that it isn't that warm in winter, which is when we tend to eat at Gospoda, which brings me nicely to another point; the food is very much home cooking so it is much more on the winter warmer side of things than fine dining so it's not really suitable for all occasions and usally when served it looks like your granny just plonked it on a plate.
With mains costing between £6 and £8 Gospoda is good value for money; the portions are generous and the food is filling. If you like Polish food or just good home cooking, perhaps the sort of meat and two beg dishes you might have grown up with but served in a slightly different way, then I heartily recommend Gospoda