Wakefield has a vibrant Polish community, served by a number of stores devoted to Eastern European food so it’s not surprising that a Polish restaurant has opened – only that it took so long.
Duchniak’s on Kirkgate celebrated its first birthday in March but there are many who do not know of its existence. Tucked away in the old C M Eastwood’s hardware shop on a busy arterial road into the city centre it appears to be merely a small cafe catering for the Polish community and can be easily overlooked.
During the day it serves a good selection of light meals and we’ve been assured by those who’ve called in that spending time over a cup of coffee and a cake makes for a pleasant afternoon’s diversion.
However, as Oliver discovered, it is far more than that and well-worth seeking out for an evening’s dining out – especially if you’ve never tried Polish food before.
Parking, especially during the evening, is plentiful and, providing you know your way around the back streets of Wakefield, you can get your car to within a few yards of the door.
Duchniak’s is small and intimate but not so small that it feels claustrophobic. The décor is bright and everything is spotlessly clean with four-person booths tucked along one wall and a few isolated tables scattered around.
The overwhelming colour scheme is red, a colour I’m not a particular fan of but surprisingly it works well and doesn’t jar the senses unduly.
On our arrival for our pre-booked table we were greeted by a very pleasant smiling woman, who it turns out is Aneta Duchniak the owner.
Her English is excellent and she is more than happy to discuss each of the dishes on the menu, advising which accompaniments go best with which dish and making suggestions as to what we might like to try.
Her enthusiasm is infectious and it’s obvious she really cared about providing us with the very best her restaurant has to offer.
The menu is not extensive but there is enough choice for meat-eaters with a small selection for vegetarians. What there is, is described in enough detail so you’re aware of what the dishes consist of - any gaps in your knowledge are happily supplied by Aneta.
A specials board changes regularly.
While we decided what to eat we had a glass of Tyskie, a famous Polish beer which, at £3.20 a 500ml bottle is exceptionally good value and is just one of a small selection of bottled Polish beers.
With advice from Aneta we decided on stuffed mushrooms drizzled with cheese (£3.50) and breaded brie with blackcurrant sauce (£4.95) for starters.
Other choices included herring served in cream with onion; spicy chicken strips with chilli sauce ; tomato soup with pasta; beetroot soup with meat ravioli and sour rye soup with white sausage.
The three mushrooms were nicely hot and covered in breadcrumbs and the mince stuffing was subtly spicy and had a good flavour. The side salad and dusting of paprika was a simple but effective garnish.
The brie was a wise choice with the blackcurrant sauce, more like a jam in texture and consistency and a familiar accompaniment to the crisped cheese.
Main courses were pork meat balls served with a dill sauce, rice and a side dish of pickled gherkins (£9.50) and chicken devolay, a breast of chicken stuffed with mozzarella cheese and served with French fries (or potatoes) and pan-fried red cabbage (£10.95).
Though my meat balls were a bit bland and could have done with more seasoning to liven them up, the dill sauce did a good job of lifting the flavour and coupled with the gherkins ( a more than ample portion) made for a well-balanced dish.
My companion enjoyed the chicken and was more than impressed with the warm red cabbage - a staple of Polish fare.
Other main course dishes included pan fried salmon and fresh dill; breaded pork loins; grilled shoulder of pork and for the vegetarians, pancakes with mushrooms and cheese served with garlic sauce.
We’d been warned by other visitors that we should leave enough room for dessert.
Again taking Aneta’s advice, we went for banana fritters and cream (£4.50) and apple pie and cinnamon ice cream £3.95).
My apple pie was not, as expected, pastry covered but consisted of apples on a sponge base with a light cinnamon-flavoured crumble on top - quite delicious.
The banana fritters were bizarrely shaped but tasted wonderful; crisp and hot and quite definitely moreish. We found out later that absolutely everything at Duchniak’s is made to order - even the batter for the fritters which is most impressive and explains the slight delay in meals coming out of the kitchen.
It’s all very much worth the wait though. The atmosphere is so relaxed and friendly and the Polish chart music on the sound system so pleasant that spending a couple of hours over a meal is indeed no hardship.
When we arrived at 7pm we were the only two there but during our visit a steady trickle of customers came in - many it seemed had been before and were making a welcome return.
It may have taken a while to take off but there’s no doubt Duchniak’s is going to become a firm favourite among Wakefield diners as its popularity grows.
Our three-course meal for two with two bottles of beer came to a mere £43.75 which I reckon is a bargain and will ensure I make a return visit sometime soon.
Address: 212-214 Kirkgate, Wakefield
Tel: 01924 372489
Opening times: Sun-Wed 11am-8pm; Thurs- Sat 11am-9pm.