Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Mamuśka: Smacznego!

Round my way - London's Elephant & Castle - as the nights draw in, the changing of the seasons is marked by Mamuśka's switch to the Winter menu, which is the season when her meaty meals at £6 per plate make most sense. So far as vegetarians are concerned, it mostly means the buraczki - beetroot - that one orders to go with the Pierogi ruskie - dumplings filled with blended potato, onion and white cheese - will be served hot rather than cold.   


Mamuśka purports to be a modern bar mleczny, offering 'authentic Polish meals  prepared with fresh Polish ingredients, at a price you can afford every day that's been established on the upper floor of the Shopping Centre, by the escalators & handy for E&C overground, for a few years. Now that Southwark Council has decided to demolish the Centre, this winter may be Mama's final season before she leaves us & relocates. To be clear about what goes on here, consider smalec wiejski (£3): 'this is a delicious pork lard spread, served with polish gherkin and our own fresh bread. Have it with a shot of vodka and you’re half way to being Polish!' Get the picture? This picture:
Google Images typically portrays  'Mamuśka' as a buxom lass.
The Heffalump is home to legions of students, with big appetites and small budgets, living in local halls of residence. Away from home for the first time, the poor dears miss their mums, or at least mum's cooking. Enterprising Poles evidently picked up on this demographic and invented an un-frilly canteen they called, 'Mamuśka': your surrogate mother. Their motto is, 'your mother will hate us', but surely they mean, 'your mother may seem jealous of your fondness for our cooking, but secretly she will be grateful that we keep you well fed'?

This approach doesn't work for everyone. As a real, peroxide blonde Polish milf with big tits who once cut my hair remarked, "it's the kind of food I cook at home and I prefer my own cooking." Indeed, I am rarely tempted to order placki ziemniaczan - 'four crunchy potato pancakes covered with mushroom sauce - which is the default option for hungry veggies in this den of carnivores, because I can easily do that myself without getting dressed. Plus, since I do fry potato cakes in my own kitchen, I reckon I'll be in for too long a wait over in the doomed Centre. On the other hand, Mama advises one to 'try them with sour cream and sugar' and I may yet get around to that.

One's carnivorous play mates are well served by Mama with steaming plates of such carnal delights as bigos - aka 'hunters’ stew' - 'a truly Polish taste!' There's a porky goulash and a beefy stroganoff; Polish sausage & breaded pork loin. Vegetarian main course options, however, are sparse, even Spartan. The supposedly hearty vegetarian winter stew - potrawka warzywna - has the consistency of chunky soup; it incorporates those most banal root vegetables, potato & carrot, and is seasoned with paprika. The mash that comes with it (also available as a side order for a quid) is not bad and good for soaking up the soup.

Soup, served with homemade bread and butter (£3) is one area in which Mama excels. The soups of the day are announced via social media, so I can see if I'm tempted. Mama's best veggie soups, usually thickened with potato, include: ogorkowa/gherkin, which is not dissimilar to koperkowa/dill; pomidorowa/tomato (I usually bring my own hot sauce); and barszcz zabielany/creamy beetroot soup, which is not quite borscht. All these soups I have liked, but I can't say I'm too fond of mama's generic jarzynowa/vegetable soup, or her kalafiorowa/cauliflower.

Polish for chicken noodle soup -  often served on Sundays - is rosol, so I had to try it and can report that it's genuinely greasy like chicken soup is and probably very comforting if you like that kind of thing. Ditto Mama's deeply unctuous beetroot broth, barszcz, which is made with melted pig, coating one's taste buds with a thick layer of lip-smacking animal fat. It is ubdeniably delicious, but one can see why they needed to invent sauerkraut to cut the grease!

Not shown: beetroot & horseradish relish (£1)
The emblematic Polish dumplings - pierogi - cost £6 for ten. Bacon bits, chopped onion & sour cream are offered as garnishes. Empirical research tells me that it IS possible to eat ten dumplings, but they tend to make one waddle. Sometimes, I've found their texture a bit too flabby, and thought they should sear them, like gyoza, but it hasn't stopped me returning regularly.  

During the summer, as a daily special they sometimes serve fruity pierogis, as a rare treat. I am sad not to see a return of last winter's second vegetarian option, sauerkraut and mushrooms , which were firmer and slightly tart with the tang of the kraut. I have one thing to add: chesnuts. Think about it. OK, now forget about it again because the afore-mentioned ruskie, the biggest-seller, is what you're having. You'll probably want sour cream but the onions are sweet too.

I recommend a half order, five for £3, accompanied by one of the afore-mentioned Sides - don't miss the beetroot & horseradish relish (£1) - or the 'Polish classic salad of chopped root vegetables with egg and gherkin' (£3) although strict vegetarians will note the egg. I notice that the menu this season has ditched its ludicrous claim that this 'has converted many of us into die-hard fans of Polish food'. I mean, it fills a hole.

To drink, kompot is their very own fruit juice, blended on the premises. It's sugar water with a faint hint of pears. Then there's soki, supposedly Polish brands of fruit juices, but lately they've been passing off apple juice from concentrate out of a litre carton marked '79p'! Much better is Kubuś, a proprietory Polish carrot 'n' fruit juice blend.

Mamuśka fruit smoothies bring all the boys to her yard and she offers various flavours but, being Polish and fully licensed, she reckons they are even better with a shot of vodka, making 'boozy' smoothies! Mamuśka's 'famously extensive wine list' includes not only red and white wines, but a rosé too. Similarly, the  beer selection includes not only Tyskie & Żywiec, but also Lech. The coolest beer to order is the hardest to pronounce.

Given that crucial staple of student life - free WiFi - one can hang out at Mamuśka all afternoon, eating szarlotka (warm apple cake, served with sour cream) or sernik (chhesecake) or even ciasto dnia (cake o' the day!) while sipping gorąca czekolada (hot chocolate). When I say, 'one', of course I refer to a hypothetical student, not a paunchy middle-aged amputee with a netbook, but I could be there right now for all you know, ensconsed in the mini setee opposite the telly, craftily snapping sly pics with my web cam. 
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