Sarah Cotterill reckons a meal here is a lot better than a Smak! in the mouth
Smak! started by selling sausages in a gazebo. They still do, being regulars at Kirkstall Deli Market, local festivals and events. But so popular were Monika’s Polish kiełbasa, that they decided to join the handful of independents opposite the Cardigan Fields commercial complex.
The cheese makes your hands smell in all the right ways
Now within 300 yards, you can choose to eat Mexican, Jamaican, Italian, Pakistani, Chinese or Polish food, watch a film, then free jump at the trampoline park. It’s not a go-to dining destination, but you can park free at Aldi, and since Smak! is BYOB, one of you can polish off that bottle from the back of your cupboard, and the other can drive. Plus, swinging wine in a carrier bag across Kirkstall Road, you kind of fit in.
This is the perfect time of year to visit Smak! Deli because it’s autumn personified; funny shaped gourds, amber leaves, and wreaths of peel and cinnamon hang from wooden planks. A witch’s broom, entwined with fairy lights dangles at the shop front. The abundance of plug sockets, cushions, strange taste in wall art and family photos, reminded us of eating pierogi on paper doilies in a Warsaw living room last winter. Expectations were high.
With six tables, friendly service, and home cooked fare, Smak! definitely feels like a bit of a hidden gem. There are eight small dishes on the menu, with options for veggie/vegan fillings. We order most of them.
Limbs of Tenderstem broccoli and meaty courgettes are deep fried until crispy for dipping into garlic, herb and lime mayo (£3.00). They don’t really fit in the jug, so we slather it on using the garlic bread that comes with the beetroot salad. The lime shines through to offer a clever and contemporary twist.
The naleśniki, or savoury pancakes, (£6.00) aren’t heavy or particularly rustic, but delicate and beautiful. A wafer thin crepe curls around figs and airy goats cheese, with a scattering of rocket, purple peashoots and pumpkin seeds. A few more quarters of fig would have been nicer than the one slice on my half, but we have just passed fig season.
Their pierogi are definitely as good as anything you’d get in Poland. We tried all three; smoked country cheese and potato; ground pork, beef and herbs, and smashed chickpea and sun-dried tomato. (£5.00). The little lipped wonders have just enough paleness to give them a doughy bite, and just enough colour to crisp up the flat tops. The classic meat was probably best; it’s spiced wonderfully, held together better than the oozy cheese one, and had more flavour than the chickpea.
However, if I was vegan, I’d be very chuffed with these - less so with the hide swathed stools, but definitely with Smak!’s plant based offerings. The beet salad is honey glazed and chunky, it’s got that slime factor that beetroot lovers like me love, and non beetroot fans will hate. Plus it’s a bargain at £3.00.
Not as cruelty free, but one-hundred percent the star of show is the Polska burger. It’s as drippy and dirty as anything you’ll find in Maccy D’s opposite, and even at £7.00 seems far, far, better value for money. We’re not burger people, but this is worth bringing a few beers and sitting down for. Mustardy and really well seasoned, Monika definitely knows her meat. I don’t think the bun is a kaiser roll, more of a brioche, but it’s soft and sweet. The sweet potato fries are spiky, the cheese makes your hands smell in all the right ways.
Remarkably, considering the stodgy stigma Polish cuisine has, we weren’t left feeling like little dumplings - a credit to the husband and wife duo, making everything fresh behind the bar.
You pay up front, but this didn’t put us off trying a slice of their famous apple cake (£2.50) with a Halloweeny pumpkin tea (£2.00). Cinnamon spiced, the cake had a real alpine vibe to it, with icing sugar dusted moguls, and fluffy meringue centre. It didn’t need the sickly raspberry coulis alongside, but I’m keen to come back for coffee and a slab of cheesecake one daytime. Or brunch feat their kiełbasa sausage. Or the burger. Or more pierogi……
Smak! Deli, 372 Kirkstall Rd, Leeds LS4 2HQ
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Pierogi 9, deep fried garden vegetables 7, honey glazed beetroot salad 5, naleśniki 7, polska burger 9, apple cake 5
Heart warming, old school