My walking commute from Waterloo to Oxford Circus takes me past Topolski twice a day. The lights, beats and atmosphere spill out from under the railway arches, and finally last night I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about. I rallied the troops (four girlfriends) and headed down to the Southbank, primed for a Polish feast.
Topolski is set underneath the train tracks on Concert Hall Approach (every few minutes the whole place rumbles and vibrates as a train passes over) in artist Feliks Topolski’s erstwhile art bunker. A Polish-born expressionist painter, Topolski was an official World War II war artist, who moved to Britain in 1935. The menu and ethos of today’s Topolski reflect the artist’s eye for eccentricities and interest in world culture – a café during the day, and a bar/restaurant by night.
The walls of the bunker exhibit Topolski’s work – ginormous, expressionist paintings and illustrations that sit harmoniously alongside the industrial, ‘undone’ feel of the space. And the arts don’t finish there. An eclectic mix of musicians and DJs take to the stage on a regular basis, utilising the bunker’s fantastic acoustics and the Southbank’s easygoing ambience.
Our waiter recommended some of the vodka and gin infusions that Topolski prides itself on, distilling interesting flavours in-house and combining them with mixers. We ordered a variety (£7.50 each) and the cucumber vodka + cloudy apple juice and grapefruit vodka + cranberry juice got rave reviews (but then I love anything with cucumber in…!)
The concise food menu certainly doesn’t spoil you for choice… Taking its cue from Central and Eastern European cuisines, and featuring quality produce, simply presented, you’ll find platters and sharing boards in a variety of themes. We chowed down on truffled parmesan popcorn as we perused the menu.
In the end we plumped for one each of the Polish, meat and cheese boards, each of which was presented on a huge rustic wooden board, with fresh rye and sourdough breads, chutneys and piccalilli – perfect for sharing (£7.50 each). If pushed, I’d probably say the Polish board was my favourite, comprising Polish kabanos (a type of ham), Krakovian dry pork sausage and pickled red cabbage. The roast brisket (a main dish) on the menu also sounds fabulous. Other options are baked mackerel and goulash.
A glance at the breakfast menu confirmed that it would be a good shout too – Eggs Benedict is refreshed with Polish Speck Trentino, and the granola, Greek yoghurt & rhubarb compote also sounds like a winner. The bakery section features tempting sweet items such as Drozdzowki (sweet Polish buns), brown sugar & olive oil cake and apricot & honey almond cake.
I am known amongst my friends for choosing the restaurants and organising the dinner dates. Topolski received particularly effusive feedback from them – an interesting space (trendy without being too hipster, and with a more mature feel than most of my Soho and Shoreditch haunts!), with a menu that is so different from the norm (particularly surprising given its location and propensity to be influenced by tourists and chain restaurants), I am certain they will all return again.
How much will all this culture, vodka and Polish meat set me back?
Price points are incredibly reasonable – £7.50 for an infusion, £7.50 for a meal. If there’s a live performer, you get the added bonus of music, and even if there’s not, there’s plenty of art to admire – you’re basically eating in a gallery.
Sounds meaty – suitable for veges?
With the sharing boards, you could go for cheese or fish. There are also fish main courses. Overall, it’s probably more of a charcuterie-lover’s joint, but there are definitely options for all tastes.
150-152 Hungerford Arches, Concert Hall Approach, SE1 8XU
Photos: Topolski and me