Kielbasa sausage and proper pierogi are coming to Kirkstall Road
SMAK! is a familiar fixture across the Northern street food scene, selling their own Kielbasa Polish sausage and various takes on pierogi - the most delicious of dumplings.
Spring 2018 will mark the moment husband and wife team Neil and Monika go ‘legit’ – setting up their own deli/cafe in the emerging Kirkstall Road foodie scene, opposite the more commercial Cardigan Fields complex.
Already the Cardigan Arms, a gorgeous Victorian gem, is reborn, awash with craft beer under the stewardship of Kirkstall Brewery. And we were impressed on a recent visit to Poco Sicilian Street Food - a similar eat-in/take out set-up akin to the coming Smak! (which is, no misunderstandings, the Polish for ‘Taste’).
'The next step in our journey is this Polish café/deli... relax and absorb our little piece of Poland'
We spoke to co-owner Neil how it all came about:
“It all started as a result of summer barbecues in the garden with family and friends. My wife Monika bought some kiełbasa (Polish sausage) home, we duly threw them on the grill and without exception they went down a treat. Well, we like a barbecue, we used do do them regularly and we made sure kiełbasa was always on the menu and without exception our guests would comment on how good these Polish sausages were.
“That was it. Back in August 2014 Monika and I bought a garden gazebo and a small grill and started out at a local market in Leeds (Kirkstall Deli Market). To our delight folk were queuing up, so we did it the next month just to make sure it wasn't a fluke. Same again, and the month after, so we decided to invest in some professional equipment, a big barbecue grill and a proper gazebo.
“Reminiscing about Monika's childhood, it became clear that apart from wanting to make her grandparents proud, the standard had already been set, a long time ago. Much of her childhood was spent on her grandparents' farm, where Grandpa (Dziadek) smoked his own kiełbasa. She remembers the villagers queuing down the road to the farm to buy them, while Granny (Babcia) would be in the kitchen preparing pierogi, bigos, barszcz and a host of other dishes.
“We now adopt those age-old methods and recipes to continue the family tradition, and to present authentic Polish food of the highest quality. Our menu now includes a range of traditional Polish dishes, but we're also developing new ones to keep the menu fresh and current while ensuring the essence of Polish cuisine is at the heart of everything we do.
“Everything on our menu is made by hand here in Yorkshire, keeping to traditional methods and using only the finest ingredients, the majority of which are sourced locally.
“Our venture was born within the street food movement, something we love and will continue to do. We're delighted to be involved in street food events, music festivals, occasional pop-ups, vintage celebrations etc - quite an eclectic mix. It certainly keeps things interesting.
“The next step in our journey is this Polish café/deli we plan to open this spring. We want the place to feel warm and welcoming, a fusion of contemporary and traditional where people can feel free to grab a bite, relax and absorb our little piece of Poland and maybe take a treat home from the deli counter.”
That project looks like it will hit the spot. There’s footfall down this end of town and significantly there’s a healthy number of recent Polish arrivals, keen on honouring their home food traditions. Neil tells us that, while they have always marketed Smak! in English and aimed at the Street Food Market, these days up to 10 per cent of their customers are Poles.
What we at Confidential like is this cultural melting pot. Authentic Polish recipes using, a few imported herbs aside, local raw materials. The kielbasa (we can almost smell them grilling) are made to Monika’s specifications on a farm under 20km from Leeds.
The ultimate plan is for the enterprising pair to run their own smokehouse. For the moment, Smak! the 20-cover cafe/deli/shop sounds a valuable addition to the city’s diverse food scene.