A Polish Impression of a French Café


Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Praskipark on January 4, 2013

I really dislike coffee chains like Starbucks and Coffeeheaven. Both franchises are very popular in Warsaw and they seem to be on every street corner and in every shopping complex. I think they are overpriced and the coffee is particularly tasteless so I was thrilled to bits when a new café opened in Arkadia last year called Vincent.

It seems the owner of the café has designed his establishment on a French boulangerie/ patisserie and called it Vincent. Perhaps he didn't realise that Vincent Van Gogh was Dutch not French. I can see what he has tried to create - a café based on the one Van Gogh painted in his canvas, 'Café Terrace at Night', the café situated on the Place du Forum in Arles, south of France.

You know the one, the café with rattan chairs and people passing by. In a way this atmosphere has been created as the tables spill out from the main café into the atrium of the shopping mall. There are many leafy plants in between tables but they aren't real. I always have to touch plants to see if they are fakes and these are. French music is played in the background, a cross between modern and classical. The music isn't too loud so if you listen carefully you may be transported to Provence or even Paris. People do pass by as they walk on to visit other shops in the complex. I guess if you have a vivid imagination which I do have, you can imagine you are in the south of France.

It's a small café so there isn't a lot of room to sit unless you go upstairs to the top floor or sit in the atrium. There is a tight, open staircase at the side of the serving area and counter which leads to the top floor. This is very pleasant with stone walls, contemporary lighting and many artifacts like old olive oil bottles and bunches of herbs etc. I have only looked upstairs as I usually sit in the atrium and people watch. At the side of the counter downstairs there are a few tables set out but I wouldn't advise anyone to sit there as the queues to order food are always long and this means that there is a constant flow of people standing in front of these tables.

Here, the owner has tried to give the café a real French feel. All the different types of baguettes are displayed in rustic baskets which look very attractive and this looks very much like a French boulangerie. The glass counter is filled with different types of quiche, tarts, mousse, and cheesecake. Oh, oh, I can see Polish cakes creeping into this cabinet so not entirely French. Let's move on to the main counter - what is it filled with? The French theme is still prominent with croissants, pain au chocolat, chausson aux pommes and pain aux raisins but where are the éclairs, profiteroles, beignets, and mille-feuilles? There is a big selection of sandwiches but I see we have some fillings on ciabatta which is Italian and some on sour dough bread which is Polish. On top of the counter to the left, near to the till, is a selection of small pies. These look interesting and I have bought these on several occasions. They are very tasty but in my opinion are more Italian than French with a heavy filling of cheese, ham and tomato with lots of dried oregano on the top. They taste like a mini pizza filling rolled into a soft doughy pastry shaped like a cup. Other pastries in this vicinity and on display are flat pastries filled with fruits and glazed with honey and syrup. They all look very attractive but are heavy.

Having lived in France for over 12 months I know what a French bakery/café smells like. Having visited my local boulangerie every morning for a baguette and several croissants I am acquainted with the rituals and routines of a small village bakery. The baker is usually in the back doing his thing and the aromas of the freshly baked bread and croissants are breathtaking. It was always a special treat and I loved the fresh smell. There is a special aroma that hits you when you walk into Vincent's café, it's definitely evocative but I do believe it isn't of fresh dough being baked, more like frozen dough.

Let's start with the croissants. They look appetising and the crescent shape is fine, exactly as it should be. However, the texture isn't correct. These croissants are far too heavy and take a bit of chewing, the pastry sticks to the roof of your mouth, a bit like peanut butter does. A croissant should be buttery, flaky and light. It should also melt in your mouth not glue it up.

If there is one thing I missed when I first came to live in Warsaw was a proper baguette. How I love those long thin French loaves. There is something about the crispiness of the outside and then when you break a piece off it is soft and light. The white dough which is defined by French law is crying out for a wedge of Brie to be placed on the top. The baguettes on display in Vincent's willow and rattan baskets look good and there are different varieties featuring added herbs such as rosemary. Some are made from different flours and are different shapes than the standard French baguette which should be 26 inches long although in some cases it can be longer. I have tried a few of these baguettes and I have enjoyed each one but they aren't anything like a real French loaf. They are the wrong shape, too fat and the dough inside is far too heavy.

When I am out shopping and fancy a bite to eat I generally order a slice of quiche from Vincent's and sit down to read a magazine while I am waiting to be served. You order at the counter and a waitress will bring the food over to you. There is usually a wait of 15 minutes or more. There are a few fillings to choose from like spinach, bacon, mushroom, salmon and broccoli. The spinach quiche looks colourful and is quite tasty but a bit too eggy for me. I like the bacon one but bear in mind that the bacon is smoked so if you don't like smoked bacon then this one won't be for you. I think my favourite has to be the broccoli quiche. I can taste the cheese and the broccoli hasn't been cooked to a pulp. The pastry bases are a bit on the heavy side and the fillings are deep rather than shallow.

I don't recommend the espresso here at Vincent's, it just isn't nice. I think perhaps they should change their filters more often. Cappuccinos are okay except a bit more foam would be nice. Café au laits are not good either; I've never had one that has been served at a decent temperature. I think it's best to stick to tea. You get a good brew for 10 zloty (£2+) and there are many fruit flavours to choose from. The strawberry flavour is fruity, refreshing and makes your tongue go zing.

Yes, there is service with a smile here. The waitresses are all young girls and when you visit the counter to order, are attentive and they do try to take your order as quickly as they can. They are trying to juggle the take away customers and the café customers so it is a difficult task. I usually find that you can wait from 15 minutes up to 30 minutes from the time you have placed your order until you are served. It doesn't matter to me but it could irritate some people if they were in a rush.

I believe the prices compared to other cafes in Warsaw are reasonable. The baguettes on average cost £1, pastries start from £1 also and the small pies cost just under £2. I've already mentioned the price of quiches which at £2 a slice which I think is good value. If you just want a pastry and a cup of coffee you are looking at £3 and for a heavy duty sandwich and a drink, £4.***What do I really think?***

Vincent's is okay, really. It makes a change to visit a café playing French music and the counter and the French baskets are pretty but I don't think the bread, pastries, and cakes on offer taste anything like French ones. Even the chef who makes the quiches has a heavy hand. There is something wonderful about French pastries and the fillings, a blend of flakiness mixed with rich gooiness, always a special treat. Monsieur Vincent has a long way to go to reach the French standard but it's better than Coffeeheaven and Starbucks any day.

Cafe Vincent
Nowy Świat Street 64
Warsaw, Poland
22 828 01 15

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