New Restaurant - Pani Solinska
The birth of a restaurant
In this year’s Eating & Drinking Guide we’ve included well over 100 new restaurants which have opened in the past 12 months in Glasgow and Edinburgh. What does setting up an enterprise like this involve? Dorothy Nowak-Solinska gives us an insight into the story behind Pani Solinska, which opened on Broughton Street in Edinburgh in March
The bright idea. I was standing in the Kirkcaldy sunshine looking at an empty restaurant. I had been made redundant from my job after over 20 years and I felt a little at sea. Slowly the dawning of an old dream came to me. Why not now? A Polish restaurant . . . 20 years ago maybe not a good idea, but today it made some sense.
I ran the idea past all my family and friends and even the bank manager did not dispute that the time was right for this kind of business. I was born in Poznan of a Scottish mother and a Polish father. My father was in Scotland at the end of the war. Before returning home in 1948 he completed a degree at St Andrews University. There he met my mother, who a year later joined him in Poland where they were married. In 1957 my parents returned to Scotland with their three children when life became too difficult under the Communist regime. I was raised cooking and eating Polish food and wanted to show people the richness and diversity of Polish cuisine.
April – August
I started looking around for premises and found the ideal place in Broughton Street. I took over the business in the middle of August during the Festival and on the first day worked behind the counter of the takeaway section during the lunch hour rush. It was a two-hour whirlwind that left me completely shell shocked.
Two weeks in, the chef at the time told me he would stand by me and do everything he could to help me. Friday morning (through his own unforeseen circumstances) he left! That night, scared to death, I cooked. But at the end of the night when I went out into the restaurant I got a round of applause from the customers. It felt great and now the kitchen was mine. My big challenge was to take people with me who had known and loved the existing Mediterranean restaurant, Café Mediterraneo. I had to carefully introduce them to the Polish food that we would be selling.
November – December
I spent hours trawling the internet for ideas, recipes, furniture and vodkas and took a research trip to Warsaw to eat and shop.
Sometimes Fawlty Towers seems tame. Every day is different, from baker’s ovens exploding, Polish supplies not arriving because of strikes and storms in the English Channel, gas failing and staff disappearing. Moments of utter disbelief and despair, but also of real jubilation. This has been the steepest learning curve in my life, the most exhausting and exhilarating.
6 February 2008
The doors closed on Café Mediterraneo. Two weeks later I re-opened the restaurant as Pani Solinska (it means Mrs Solinska) with an open day serving Polish food, Polish music playing and lots of friends, neighbours and passers-by dropping in.
As well as regulars, lots of Polish people have been coming in – the haggis peirogi in particular is being praised.
I've recruited a new chef from the most famous old-school restaurant in Warsaw, Gessler. I met him on my trip at the end of last year and he was really interested in my plans. Now he is going to come here to cook classic Polish cuisine and prove that it's not all about cabbage and dumplings. If there's a recession coming I think the public are going to be looking for good, wholesome food – just what we do best.
The response from everyone has been great but I'm keen to keep the restaurant evolving by introducing new things. We're going to have a bigos and beer night, and I'm really keen to have regular Eastern European music evenings – maybe an open mic night. I'd like to have a vodka appreciation society running and develop our vodka range.
Dorothy Nowak-Solinska is the proprietor of Pani Solinska, 73 Broughton Street, 0131 557 6900, www.panisolinska.com