Polish cuisine is simply delicious, we do not have to convince anyone, it is the fact. The British simply fell in love with it long ago and often visit our restaurant to have a plate of hunter’s stew (bigos), dumplings (pierogi) or sour rye soup (żurek). We are delighted to let you know that on Thursday, June 17th, the Polish cuisine fan group acquired new members, in the person of the British Prime Minister and his wife, Carrie.
Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, chose to have his dinner in the excellent Polish restaurant located in the legendary ‘Ognisko Polskie’. Looking back in time, the historical decision to establish the club was made over 80 years ago, at the end of 1939, with the idea to support cultural and social unity and activity of the Polish community in Great Britain during difficult times of World War II.
Thanks to the financial support of the British government as well as the Polish diaspora, the club was soon after established in the prestigious South Kensington district, next to famous places such as the Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum and the Institute and the Museum of General Władysław Sikorski. The opening ceremony took place on June 16, 1940. in the presence of King George V’s brother – the Duke of Kent (his son Edward is now the patron of the club) in the presence of, among others, President Władysław Raczkiewicz, General Władysław Sikorski and Lord Halifax, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the then Chamberlain’s government.
Soon after the opening ceremony, Ognisko Polskie became an important and vibrant centre of the social and cultural life of the Polish diaspora in London. Numerous cultural events, such as concerts, lectures, talks, art exhibitions and even theatre plays were held there and attended by many. The club retains its immense popularity these days. The elegant interiors are decorated with many historical photographs and portraits painted by the famous London artist – Barbara Kaczmarowska Hamilton.
Much has been written already about the place’s history. Just before the coronavirus pandemic, the club celebrated its 80th anniversary. This year, due to lockdown limitations, it is much quieter here, but being one of the oldest Polish clubs in London, Ognisko Polskie remains the driving force in the consolidation of the Polish diaspora. As for today, professor Jerzy Kolankiewicz is the president.
The restaurant run by prince Jan Woroniecki is the real centrepiece of the club. The menu was tasted and appreciated by food critics and the great variety of guests including celebrities and famous personalities attracted by delicious cuisine, good atmosphere, excellent service and nice interior. Queen Elizabeth II and other Royal family members, prominent Polish and British politicians, diplomats, artists and scientists were among guests. General Władysław Anders had his favourite table reserved here for many years.
The Duke of Kent, the present Ognisko Polskie patron, often visits the restaurant, enjoying Polish cuisine. The group of famous guests was joined yesterday by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie. We asked Jan Woroniecki, the restaurant manager about this visit. “The prime minister ordered a dish of tartare for a starter, followed by a plate of dumplings for the main course and the Polish beer for a drink. Everything met his expectations and he seemed to enjoy his dinner very much” he told British Poles.
In 2015, the Prime Minister was elected a Conservative Party member of parliament for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in the borough of Hillingdon. This particular London district has very strong ties with Poland and Poles. Johnson has visited Polish memorial sites many times, emphasising the participation and heroism of Polish soldiers supporting Great Britain during World War II. At the end of last month, he opened an exhibition in the Uxbridge Bunker commemorating the participation of Poles in the Battle of Britain, saying: “Our debt to Poles is eternal.” You can read more in the article “Our debt is eternal” – Boris Johnson at the opening of the Polish Air Force exhibition at the Battle of Britain Bunker.
In the same district the Polish pilots Northwood cemetery is located, the Polish pilots’ pub ‘The Orchard’, RAF Northolt base and probably the most recognisable – the Polish War Memorial monument.
The British Prime Minister has often emphasised the close relationship between the governments of Poland and Great Britain. In the interview for the Polish newspaper, ‘Rzeczpospolita’, he emphasised the friendship of our countries was “forged in the fire of a joint fight against tyranny” during World War II.
During the war, over 200,000 members of the Polish Armed Forces in the West fought under the command of the British armed forces simultaneously remaining loyal to the Polish government-in-exile.
The Prime Minister also said: “Polish troops fought side by side with the Allies, taking part in almost all significant battles, from Monte Cassino to El Alamein, from Arnhem to Tobruk. When victory came 75 years ago, Poland’s fate, however, was different from that of other European countries. The shadow of tyranny has not disappeared and Poland had to wait another 44 years before regaining freedom and independence in 1989”.
The prime minister often emphasises that even today his country is proud of Poles living in Great Britain, as you can read in our article in Polish, Boris Johnson cannot imagine his country without the positive presence of our countrymen.
Zdjęcia: Ognisko Polskie, Polish Embassy in London, British Poles
Main photo: Jan Woroniecki
Translation: Jolanta PiteraCulture