I’m not quite sure why the global schnitzel/escalope/tonkatsu phenomena hasn’t taken off on these shores. Sure, we have nuggets and kievs and breaded chicken strips (a box of 5 Maccy D’s Selects, with sour cream dip, is my new jam), but a flattened piece of meat, bread crumbed and fried, still remains elusive. And what isn't better breadcrumbed and fried.
After visiting Australia a few times to see my family, I'm often asked ‘why don’t you move there?’ To which I reply the weather (I’d melt); the history (I love old stuff, just ask my wife…); and the football (have you seen the A League…).
But, as well as the fam, when I get back home I do miss being able to get a schnitty at the pub. Even if you have to drink your grog in schooners. For me it’s a near perfect pub meal, something you wouldn’t make at home – a proper schnitzel really requires shallow frying and involves much mess with all the double-dipping and dredging – and is also perfect to soak up the booze.
The Poles have a rich history of beating and breading things, which has made Syrena my second favourite place to go and eat in High Wycombe (almost next door to Dosa Special, which still remains my absolute favourite).
It's a simple set up with a handful of tables, a counter at the back where you order and pay, and a short menu which includes both pork and chicken schnitzels (and sometimes a special of a breadcrumbed minced meat cutlet), which you can also order topped with cheese and mushrooms.
I’m not always a traditionalist, but haven’t looked past the classic pork yet. The cutlets are crisp and hot and greaseless, with the thin carapace of breadcrumbs perfectly billowing up from the tender meat as they are fried to order.
Although the escalope covers most of the plate, there’s still room for a couple of scoops of potatoes, that exist somewhere in that perfect place between boiled and mash and strewn with dill. Salad won’t fit, so comes on the side. Normally two different types that may include their excellent coleslaw, beetroot, sauerkraut or pickled cucumbers.
The schnitzel topped with a layer of sauteed mushrooms and a layer of melted cheese is served with fries, garlic sauce and salad and is also pretty great, if not quite as great as the classic version. It's certainly a good post-pub choice (as the restaurant closes at 8, it would have to be an afternoon session).
Another favourite are tender slices of roast neck of pork that come with Silesian dumplings; bouncy potato dumplings traditional to the Upper Silesia region of Poland with a distinctive depression made with a thumb for gravy. The dumplings, which are similar to gnocchi, are boiled in salted water before being covered in the aforementioned gravy. Proper rib-sticking stuff that is especially good with their braised sweet red cabbage.
When we took Stealth along for dinner, she had one of her favourites, beef goulash. I think her favourite is still Mummy P's beef stroganoff, but she still seemed very happy with her choice. The beef and red pepper stew, with its deep paprika-spiked gravy, comes with buckwheat - an underrated grain that doesn't get the love it deserves.
Homemade deserts include pancakes served with sour cream and sugar - they can also be ordered as a savoury course with mushroom gravy or goulash - and crepes with cheese jam or Nutella. They also have a glass cabinet, like the ones my sister and I would press our noses up against when on holiday as children, with a variety of cookies, choux buns, brownies and waffles.
Even though I'm still off the sweet stuff, I have sampled their 'cheesecake' on several occasions before the sugar ban. I use the word loosely, as it's a behemoth featuring a pastry base, a fluffy cream cheese filling and a layer of fruit (I've tried plum and apricot), before being topped with a layer of crisp meringue. Unsurprisingly it's also very, very good. In fact, the only way to improve it would be to roll it in breadcrumbs and fry it.