In those early days of moving to Melbourne, this little jumble of a café, restaurant and bar convinced me that I was going to love living here. Reminiscent of an olde world vodka bar in Kraków, Borsch, Vodka and Tears is endearing, and unlike anything in Adelaide (my home city), and equally so in Melbourne.
It became a regular late-dinner go to. And then as the Melbourne eatery merry-go-round goes, I forgot about its existence, until just recently, when I fell in love with the Polish beauty all over again.
Founded many, many years ago by three Polish expats, Borsch, Vodka and Tears is a beloved icon on the Windsor-end of Chapel Street, and proven by it’s round-the-clock popularity, with happy diners consistently spilling out onto the pavement. Don’t be disappointed, book a table.
It’s small, intimate and filled with a garage sale collection of odd wooden chairs, tables and stools, and ornate mirrors, which only dials up the charm factor. The lighting is low, with candles doing the hard work. The atmosphere is friendly and welcoming – it feels like everyone is having a good time, perhaps fuelled by the back catalogue of available Eastern Bloc vodkas.
Hearty Polish fare
Given the food menu is tucked quietly behind 11 pages of booze options, it seems wrong to start here, but I will.
During the day, expect to dine on a hearty breakfast that’s perfect for soaking up the night before’s Shiraz and dulling the hammerhead shark in your head, especially if served with a Bloody Mary.
Come night-time, the menu is equally rich and filling, designed to be shared with friends, and a vodka tumbler or shot glass. I chose to load up the table with honey vodka prawns, zucchini flowers, pork belly, borsch served with rye bread, green beans, and (the star of the show) some beef and chicken pierogis – the fried Polish dumplings consisting of a light dough, filled with beef and chicken mince, and topped with crispy bacon and onion are heaven-sent. Whatever you choose, it’s all fresh and delicious.
There’s 10 pages of vodka
The drinks list is as hefty as Gina Rinehart’s bank balance, with 11 pages of alcoholic choices, including 100 different vodka options, mostly imported from Poland. From reserve vodkas with names you’ll struggle to pronounce, an assortment of cocktails and authentic wormwood absinthes to a stockpile of Eastern European beers and vodkas laced with fruit flavours, bring your reading glasses because the hardest part about a Borsch, Vodka and Tears experience is choosing what to drink. If you can’t decide, my advice is to whittle it down to three vodkas for a tasting paddle instead.
Mind you, it’s actually quite easy for me as I don’t drink vodka (ever since that ugly run in with the goblin known as Smirnoff), so I just snob the 10 pages of vodka options for the one page of wine choices. With a total of 11 different alternatives, the wine list is average (as you’d expect), so one-third of the Borsch, Vodka and Tears equation is wasted on me, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t find this place incredibly appealing. Plus, I can appreciate the vodka overload from the glee van Goghd across my husband’s face, who I’m convinced has Polish blood running through his veins the way he knocks back his vodka.
Borsch, Vodka and Tears is…
Borsch, Vodka and Tears refer to themselves as ‘an ode to a hazy and debauched bygone world’, and I can easily see why. Step through the wooden doors and it feels like you’re in another place, another time – transported into the depths of Krakow, enjoying a hearty, vodka-fuelled feast with friends.
So versatile, come here for lunch, dinner, a late night drink or finish up here with breakfast after a night on the Chap – it doesn’t matter, it’s all cry-worthy good.
Borsch, Vodka and Tears | 173 Chapel Street, Windsor, Victoria
Phone: (03) 9530 2694