Sunday, October 31, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
On the upside, it is at least an excuse to organise a party.
And so to commiserate my latest not-quite-thirty-yet anniversary, I rounded up the girls and headed to Lehká hlava (or "Clear Head"), a well-known vegetarian restaurant in Prague 1, selected after much deliberation for the occasion due to its laidback vibe and established popularity among the group.
Located down a little side-street in Old Town, in the historic building formerly occupied by my much beloved Dobrá čajovna (just never quite the same since its sadly sanitizing move to Wenceslas Square), Lehká hlava is not exactly easy to initially locate. Nevertheless, the place is still packed out each and every lunchtime and evening with diners presumably also on the hunt for something a little different from the glut of mediocre, over-priced "Old Bohemia" tourist traps that otherwise populate the area.
The big pull of Lehká hlava - apart from the novel menu and non-smoking policy - is undoubtedly its atmospheric interior, which at various locations of the restaurant includes bamboo-covered corridors, glass-beaded table tops, and of course the unique "star room", with domed blue ceiling lit up by hundreds of little fairy lights. My photos didn't really do the place justice, so I nabbed some off the website. (Food ones are, as ever, still all my own, though.)
Lehká hlava's menu is made up of various salads, dips, pastas, and other tofu-, bean- or dairy-based vegetarian main courses (vegan options also available - and no preachy Supreme Master in sight this time!), as well as a wide range of freshly blended fruit juices and loose-leaf teas.
On this occasion, most of us kicked off with either Italian Chardonnay (at 50 CZK, one of the few wines they have by the glass) or the wine of the day, which was a rosé of some description. (I was still a bit preoccupied opening presents at this stage of the evening - thanks, ladies!) Both went down very well and, needless to say, a follow-up round was soon ordered.
Our one abstentious member of the group, L, went for a fresh ginger tea with honey (45 CZK), which came steaming hot with plentiful slices of fresh ginger added.
After much deliberation over the menu, we finally got round to ordering our food.
L and S both decided to go for the Thai red curry with tofu and rice (145 CZK). Sorry about the slight blur.
I had a bite and found this surprisingly good. The red curry sauce tasted more authentically Thai than I would have expected from a non-Asian restaurant, while the rice was cooked in such a way that, if not quite traditionally sticky in the Thai style, it was at least pleasantly halfway there. I for one was surprisingly impressed, and L and S both echoed the sentiment.
After much umming and ahhing, Prague Ginge opted for the bulgar wheat risotto with stir-fried tempeh, spring vegetables and sun-dried tomato and peanut pesto.
I've had this on previous occasions and not been the greatest fan. (Despite my decade of teenage vegetarianism, tofu or tempeh type dishes are still not really my culinary cup of tea.) Prague Ginge, on the other hand, raved about the smoky flavor of the tempeh and the tastiness of the pesto topping, so a definite hit here. Mind you, she was just about four sheets to the wind before she even turned up at the restaurant, so I wouldn’t take her word for it entirely here… :-)
M went for one of the lighter options with the couscous patties with feta cheese, sundried tomatoes and celery, served on a bed of lettuce with a spicy soy dip and bread at 135 CZK.
I didn't try these myself, but comments from her direction were positive, at least. I noticed the dip was the same as for the Thai curry sauce.
Our second L of the table ordered one of my own long-standing Lehká hlava faves in the grilled vegetable kebabs served with potatoes au gratin, tomato salsa and a small spring salad with lemon-honey dressing (145 CZK).
Simple but delicious, with perfectly done courgette (zucchini), aubergine (eggplant), red pepper and mushroom skewers accompanied by two generous hunks of lovely squidgy squishy potato gratin.
As for me, I went for my usual burrito with pinto beans, avocado salad with goat cheese, tomato salsa, sour cream and rice (210 CZK).
I preferred the significantly cheaper (150 CZK) black bean rendition I'd previously had at sister restaurant Maitrea (reviewed in a separate post here), which, as I recall, was much spicier, better presented, and came with more generously portioned condiments - including, on that occasion, guacamole. On the other hand, I also liked the avocado salad with goat cheese accompaniment served at Lehká hlava, though felt it could have done with a stronger dressing or at least some kind of oil / balsamico extras on the side. In short - okay, but not as good as I remembered from previous visits.
A couple of our party also went for desserts, with L's carrot cake made with millet, grated coconut and ginger, served with chocolate sauce and a physalis berry (70 CZK) arriving first to the table.
Opinion across the group was very much divided on this one, terms used here being "bitty" and "like birdseed" - certainly it wasn't the spongy, icing-topped variety of carrot cake most of us would normally imagine. On the other hand, it was doused in copious amounts of hot dark chocolate, which is a great redeeming feature in pretty much any scenario. My thoughts here are that a bite or two was nice enough, but, the cake in question being quite this fibrous and dense, any more than that would probably have done very bad things to my digestive system.
More chocolate soon followed in the shape of Prague Ginge's chocolate fondue with a variety of fresh fruit (80 CZK), which, given the quantities involved here, she practically implored us to help her get through.
Needless to say, the rest of us were more than happy to assist...
So overall, yet another win here for Lehká hlava, in our collective view still justifiably popular on the basis of its atmospheric interiors, friendly service and varied range of simple-yet-tasty vegetarian fare at reasonable prices.
In fact, my only minor niggle with the place is that it is to some extent a victim of its own success. Spontaneous visits are practically an impossibility here, whilst on ringing to reserve, you are asked upfront how long you think your table will need and imperiously informed that your reservation will only be held for 15 minutes max. Groups of over seven people are similarly restricted to choosing only a few different items off the menu, so as not to "overload" the kitchen - a seemingly somewhat overzealous limitation which I've never encountered in any other restaurant before.
We ourselves unwittingly fell foul of the Lehká hlava rules on this occasion, when we were (very politely of course) asked please to hurry up on the fondue as our allotted two hours were now up and another group was waiting for our table - it can't be all that many restaurants in Prague that still boast full-house reservations even getting on for 10 o'clock at night...
As for us, after hurriedly scraping the last of the chocolate from the fondue dish, we diligently vacated the table and moved on to drinking pastures new for a further birthday round or two - needless to say, by the end of that particular evening, not many people's heads were all that clear anymore...
Phone: (+420) 222 220 665
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Having already done the usual round of traditional Czech hospodas and pivnices over the previous few days, Prague Ginge therefore decided to go a bit more upmarket on one night with a visit to one of her long-time favorite restaurants / dance halls / cafés - the two-story Republika just off Náměstí Republiky. I can't remember if I was officially invited for this occasion, or whether I simply invited myself along for blogging purposes, but either way I was definitely along for the ride.
I hadn't been to this particular restaurant since its previous incarnation as the atmospheric Dinitz Café, and, on first impressions, I have to say I preferred the old menu, with its platters of internationally themed nibbles and gigantic sandwiches, over the comparatively standard fare on offer at Republika.
One thing hasn't changed, though, and that is the regular performances of live music - primarily jazz- or blues-based. Incongruous as it may seem for a middle-class girl from the Home Counties, personally speaking, I'm not really into any music that doesn't focus primarily on pimping, crack, hoes and the conscience-free merking of your enemies, so admittedly I am not best placed to comment on the quality of the evening's particular jazz-themed performance (to me just vociferous muzak sorely lacking in both bragging or bloodshed). The marginally more highbrow Prague Ginge and Hairy Dave professed to enjoy it, at least, though both agreed it was a bit on the loud side and did drown out conversation somewhat.
Anyway, I digress.
Back on the subject of food and drink, which - like this article - in this case was a frustratingly long time coming. Our table sat notably unattended for about 15-or-so minutes, with waiter after waiter conspicuously failing to catch our eye, and in fact, it was only after I resorted to making the international distress signal - kept up for a good 30 seconds (much to Prague Ginge's and Hairy Dave's presumed embarrassment) - that we finally managed to get our drinks order in, a 0.2-liter glass of Veltlínské zelené white wine for me (45 CZK) and an Italian Merlot (70 CZK) each for Hairy Dave and Prague Ginge.
Along with the wine, a basket of brown and white bread with garlic butter was brought to the table, which Hairy Dave and Prague Ginge both practically fell upon, despite having apparently put away big plates of vepřo-knedlo-zelo just a few hours earlier in the day. Apparently they'd been drinking solidly ever since, so probably it was a good thing for a straight-from-work-and-therefore-as-yet-still-sober me that they were at least soaking up the alcohol somehow... ;-)
I myself wasn't massively hungry on this occasion, so decided to skip on a starter, contenting myself with just a bite each of Prague Ginge's and Hairy Dave's choices instead. These were namely the tartar of marinated salmon on endive (165 CZK) and beef carpaccio with rucola (195 CZK) respectively.
Of the two, I definitely preferred the salmon tartar, which I found really tasty with definite undertones of red onion and dill. Presentation was a bit on the lazy side, but Prague Ginge was still a fan of the crunchy endive. By comparison, I found the carpaccio was pretty standard, really, though it did come with a variety of toppings for Hairy Dave to jazz it up a bit.
For mains I went for the vegetable lasagna at 165 CZK.
I know I said earlier that I wasn't particularly hungry, but still, I did think this was a bit on the miserly side, portion-wise, and in the event it was all but gone-and-forgotten in just a few short bites. Pleasant enough, if again a bit sloppily presented, with pesto and tomato sauces seemingly just dolloped on with indifferent abandon.
Luckily, Prague Ginge's risotto with parma ham, tomatoes in white wine, thyme, cream and parmesan (165 CZK) was more than enough to make up for the puniness of the lasagna, however.
I will confess to having more than a few bites of this huge mountain of creamy, sticky, cheesy risotto of unashamedly stodgy loveliness, and still between us we couldn't finish it. True comfort food at its best, if maybe not necessarily the most strictly "gourmet" in true risotto terms...
As for Hairy Dave, he ordered the beef sirloin with cream sauce and bread dumplings (175 CZK).
Had I been paying closer attention when ordering, I'd have probably cottoned on to the fact that this was actually the English description for svíčková rather than the standard hunk of sirloin steak that Hairy Dave (unfamiliar with the wonderful world of Czech cuisine) had been expecting. An easy enough mistake for a visitor to make, I suppose, but in the interests of culinary adventurism (or possibly just to avoid kicking up a fuss), Hairy Dave decided to just roll with it anyway, in the process gamely putting away his second pile of meat and dumplings of the day - I'm officially impressed.
I had a quick taste of the sauce, which would have just about rated as average, had it not also been decidedly cold. I didn't feel I knew Hairy Dave well enough to request further permission to pilfer various parts of his dinner, but I didn't think overall it looked particularly nice... Hairy Dave commented that it was "okay," but, yes, admittedly somewhat on the chilly side.
After a bit of a break, conversation naturally turned to dessert - understandable perhaps given that we were seated directly next to their tempting-looking revolving cake display.
In the end we went on Prague Ginge's recommendation from her last visit, namely the chocolate soufflé at 75 CZK. And just to be "good," we decided to belatedly show restraint and share just the one between the three of us.
Needless to say, these initial good intentions quickly descended into a soufflé fight to the death practically the minute the three-spooned dessert was set down on the table. After all, with a cupful of hot, squishy chocolate fondant encased in a (possibly ever-so-slightly overdone) lovely cakey crust - what's genuinely not to like...?
A welcome sweet end then to an in-all-honesty somewhat hit-and-miss meal.
I'm sorry, Prague Ginge, to speak ill of one of your long-standing culinary faves, but with its decidedly shoddy service and - apart from the risotto and soufflé - mostly underwhelming food (the two key tells that you may be in a Prague 1 tourist trap), Republika simply didn't impress enough to warrant a second visit on my part. If, on the other hand, you are a) a tourist in search of reasonably priced, central eats in nice environs or b) a lover of jazz / other live music (neither of which, admittedly, I happen to be), then this place might just float your boat.
As for me, however, there are definitely better places to be found in Česko than Republika.
Na Poříčí 12
Phone: ( +420) 242 481 655
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
But such established patterns of culinary behaviour just won't do when you have a food-and-drink blog to keep up every week. And it was for this reason that - much to Mr. K's initial chagrin - I insisted on swapping Zanzibar for Holešovice-based bookshop-café Ouky Douky for brunch/lunch on our last two weekends together.
Despite the fact that - coincidentally enough - Mr. K used to live just round the corner from here and me just a couple of tram stops away, for no particular reason neither of us had ever yet been in before.
First impressions were good, however - Ouky Douky has a pleasant, unhurried café vibe, with tables and chairs sprawling from the food section through into the eclectic second-hand bookshop to the side. I was pleased to note that there was quite a good selection of cheap German books here, a language which I purportedly speak and do occasionally try to make the effort to keep up. They also have a small internet section here, with the rest of the café hooked up to free wifi.
For this reason, Ouky Douky is pretty packed with internet users hunched over their laptops, nursing their one espresso for several hours, without seemingly any pressure to pay up and move from the staff.
The menu itself is pretty basic, being mainly made up of sandwiches, baguettes, various omelettes and the odd cake or two. Their website has photos up for most of its dishes, though admittedly they don't always look at their most appealing there...
On this occasion, Mr. K went for a Mexican omelette and me for the daily soup, which on this occasion was broccoli. Unfortunately I didn't note exact prices, but they were pretty reasonable - something in the range of 40-50 CZK for the soup and 130-odd CZK for the omelette.
In accordance with Ouky Douky's unhurried atmosphere, these did take quite a while to come out from the kitchen, but eventually both arrived served with a basket of Czech bread.
Mr. K was very happy with his omelette, which in this case was rendered "Mexican" by the addition of red and green peppers plus jalapeno / chilli powder toppings. I also had a bite and found it perfectly nice, as omelettes go.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said for my soup, which I found really unpleasantly salty and with a strange stringy texture, the origin of which I could not quite discern. On the other hand, there was plenty of it - the bowl was deceptively large, and in the end I had to pass it over to foodbag Mr. K to polish off on my behalf.
On our second brunch visit a weekend or two later, Mr. K went for a coffee and croissant, while - not feeling particularly hungry on this occasion - I went for a small banana milkshake.
The croissant itself was nothing special (and certainly not a patch on our traditional croissant place of choice, Bakeshop Praha), but I really enjoyed my milkshake, which was very creamy, frothy and refreshing. Next time I'll definitely order it in large version.
Mr. K was still hungry at this point, so ordered a couple of rounds of toast with jam.
These came barely toasted and with no butter. Not much more to say on the subject than that really.
Equally as uninspiring, toast-wise, was Prague Ginge's cheese-and-ham melt on another occasion. Note dreaded cabbage leaf (as opposed to lettuce) in the middle...
Having now made a couple of pleasant, if - from a culinary perspective - not particularly inspiring afternoon visits here, I decided to make a later solo trip one weekday evening to check out the vibe later in the day.
I'd naively thought that by the time I swung by at 9pm, the place would be more or less empty, but in fact quite the opposite was the case - Ouky Douky is clearly the place to be in Holešovice on a Tuesday night, and all the tables were well and truly taken. In my dire post-work state of hunger and thirst, the resident laptop-using table-hoggers suddenly seemed a lot more irritating, and in the event it was only after a period of targeted hovering in the bookshop section that I finally managed to bag myself a place. Over the course of the evening, I saw several people stick their heads round the door in search of a table, but having to leave again in search of Holešovice drinking/eating holes elsewhere.
Having finally secured myself a seat, I now only needed a little service and all would be well with the world.
I mentioned earlier that Ouky Douky adopts something of an unrushed approach to service, which in the right context is not necessarily a negative, but in this case definitely crossed the line from leisurely to downright lax. I'd not have minded so much had the two wait staff on duty been clearly overloaded, but in this case they seemed to spend more time talking between themselves than serving their actual customers, which was probably fine for the entrenched wifi refugees, but not for an increasingly hunger-irritable me (and as Mr. K will attest, I am really not at my best when blood sugar is low). In the end I had to stride up to the counter to put in my food-and-drink order - my usual glass of white wine and a chicken burrito, again somewhere around the 30 and 150 CZK price marks respectively.
Here's the wine, pictured with crockery from the table's last two occupants still placed on the chair in the background. No one bothered to remove it over the course of my evening there, and for all I know it is still sitting there now...
Once ordered, the burrito came out of the kitchen pretty quickly - almost within minutes - and on receipt it was pretty self-evident why.
Being in a laidback bookshop-café and not an actual Mexican restaurant, I of course hadn't been expecting anything particularly authentic here, but, I have to say, by any standards this was just dire. Lukewarm at best, stuffed with such incongruous burrito ingredients as diced carrots, potatoes and peas (but, notably, very little actual chicken), and clearly seasoned with supermarket mixed spice, this was really not impressive - in fact I could easily have rustled up better with a bit of meat and a packet of Old El Paso myself at home... In its favor, however, I will say that the burrito was at least filling.
Admittedly on this fourth and final visit, I did leave slightly miffed at the poor food and even poorer service I'd experienced on this occasion.
However, to be fair, outstanding food and uber-efficient service are really not the point of a place like Ouky Douky. Rather, Ouky Douky is best judged for what it is, namely as a welcome Holešovice oasis in which to browse old books, surf the internet at your leisure, enjoy a light bite by day or drink by evening with friends, all without the feeling of having to vacate the table immediately after you've finished your meal.
For Mr K and I, Ouky Douky hasn't quite replaced traditional the aforementioned weekend favorites of Bakeshop Praha and Zanzibar, but I'd definitely recommend it as a relaxed daytime/evening spot if you happen to be in the area - just be prepared to fight for a table (and possibly your order as well) first!
Phone: (+420) 266 711 531
Friday, October 1, 2010
A week or two back I bagged one such voucher for a meal at Japanese restaurant Susharna near Malostranské náměstí, paying 450 CZK online for a 1,000 CZK value coupon - a saving of 55%. Hooray!
Knowing his liking for sushi, I invited Tangoman along on this occasion as well - a first-time visit here for both of us.
The restaurant area itself was quite small, with only about 10 booths on the inside and a couple of lounge-style sofas and coffee tables placed along the corridor leading in from the street.
Interior was warmly decorated with oriental lanterns, Japanese swords, and - for some unknown reason - a string of incongruously tacky paper fish hanging from the ceiling. Apart from us, only the one booth was occupied on the weekday evening we were there.
We started off the meal with a bottle of Corinto Chilean Sauvignon Blanc (320 CZK) and a freebie amuse-bouche of battered salmon purée. It brought to mind a kind of posh fish finger, but was pretty bland for my tastes. Luckily the two-tone sesame seeds helped liven it up a bit though.
Even before I'd sat down here, I was quite adamant from viewing their handy photo menu online previously that I absolutely had to have the Tokashiki Maguro, i.e. tuna steak on seaweed, lightly roasted with rice Nishiki with Shitake mushrooms.
This is what it looks like on the Susharna picture menu.
And here is the decidedly less lurid reality...
Plus points here were that the tuna was perfectly rare (a rarity itself in Prague) and the dish as a whole nicely presented, with a creative salad garnish on the side. On the other hand, I found the fish lacked any kind of seasoning, and the sauce on the Shitake mushrooms was rather cloyingly sweet. It was nice enough, but I remember the tuna I'd had recently at Le Patio as being much more flavoursome.
There were many other tempting-looking mains on the menu (the Hirekatzu and Yaki Soba particularly caught my eye), but we instead decided to choose our additional courses from the sushi selection. This actually proved something of a mission in itself, given Susharna's eclectic range of sushi creations, ranging from the (admittedly rather bizarre-looking) Volcano Roll to the Maki Dynamite Roll made with scallops, mayonnaise and kimchi paste.
In the end, we plumped for the Mexico Maguro eight-piece set, made with salmon, tuna, shrimp, asparagus and chilli at 350 CZK, and the Cuba Maki with tuna, grilled smoked conger, cucumber, seaweed and chilli paste at 360 CZK. Neither particularly "authentically" Japanese perhaps, but both pretty tasty nevertheless.
I thought a couple of the Maguro pieces looked a little clumsily made, and the Cuba conger was ever so slightly on the chewy side, but on the whole Tangoman and I were both pretty happy with our somewhat unorthodox choices here.
I like to get in my daily quota of vegetables, so also suggested we order a Nagashimi salad at 105 CZK.
The salad mix itself was nothing particularly special, but was really saved in this case by the delicious sesame and soy sauce dressing served with it. Tangoman wasn't keen but, salad fan that I am, I really enjoyed it.
By this point we were too full for desserts, which was a shame as Susharna offers some extremely tempting sweet options, in particular the Kushi Mango (fruit-topped rice in banana leaf) and Saito coconut balls.
So instead we asked for the bill, which with another couple of glasses of wine thrown in finally came to 1,780 CZK. This is the point at which the evening took a decided turn to the sour, as our (hitherto perfectly polite) waitress reacted to my mydeals.cz voucher as if it were Einstein's theory of relativity written in upside-down Chinese. Even with Tangoman's admirable Czech skills and the hard fact of a printed voucher in her hand, it was only after copious negotiations, a few raised voices, and finally a call to the owner that our apprehensive waitress finally saw fit to accept its validity. A failing on management's side in failing to originally communicate the details of the deal to its service staff perhaps, but also undeniably on the part of the waitress in question, who hardly handled the situation in the most professional manner either...
This is the first time I've used a voucher in any restaurant (fellow food blogger Laus Sørensen did not apparently encounter any similar problems with his recent Bony Bony-based visit to Palantino), so I don't know how typical an experience this is likely to be - in future I'll perhaps make known the presence of said coupon at start of meal to prevent any unpleasantness further down the line...
Sting in the tail over coupon aside, however, overall verdict on Susharna was that it was a perfectly respectable sushi joint with a great selection of Japanese mains and desserts, not to mention a few outlandish variations on the usual standard maki/nigiri/sashimi sets. Without the 55% discount, it's a bit out of my price range for regular dining, but I'll definitely be keeping it in mind for future "push the boat out"-type meals.
Either way, if another discount voucher happens to come my way I'll definitely be making use of it - only next time I hope without all the drama when it comes to paying the bill!
Phone: (+420) 257 219 759