Monday, November 15, 2010

Chocolate fondant - secret unveiled (recipe)

I am a big fan of chocolate. And a very big fan of much chocolate. So chocolate desserts always catch my attention - and especially chocolate fondant. When the warm, soft, gooey stuff just slowly oozes out from the centre of this beautiful cake - I am completely sold.

So why not make them myself? How hard can it be? Well, I tried, and I got it almost right - and when I bake the rest of them, my mistake will be fixed easily. Here is how it goes. You'll need:

For preparing the moulds:

50 grams of butter (salted - normal)
2 tablespoons of cocoa

For the fondants (8-10 of them. I only made 6 out of this portion, because I only had 6 ramekins. And they were too large, even for me):

200 grams of dark chocolate (I used ½ 81 % "Arruba Superieur" (not as fancy as it sounds - from my local Vietnamese shop) and ½ 70 % "dark chocolate" from Tesco)
200 grams of butter (salted - normal)
200 grams of castor sugar
4 egg yolks
4 eggs
200 grams of plain flour

Firstly you must prepare the moulds - and this is a very important step. You can use tin moulds or ramekins - approximately 1 ½ decilitres each. Just make sure you use the same kind every time, so you'll learn exactly how long you need to cook them:

Don't underestimate how important it is to prepare the moulds properly. Use 8-10 instead of 6 - my fondants were too big
Gently melt the butter in the microwave or at low heat in the oven. Brush the moulds thoroughly with butter and put them in the fridge for 20-30 minutes. Melt the butter again and brush the moulds once more. This time they'll take a thicker layer because they'll be cold. Then sprinkle them with cocoa, which you strain through a sieve. Put them back into the fridge until you need them. At least 20 minutes.

If you brush the moulds with butter twice and then sprinkle them with cocoa, it can't go wrong. Your fondants will come out easily.

Making the batter:
Whisk the egg yolks, eggs and sugar thoroughly until it becomes an airy, creamy substance where your whisk will make small traces, when you remove it.

It takes 5-8 minutes. I don't know if you can overdo it, but I think the risk is small

Prepare a bain Marie: bring some water to the boil in a pot and place a bowl (preferably metal) on top of it. The water shouldn't boil like crazy, and it shouldn't touch the bowl - just make it hot. Melt the butter and chocolate, and take it off the heat. Add the flour which you strain before adding it - mix thoroughly.

Melting butter and chocolate in a Bain Marie is really easy.

After melting the chocolate and butter, add the flour. Also easy.
Blend 1/3 of the chocolate/butter/flour into the egg mix - and fold the 2 parts together. Don't be rough, but you don't need to be as gentle as if making a soufflé. When folding things together, fold clockwise while turning the bowl counter clockwise with the other hand. It is much more efficient while gentle at the same time. Add the next third, fold together, and finally the rest.

The batter - ready for putting into the moulds
Put the batter into the moulds and let them rest for at least 20 minutes in the fridge. Preferably longer (which makes this dessert perfect for dinner parties). You can also freeze them. They'll keep for at least a month, and you can bake them directly from the freezer, just adding some extra time, normally 5 minutes.

Ready to cook. I repeat: make 8-10 fondants from this portion instead of just 6. You can actually be too generous, even with a chocolate dessert
Now comes the difficult part (where I also failed): baking. Bake them for 12-16 minutes at 200 degrees (C), depending on the moulds, your oven, the temperature of the batter etc. If you're planning a dinner party, then make a training batch the day before, bake them individually with 1 minute of difference, so you know which one comes out just perfect. Let them rest for 2 minutes before turning them onto plates, where you can finish your presentation.

For this first try - an on a regular Monday night - I used store bought ice cream. Of course in the Danish colours, red and white :-). My fondants were slightly undercooked, so they collapsed, which is not as bad as if they had been overcooked and not gooey enough. I should have baked them 2 minutes longer.
Serve with ice cream and maybe something sour - a raspberry coulis, for instance. Serve immediately.

This is a dessert with a wow factor and it is delicious. Only hard part is knowing exactly how long to bake them, and you can easily experiment with one batch and get it perfectly right. Good luck!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mireille in Vinohrady - we were disappointed

This small article is not going to be very friendly towards Restaurant Mireille on Korunní street in Vinohrady. It is not because I bear a grudge against them for taking over the spot, where restaurant U Slaviku used to serve Prague's best Pork Knee (pecene Koleno) - because I guess U Slaviku went out of business by their own mistake.

The interior is very pleasant and stylish. I like it!
I've been at Mireille twice, and neither time I went out satisfied. The first time I had a lovely pasta dish (Pappadelle with lamb ragout, Czk. 185,-) - but the accompanying house wine, which was supposed to be 0,15 deciliters, didn't even come close to that measurement, thus bringing the bill to a too high amount for what we got.

The non smoking section is nice and cosy
I recently read Brewsta's review of Mireille, which was very positive, so when in my daily sleva hunt I stumbled over, what seemed to be a very fair offer from Mireille, I decided to go back - of course as usual with BF.
This was the offer: Experience the taste of the Mediterranean with a special menu of fish from the Adriatic, fennel and potatoes for two people. A 740kc value for just 260kc at Mirellie restaurant.
What's not to like?
We went there on a Monday night. Thank God I had booked a table, because the place was packed. I really like the stylish interior, the display of their fish on offer and the display of the desert selection. Nice. The chairs are comfortable as well. So a good start.

Desert on display
Desert on display

BF wasn't sure, if he wanted wine. I ordered a bottle of rosé: Syrah-Grenache, Vallée des Aigles, Languedoc (Czk. 350,-). The only rosé on offer. And my logic being that should BF change his mind, a rosé would be a fair compromise between his usual white and my usual red. Plus the fact that it would probably go well with the fish. I ordered a bottle of sparkling water - Bonaqua (Czk. 35,-).
As it turned out, BF chose a Gin/tonic (Czk. 115,-) and later 2 half litres of Stella Artois (Czk. 45,- each).
The wine was pleasant. The waiter made a big deal out of removing the plastic "cork", smelling it and of course having me taste the wine. It wasn't corked :-)

My pleasant rosé wine which went well with the food (well, the food I was able to eat)

I handed over our voucher and asked the waiter, which kind of fish, we should expect? He looked at me, very confused and answered "fish!". Then he said a lot to BF in Czech, which I found a little bit rude, as it was me, who had asked the question. But this happens quite often. I asked him to repeat in English, and he answered "some mixed Mediterranean fish, and definitely not tuna, as that wouldn't be Mediterranean". Then he disappeared.
The waiter went to several different tables doing his thing - and then he returned with a tray of uncooked fish and told me, we would get some of these. OK, point taken. We would have... Fish.

The tray of fish

We didn't have to wait too long before our food arrived. On each plate was a tiny portion of vegetables and potatoes (not a lot of fennel), some rather dried out, undressed salad and the fish: 2 small ones, a slightly larger one - and a piece of tuna (!). All of it had been grilled.

3 kinds of grilled fish

I started with the tuna - I was fearing the smaller variants as they were served on the bone, and I hadn't been given a fish knife. The tuna was very well seasoned and the taste was really good - but unfortunately it had been overcooked, so the texture was dry and unpleasant.
Then I had to continue to the smaller fish. I started with the middle one. It was a struggle to get the grilled fish meat off the bones. The texture was just too hard from the cooking, and I spent a long time struggling with fish bones between my teeth. There were no tooth picks on the table, so at one point I had to sneak out of the restaurant to discretely remove one bone stuck between my front teeth. I ate the fish, started on one of the smaller ones - and had to give up. I remembered reading in Brewsta's review that one of his friends had a small fish served de-boned before grilled. They should have done the same with ours. I had to give up, eat the rest of my vegetables and start planning, which burger from Butch's burgerbar around the corner, I would eat afterwards, because I was still quite hungry.

The waiter came to our table, looked at our plates and asked, if there was a problem with our fish. I told him "yes, the tuna was overcooked, and the smaller grilled fish we couldn't eat because it was impossible to get the meat off the bones - especially without a fish knife". He smiled, shrugged his shoulders, and walked away.
We finished our drinks, and I asked for the bill. I paid by credit card, so he asked me to follow him to the bar to enter my pin code. While we were walking there, he assured me that he hoped to see us again soon. Back at the table after we had put on our jackets he came back and said, he was looking forward to our next visit. All very polite - but it just didn't make any sense. BF hates, if I make a fuss, but as he had already left the restaurant, I couldn't resist, and I asked the waiter, why he believed we would be back, when we had complained about the food and nothing had been done? "Well, it might be better on the next visit", was his answer. I didn't get it, so I asked him why he hadn't even answered, when I had told him we didn't like the fish (I must admit, I had even used the word "horrible"). He answered that he wasn't the manager, just a waiter, so what could he do? Well, called the manager, I believe?
The bill was Czk. 850,- including the voucher. I probably won't be back. I realize that we didn't pay a lot for the food, but I would expect them to give us the sleva in order to seduce us with their food, so we would just have to come back?
They failed miserably to seduce neither of us.

Restaurant Mireille
Korunni 783/23, Praha 2
222 521 814 

Monday, October 25, 2010

U Emy Destinnove - perfection, nothing less

These days it is almost 3 years ago I first visited U Emy Destinnove in Kateřinská Street. I had been reading some interesting things on, so I invited my Moravian friend, Mr. K-Holz there for dinner one night in December 2007.

Steven Trumpfheller behind the bar, mixing our aperitifs. The lady in the background is Ema Destinn - the most famous opera singer of the Czech republic. She was born in this house (although not in the basement, I guess)
I still clearly remember that I had spring rolls as a starter and a rack of lamb with roasted rosemary potatoes as my main course. Mr. K-Holz had a fish soup and afterwards tenderloin of pork with a horseradish crust. We were both extremely excited by the food which was a lot better than anything we had had in a very long time. Mr. K-Holz recently revealed that he still dreams of that fish soup. And for me the lamb was actually the best I had ever had anywhere. And I eat a lot of lamb.

The comfortable sofas where you can also enjoy your dinner - or maybe retreat for your coffee and desert
We went to the sofas in the restaurant for deserts (which I unfortunately don't remember), coffee and cigars, and we had an interesting chat with the owners, Jiří Pešek and Steven Trumpfheller. As it turned out, it was Mr. Pešek's birthday, so suddenly they kept the shots of very nice Grappa flowing. I forget how long we stayed, but long - and definitely long enough to make me walk funnily after all that grappa.

The owners, Jiří Pešek and Steven Trumpfheller. Jirka takes care of the front of house and Steven is in charge of the kitchen.
After that both the owners kept in touch, and I've been going there plenty of times since. I couldn't imagine having close friends visit me and not taking them to what I consider to be The Temple Of Good Food. The ongoing contact through 3 years has of course also meant that I am now close friends with both Jirka and Steven. Being very fond of food it has is perks having the owners of a good restaurant as your friends. Every now and then I'll have to "volunteer" if there's a new dish on the menu, or if a wine needs "approval" for the wine list. And if Steven has a particularly interesting special in the kitchen, he'll let me know.
So when you read this you should know that I am friendly with this place. However, I'll try to be as impartial as possible.

In the spirit of Steven knowing my likes and dislikes, he recently let me know that the rack of lamb, which originally "seduced" me, was back on the menu for s short while. That was all I needed to decide to make a reservation for BF (who also loves the restaurant) and myself on a chilly Wednesday evening.

For aperitifs we had our usual: Johnny Walker/Coca Cola for BF and Gin/Tonic for myself (Czk. 120,-). And we easily made up our minds regarding the food. BF didn't want a starter, as he wanted to make sure there was room for desert. The portions can be generous at U Emy Destinnove. I decided for the giant shrimp (Czk 185,-) as a starter and the rack of lamb (of course) (Czk. 400,-) with boiled potatoes (Czk. 55,-) for my main dish. BF ordered a large steak of Argentinian beef tenderloin (Czk. 440,-) with tartufo mashed potatoes (Czk. 60,-). The deserts we would order later.

The bread basket. Unfortunately I missed the tasty butter spread in the picture
While waiting, we were being served some bread. 2 kinds of small warm rolls. Nice and tasty, bus I am not sure they are baked here. The baker has been picked carefully, because the bread was delicious. It was served with a soft butter spread infused with fresh garlic, parsley and maybe thyme?

While waiting for our food we could  watch Jiří Pešek mixing the beef tartare for another table. A bestseller at U Emy Destinnove. I am not a fan of beef tartare myself, but I have been told it is excellent here.
Soon my giant shrimp arrived and it was - well, giant. It had been wrapped in prosciutto before grilled and was resting on a fresh salad with a not too overpowering vinaigrette. The plate was decorated with a balsamic reduction and a fresh green pesto. These things went very well together, and it was a delicious and vibrant tasting dish - although I must admit that I preferred to peel the layer of prosciutto off the shrimp and eat these two components separately. I don't know what is is with chefs lately - but everybody seems to want to mix my meet or seafood with bacon? I am not a fan of this in general, but of course there can be exceptions (like for instance the bacon I always use when cooking Coq Au Vin, one of my favourites).

Mr. Pešek wanted me to taste a red wine, which he was considering for the wine list, but also hadn't yet tasted himself - a Moldavian "Rosu Du Purcavi", 2003. I don't know the price, because of course I wouldn't be "allowed" to pay for sampling it. It was OK, but not as full bodied as I prefer it, and Jirka (Mr. Pešek) and I agreed that it was nothing special, so it won't find it's way to the wine list. But I hate throwing out wine, it was absolutely acceptable, and of course I had it with my meal. Next time I'll probably order my usual Cotes du Rhone rouge Reserve Grand Veneur (Czk. 750,-). BF went for an Italian Chardonnay Castelnuovo Garda (Czk. 95,- per 2 dl. glass). Light and crisp and not too heavy in neither bouquet nor taste - exactly as he likes it.

Moldavian "Rosu Du Purcavi", 2003. Honest opinion: nothing special
The mains arrived. I immediately put my nose almost directly into the food (BF was not amused) and my mouth started salivating. Just as good as I remembered. The generous portion of lamb had been crusted in pistachios and horse radish before cooked to perfection. Pan seared and finished in the oven, I believe. It was served with a demi glace sauce, the depth of which I can only dream of replicating at home. Full of flavours, and a hint of sweetness which accompanied the meat perfectly. I Denmark we have a joke about sauce: What's the difference between a sauce and a gravy? If there's enough, it must be a gravy. In this case there was enough, also to be soaked up by my boiled Grenaille potatoes - but I would definitely still rate it a sauce. When eating this dish I clearly remembered why I loved it in the first place. The meat was tender, the crust perfect - and I was back in the Seventh Heaven.

My rack of lamb. Sex on a plate!
BF tasted his steak (served with the same demi glace as the lamb), and his face looked like the sun, when he burst out the first of several "Excellent s". BF has his own food rating scales. When we're just eating regular restaurant (pub) food, the scales aren't being used. When we have something extra, it is being rated firstly against his mother's excellent cooking and then secondly - if it has a chance - it will be rated on his "U Emy Destinnove scale". Neither scale has ever been topped by anybody except his mother and Steven Trumpfheller. BTW, the tartufo mashed potatoes were very good as well.

We both cleaned our plates completely, although the portions had been large. So we needed a small brake before deciding on deserts. In the meantime I took some pictures of the rooms. The front room is the largest one. Here you'll find the bar, 5-7 tables and the sofa area with an additional 2-4 tables. There is also a working fireplace, which brings a nice ambiance to the room during the cold seasons. There are always fresh flowers on the tables. The back room has 3 tables and is good, if you don't want to be disturbed. Most Wednesdays and Thursdays there is live music on the piano.

On the little cart you can have Steven cook your food table side
For my desert I would have liked the daily trio creme brulée (3 different variants of the small desert), but on this particular night they were out of it. So instead I chose the chocolate seduction rum cake (Czk. 120,-).
Incredibly rich and filling chocolate cake with an equally rich chocolate cream with a hint of rum. Great for lovers of dark chocolate (as myself) - and probably a nightmare for the squeamish who can only eat milk chocolate. So if you're the latter, be warned. I personally liked the cake a lot, and filling as it was, I still managed to eat every bite of it.

The chocolate seduction rum cake
BF went (once again) for his favourite desert in U Emy Destinnove, the Philadelphia Cheesecake (Czk. 105,-). Somehow Steven (who lived in Philadelphiafor several years himself) manages to make it rich, sweet and full of flavour without overdoing it, and I've had several friends come back to the restaurant because of this desert. So I guess it could be named the signature desert of the restaurant?

The Philadelphia Cheesecake - a signature desrt?
We were full - that's no secret! I still wanted my Cappuccino and BF suggested we had a cognac. We asked Jirka to make his special show, the Cognac Flambé, which is basically cognac served in a very large glass and gently heated over a flame until it catches fire - and then is put out again by yourself. Violence against good alcohol, you might say. And I would normally agree - but once you've had your nose inside this large glass of cognac you'd want to try it yourself. Careful, though, as you may burn your lips if you are impatient.

Jiří Pešek doing the Cognac Flambé
I'll not add up the bill - maybe there's somebody out there whom I owe money, who reads this. But it was worth it, and we'll probably be back soon - for instance November 5th, a special occasion for us. Or maybe I can find an excuse even sooner. I hope so! I am sure, I can! Let's see, don't I have an "important business meeting" next week? Or could I make one up?

U Emy Destinnove
Kateřinská 7 (3-5 minutes' walk from I.P. Pavlova)
120 00, Praha 2
Mo–Fri: 11.30–23.30 (Wednesdays and Thursdays usually live piano music during dinner)
Sat: 18.00–23.30
Sun: closed (open for special events only)
phone: 224 918 425
phone: 724 977 602 - Steven Trumpfheller
phone: 608 813 509 - Jiří Pešek

After all this food and drink it is nice to know that the toilets are classy - decorated with tiles the style of wine cases

Friday, September 24, 2010

Chasing Prague's best burger

It seems that expats have a thing with chasing the best burgers in Prague. And unfortunately it isn't that easy to find one which deserves honourable mentioning.
Brewsta had made a top 16 list of his favourite burgers in Prague. BF and I have tried several from this list (and several others), but we still haven't been blown away by any of them. A few comments:

Brewsta's no. 13, Mozaika: You'll find plenty of people on the internet praising this burger. I had one recently together with my Dutch friend, Mr. Citroën. But even though we both found it pretty and inviting on the plate and liked the fries which went with it, we were still disappointed with the beef patty, which didn't taste of anything. The meat wasn't meaty. We tried seasoning it a bit extra ourselves, but it didn't help. I liked the onions, though (Brewsta didn't).
Brewsta's no. 10: Burger King. Nowadays where you expect the best brugers to be served in cafés and restaurant, how can Burger King belong to such a "hit list"? But I agree with Brewsta, it DOES belong there. Compared to a lot of the overpriced burgers you get elsewhere, Burger King delivers good value for money. Back when the only Burger King in Prague was in Cerny Most (or was it Zlicin?) BF and I sometimes found ourselves driving there - just for that.
Brewsta's no. 8: TGI Friday's. Here I must disagree. This burger isn't as good as the ones served in Burger King, but they charge the double (or more). And last time (really, it will be the last time) we were there, the service wasn't even good at all, unless waiting for a beer for 20 minutes and almost waiting an hour for your burger is your favourite pastime.
Brewsta's no. 6: U Maleho Glena. This one I haven't tried yet, I must admit. But as I like U Maleho Glena just as much as I like a good burger, this combo needs to be tested as soon as possible. Maybe tonight?
Brewsta's no. 3: Hard Rock Café: This one is really up there with the best. Big, juicy, fresh. But I refuse to go back and pay close to Czk. 300,- for a burger when the same money will buy me a large and juicy 300 g. steak with a side dish, a desert and a couple of Pilsners in Highland Steak House (where I can even smoke).
Brewsta's no. 1: Bohemia Bagel in Holesovice. First time we went there, we both loved the burger a lot and agreed that this would be our number one as well - and a lot cheaper than the others (Czk. 155,-, all included). But the last time we were there I was disappointed by a bun so chewy that I didn't really want to eat it. I am willing to go back and give them an extra chance, though.

Not included in Brewsta's list, but worth mentioning: Legenda on Legerova 39. Legenda is a restaurant on the top floor, and 2 floors further down a music club. On the middle floor it is more or less a noisy café on top of a music club :-)
On all 3 floors they'll serve the burger for Czk. 159,- including fries and some b-b-q sauce on the side. This burger is actually on our top 3 - but sometimes they use too much mustard. The place is mostly crowded, and it can be hard to get a table without a reservation. It does help that we can see it from our living room windows, so if it is full, we didn't walk too far in vain.
Milsnej Kocour, Belgicka 42. This newly opened restaurant (where Cheers used to be) has tankové Pilsner at Czk. 35,- which of course for us is a major plus. And smokers as well as non-smokers will love the place which has 2 different entries, and the 2 sections are completely separated. But their interesting menu (try them for their cheap and good lunch specials) also features 2 varieties of hamburgers: A Cheeseburger and a Beefburger. The main difference is in the dressing and the fact that the beefburger is supposed to be served with jalapenos. Both of them have cheddar cheese, and they both cost Czk. 165,-. First time we tried the beefburgers, we both loved them and instantly decided that we had found our new no. 1 on the hit list. Lots of flavour, beef cooked exactly right and therefore juicy and full of taste. So we went back next week. Different cook? Maybe. Completely boring - and without the jalapenos. I asked for some and was presented with thin slices of a mild red chilli which didn't resemble jalapenos in any way. We were disappointed, and as BF can also be very stubborn he has refused to go back for a third try.

So where to turn in these times of burger crisis?

To our own kitchen. I decided to do it myself and see, if I could hit no. 1 on BF's hit list. Below you'll see how I did it:

Make sure your burger buns are quite flat before you let them raise - you'll want to be able to actually eat the thing later.

Home made burger buns:

  • 3½ dl lukewarm water (best is 30-35 degrees)
  • 175 g of durum flour (if you can get it)
  • 450 g of plain flour
  • 1½ table spoon of oil
  • 25 g of fresh yeast
  • 1½ tea spoon of salt
  • 1 table spoon of sugar
Dissolve the yeast in the water together with salt, sugar and oil. Add the 2 kinds of flour and knead the dough thoroughly to make sure you have all the gluten working. If it is too sticky, add some more flour - but not too much.
I use my bread maker for this. It actually does a better job than I can do myself, and of course it is a lot easier. It'll also make a nice temperature for the dough to raise in. My bread maker is a "Tesco XXL", and I bought it for Czk. 999,- (they often make campaigns for it).
If you don't have the bread maker, simply let your dough rest in a warm place for 1½ hours, before you give it another work through (but not too much - just to be able to make the buns), divide it into 8 parts which you roll out to very flat buns, 13-15 cm in diameter. Let them rest on the baking plates for another 30 minutes before you brush them with water (or egg + sesame seeds) and bake them for 15 minutes in the middle of your oven at 225 degrees

I thought we'd have the excess buns for some time in the freezer. I was wrong. BF ate them all in 1½ days.

In theory you can easily freeze the excess buns. Make sure to put them in a plastic bag before they are completely cold - then they'll be nice and soft when you defrost them and carefully reheat them.

While the buns are in the oven, you can prepare the trimmings
I used: 
  • Pickled peppers
  • Mild pickled chillies
  • Lettuce
  • Sliced tomatoes (DON'T use "boats" of tomato)
  • Raw onion rings
  • Sliced cucumber
  • A good mayonnaise (I bought a jar of Hellmann's, being too lazy to make my own)
  • Ketchup
  • Pickled cucumbers (the home made Danish variant - you can use the jarred ones as well)

For the beef patties, use freshly minced beef. 200-250 g per person. Avoid the fatty ones from Albert and buy something with 12-15 % of fat. That'll still be juicy without being too fatty. I always mince my own beef, as it is fresher, faster, easier and often even cheaper.
First you shape the meat in the right size, and then you must brush it with oil (important - or it WILL stick to your grill pan) and season it with salt and pepper. Easy on the salt if you also plan to use the home made b-b-q sauce.

Heat your grill pan until it is very hot and grill the patties to your liking (of course even better if you can use a real barbecue - but we can't in our apartment). While you're grilling one side, apply plenty of the sauce to the other side.If you like cheese, put a couple of nice slices of your favourite melting cheese on top of the patties for the last 2 minutes of grilling them.
  • ½ dl of vegetable oil
  • 2 dl of ketchup
  • 2 table spoons of sugar
  • 2 table spoons of soy sauce
  • 1 table spoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • some good chilli sauce. I buy mine at the SAPA market, but I am sure your local Vietnamese green grocer will have the right stuff as well. I use SRIRACHA HOT CHILI SAUCE
  • Salt and pepper
Basically you just mix all the ingredients together. If you have a blender, use that. I use a hand blender. It needs to be hot, but not too hot, so careful with the chilli. Taste it and stop in time. It needs to go as a dip for the French fries as well.

While grilling the beef, crisp some bacon in another pan. I found a good quality of bacon in Tesco. It was a 200 g package, so I thought it would last for some time in the freezer. I was wrong. BF ate it.

While cooking the beef and the bacon I prepared some French fries in the oven. I don't like deep frying, so I bought the best I could find in Tesco. They were good.

And then all you need to do is assemble the burgers:

Split the buns with a sharp (bread) knife, cover the bottom part with mayonnaise. Ad some onions and then the beef. Decorate with tomatoes, cucumber, the pickled stuff and finally the lettuce. Serve with some of the veggies on the side as well. And of course a small bowl of your home made barbecue sauce.

Serve with a couple of chilled Pilsners.

How did it go? Well BF found the local burger to be no. 1 on his hit list - and that was basically what I was aiming for.

Dobrou chut!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Palatino 3 - hits and misses at half price

Usually I am not the kind of person who finds ads on facebook interesting at all. But on the other hand, I always like to save money, so recently I clicked on an ad for a website called "Slevomat" - sleva being one of my favourite words in Czech. The idea of the website is that they have daily offers where you can buy a voucher for for instance a meal, some massage, fligts with hot air balloons and several other things. Usually the discount is 50% or more. Slevomat also has an English version. Another website using the same concept, probably run by the same people, is BonyBony, but only in Czech. My Czech is poor, but having Google toolbar installed, I just use Google translate, which is a great help.
Being curious I decided to try an offer by BonyBony: a 4 course tasting menu in Restaurant Palatino 3 in Pankrac for only Czk. 599,- for 2 persons, including a bottle of wine. Normal price would be Czk. 1.300,-. Not a lot to lose, was my logic.
So a couple of days ago I invited BF, we booked a table and went by the metro to Prazskeho Povstani, right next to the restaurant. The building is modern and not too charming, but the designers have done their best to give the interior a cosy and almost rural feeling. Fake, you could say - but I still believe they did a good job, and we can't bring Italy to Prague, can we?

I like the way they have used lots of fresh green plants in the decoration. No plastic flowers in Palatino 3

When we arrived, the restaurant wasn't very full, and we got a table in the middle of room. The restaurant doesn't have a non-smoking section, but I didn't find it to be smoky at all. But being a smoker myself, maybe I am not the best judge. The tables are quite small, but we were able to manage. 


I handed over my voucher, and everything was ok - we would get the tasting menu. I was given the wine list and could choose which wine I wanted. There were no restrictions, price range or other things to consider. Well, there also weren't any expensive wines. They were between Czk. 250,- and 440,- as far as I remember, the most expensive being a Pinot Grigio. However, BF was more into drinking beer, so he ordered a Stella Artois (Czk. 37,-), not being a big Staropramen fan, and thus leaving me with the option of only picking a wine for my own taste. I chose a bottle of 2008 Primitivo from Di Marco. I usually like the deep colour and taste of an Italian Primitivo, and this bottle was pleasant. As far as I remember it was priced at Czk. 340,- which is very reasonable for this wine.

We didn't have to choose our food - that was already taken care of as the voucher was for a set menu. After approximately 10 minutes the starters arrived: Carpaccio di manzo - thin slices of beef marinated in basil, garlic and olive oil, fresh parmesan, arugula, and toasted bread with some gratinated cheese on top.

We both liked the carpaccio a lot. The texture was nice, and the balance between olive oil, basil and garlic was spot on. It got several "very good" comments from BF. I liked the toast as well. I am not sure which kind of cheese it had been gratinated with, but it wasn't overpowered by the cheese and went very well with the tender slices of beef. An excellent start!

We had a short break before the next course, which would be 2 different kinds of pasta. The waiter brought a hot plate for both of us and my favourite: a bowl of grated parmesan (and enough parmesan). I am a big fan of this, and in our local pizzerias (in the I. P. Pavlova - Namesti Miru area) we usually only get it at Grosseto on Namesti Miru. But then again, Grosseto is by far the best Italian restaurant in our area, if we only look at the affordable ones.

Shortly after one of the cooks came to our table and served the first pasta dish from a sizzling hot pan: spaghetti with pork, fresh baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil.

I liked the detail with the hot plate. I also liked that the cook came to our table, and we could choose exactly how much food we wanted. But more importantly, I liked the perfectly cooked spaghetti. Spot on al dente, not too oily and with fresh ingredients. The pork was spicy and also perfectly cooked, tender and juicy. BF added a bit of oil to his dish, and again several "very good" comments from his smiling face. 2 out of 2 for Palatino so far.

After a while we got another fresh hot plate, and once again the cook came to our table. This time with penne tagliata with fine slices of beef, arugula and cherry tomatoes.

The penne - I forgot to take a picture before covering the dish with loads of fresh parmesan
Unfortunately the penne had been cooked a couple of minutes too long. Not eaxctly al dente. And when the restaurant wanted to give us a degustation menu, I think they should have chosen two pasta dishes which were a lot more different. Only the arugula and the meat was different, and I think they could have chosen a seafood dish or something more "saucy" to give us more variation. At this point BF was already full, so I can't give you any more of his comments. But after the perfectly cooked spaghetti, this penne dish was a bit disappointing.

Next thing on the menu was steak from Argentinian beef (200g) - served with baked stuffed peppers and caramelized onions. The waiter - who was friendly, correct and attentive without disturbing us all the time - had forgotten to ask me how I would like my steak. Had he asked, I would have said rare to medium rare.

It was medium - which was OK with me, and it was actually nicely cooked. The plate was decorated with a rather sweet but quite nice reduction of balsamico. The caramelized onions were crunchy, tasty and - well, perfect. The stuffed pepper was a bit confusing. Basically it was a bit like gratinated, creamy potatoes with a bit of cheese, but there were also some chunks in it of some sort of meat - maybe ham, I wasn't sure. It didn't go very well with the sweet red bell pepper, and I really don't like the idea of including any kind of meat in a side dish which is supposed to be served with a steak. It had the potential of being good, but wasn't. But also not a disaster, just OK.
The steak was nicely cooked and looked delicious. But it was boring. Even though the seasoning was ok, the meat didn't taste a lot of - meat. I can't put my finger on it, but it just lacked some taste. I tried with a bit of extra salt, but it didn't help. I was already almost full, so I didn't finish the steak. It takes more than this kind of steak before I am willing to overeat. It wasn't a dish I would complain about or send back to the kitchen, but it was still a bit disappointing.

Finally we were ready for desert: cheese cake with fresh strawberry sauce. 

Size wise there was absolutely nothing to complain about. It was a large serving, and it looked nice on the plate. But just like the steak, it lacked taste. The base was dry and too thick, and the cheese part just didn't give me a lot of flavours. The strawberry sauce was nice, but not nice enough to make me want to finish the dish. I let half of it go back to the kitchen, but without any comments, because it wasn't horrible - just uninteresting.

I had a cappuchino after the desert (Czk. 40,-). I also had a large bottle of Mattoni (Czk. 64,-) with my wine. BF had 3 beers. So our bill was Czk. 215,- (before tips) on top of the Czk. 599,- I had paid for the voucher. For that amount we had 4 (actually 5) courses and a bottle of wine + the water, beer and coffee.  Very, very cheap, I'd say.

Would I be back?
If the prices were always like this, i would for sure!
If I lived in the area, I would definitely come back every once in a while for the carpaccio and for their perfectly cooked pasta (well, at least the spaghetti was perfect).

I liked half of the food a lot, the other half not so much. I liked the service. The atmosphere was nice. And they really wanted to give us value for money for our cheap voucher. But next time I have a craving for pasta, I'll probably go to Grosseto instead of taking a metro to the not so charming Pankrac. So I don't recommend Palatino that warmly, but I definitely also don't say you shouldn't go there. Because it IS a nice and cheap Italian restaurant, just not in our neighbourhood. 

But what I will recommend is trying these new discount services, BonyBony and Slevomat. Not just for food, but also for several other interesting offers. No matter if you live in Prague or visit the beautiful city as a tourist, you can keep an eye on the websites and buy some vouchers - they are usually valid for several months.

I already bought vouchers for 2 more meals - one in the new branch of Pizza Coloseum on Legerova, and one for a couple of monster sized steaks in Crazy Cow Steak house. Maybe you'll hear more about that :-)

Palatino 3 Ristorante
Lomnického 1705
Praha 4 - Pankrác
+420 241 401 985

Monday, August 23, 2010

Restaurant Hybernia - I really wanted to like it

Recently BF started in a new job working as a receptionist in a small hotel on the border of Nove Mesto and Zizkov. And as he works 24 hours shifts from 9 PM to 9 PM, I usually want to meet him for a late dinner when his shift is over, so he'll be recharged just a little bit after work.
I searched a bit in the area close to this new workplace - and my eye caught the website of Hybernia Restaurant in Hybernska street. Quite convenient for both of us, and the menu looked both interesting and fairly priced. The menu even has a friendly and personal greeting from the chef.

3 of the tables are fitted with taps for the tank Pilsner - a big plus for us
When I arrived around 9 PM I was being greeted by a friendly girl who showed me to one of the beer tables without any problems even though we would only be 2 persons and the table would easily seat 6 persons. A good start. So after having filled my first mug of fresh Pilsner Urquell I had a chance to look around in the pleasant room while waiting for BF to arrive.

The decoration of the room is really nice. Here we're in the smoking section, which has a large bar in the centre. The non-smoking section is a bit more "restaurant-like"

I was handed a menu in English, and as BF was running late I had lots of time to study it. Plenty of interesting things to tempt me, and I actually had some problems deciding, what I wanted. The soups weren't exactly my favourites, so I caught one of the waiters (that wasn't easy) and asked about the soup of the day, but the reply was that this was only an option during lunch, which I found to be strange as it was mentioned on the à la carte menu. For some reason the starters weren't that appealing to my taste as I didn't want traditional carpaccio (this classic dish seems to be on every menu in Prague), and I also didn't want any of the heavier options. We'll get back to that...

BF finally arrived. At that point no waiter could be caught, they all seemed to be busy serving in the garden/terrace behind - but we did get a mug for his beer, and I eventually went and found a menu for him myself.
He decided for one of his favourites, Pork Schnitzel (Czk. 170,-) with potato salad (Czk. 49,-). He didn't want a starter. I had finally decided on my starter - the quite unusual option of "Hot duck carpaccio" (Czk. 165,-), described as thin slices of duck breast with rosemary and home made mayonnaise.
For my main I was torn between some of the many knuckles, ribs and wings - and the 2 lamb options. I eventually went for one of the latter, the roast lamb, described as "roast kid meat with demi glass sauce  from fresh marjoram, with portobello mushrooms stuffed with spinach, shallots and blue cheese, roasted potatoes" (Czk. 189,-). To me it sounded really mouth watering, and I could hardly wait.

"Hot" carpaccio of duck. Don't order it!

Waiting is an issue in Hybernia, though. But after a good 20 minutes my hot duck carpaccio arrived. I already then started to regret my choice, as it didn't look that appealing with chunks of red duck breast sizzling in the skillet in front of me. No sign of the home made mayonnaise, by the way. I dug in, but the first slice was very tough, and I actually had problems cutting through it with my knife. Maybe I should have been given a steak knife? The next slices were more tender, maybe after having cooked a bit more on the hot skillet. The portion was generous, but the meat was bland, uninteresting and somewhat "nasty" in the texture. I know that is not a correct food term, but I can't come up with anything else, and I didn't feel like finishing the dish.

Pork schnitzel with potato salad. Nothing pretentious about this presentation...

After waiting another 20-25 minutes our main dishes arrived. BF's schnitzel was actually 3 smaller pieces of pork, and unfortunately they had been overcooked and were dry and completely boring. The potato salad was OK. Heavy on the mayo, but he likes that, so no complaints about that detail. He was hungry and emptied the plate, but without any enthusiasm.

This is supposed to be roast lamb Hybernia way. Absolutely nothing to like about this dish!

My lamb was put in front of me, and I literally couldn't believe my own eyes. It was very unappealing, bordering to disgusting to look at. 3 strange chunks of lamb were lying in not a demi glass sauce, but huge amounts of fat. As you'll see from the picture, the pieces seem to be pulled out of a random stack of lamb leftovers. A couple of dry, overcooked cutlets, something I didn't know what was (the piece in the middle) and then what I could only guess was a fraction from a lamb shank. I tried to eat the cutlets. They were fatty, but still dry - very overcooked. The bit in the middle I didn't want to eat, and the lamb shank (if that was what it was) tasted as if it had been served before. All of the meat smelled as if it had been cooked some days ago and reheated not once but at least twice. I could eat some of the potatoes - the ones on top, because they hadn't been soaked in the grease which covered the bottom of the strange pot it was being served in. The mushroom was too greasy, so I left most of it after having tasted one bite.
We'd had problems getting in touch with the waiters most of the evening, so I was actually surprised that one of them showed up and voluntarily asked, if there were problems with my dish. I told him it was inedible, and he promised to deduct 20% from our bill, which was a total of Czk. 632,- including 2,9 litres of very good beer.

Like it says in the headline: I really wanted to like this place. The menu sounds very interesting, and it is convenient for the after-work-dinner with BF.
So we were back a couple of days later. This time we chose to let the waiters pour our beer while we were enjoying the fresh air and nice ambience of the large garden/terrace.

Decent red Italian merlot at Czk. 104,- for ½ litre - but boring Bonaqua water (Czk. 32,- for 1/4 litre)

From our first visit I believed it would be easier to get hold of the waiters out here, but unfortunately I was wrong. But we were able to order our drinks: Pilsner Urquell for BF (Czk. 38,-) and ½ litre of Italian Merlot for me (Czk. 104,-) plus a bottle of the uninteresting and usually overpriced Bonaqua sparkling water (I refuse to call it mineral water) for me (Czk. 34,-). I had huge problems reading the menu because there was almost no light, but after having used my phone as a lamp, I decided on grilled pork tenderloin, described as "Pork tenderloin in Dijon sauce served with sauerkraut, peppers and sour cream" (Czk. 195,-) with a baked potato with home made cottage cheese and chive on the side (Czk. 49,-). BF went for Almond Turkey Strips described as "Roasted turkey breast with almond flakes, carrot chips, celery, cucumber, peppers and blue cheese sauce". He ordered boiled potatoes on the side (Czk. 39,-).
Then the wait began. In the meantime (there was time enough, believe me), I could see how the waiters struggled to keep up with the clients' wishes - there just weren't enough waiters working. And I could see how other people my age (above 40) were struggling with reading the menu as well, and several phones came into alternative use that night.

Grilled pork tenderloin - most of the items mentioned in the menu missing

We had to wait 55 minutes for the food. In the meantime BF had gone through 2 beers and had to order a third to have something to accompany his food. I'd emptied my wine and my water and also had to order more of both - this time only 1/4 of the quite pleasant Merlot (Czk. 54,-).

Roasted turkey breast with almond flakes, carrot chips, celery, cucumber, peppers and blue cheese sauce. Edible, but uninteresting

But it wasn't really worth the wait. BF's turkey was served in a metal bucket, and the turkey was more like chicken á la KFC than a proper restaurant dish (although, of course, the metal bucket could be seen as an upgrade from the cardboard ones at KFC). The accompanying raw vegetables had been cut several hours before and seemed uninteresting and dry. A fresh salad would have been much better. The blue cheese sauce more than anything else reminded me of a jarred product, probably tartar sauce.
My grilled pork tenderloin was cooked Hybernia style - overcooked that is. It was seasoned ok, but dry and strangely enough, even though it must have been grilled for a long time, I couldn't taste any hints of grill in the meat. It was supposed to be served in Dijon sauce with sauerkraut, peppers and sour cream. It wasn't. Saurkraut, maybe with some mustard in it, but no peppers and no sour cream. The texture was almost slimy. I am not too sure why, as I literally couldn't see what I was eating. My baked potato had been prepared a long time in advance and then reheated - again I had the feeling it wasn't the first time it had been reheated. The "home made cottage cheese" didn't resemble cottage cheese at all, and I suspected it to be the sour cream missing from the main dish.

On our second visit the bill ended at Czk. 784,-.
No matter how much I wanted to like this restaurant, and no matter how nice the interior and the beer was, the food was just very disappointing - in some cases bordering on horrible. So unfortunately there won't be a third visit.

Hybernia Restaurant
Hybernská 7 / 1033
Praha 1, 110 00
+420 224 226 004