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 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Sokolovna - I really liked the lamb

Some of the articles on this blog are not going to be reviews in the proper meaning of the word. More likely they'll be mentioning of places, where we've eaten, and of course you'll know if we were satisfied or not. Usually not high-end eateries, but the everyday places we go to, because we enjoy it, and because we can afford it.
This article about Restaurant Sokolovna in Vinohrady is exactly that.

On a normal Tuesday night  Sokolovna was packed with people, who seemed to enjoy themselves. The friendly and efficient manager is the guy in the pink shirt in the background.

Yesterday I was walking back home through Vinohrady after having been with some clients at the SAPA market in Libus. And no, I wasn't walking all the way from Libus - but I had helped them park their car. We're very friendly at Prag Eksperten :-)
Walking on Slezská street my eye caught a restaurant which I believe wasn't there, when we lived in Blanicka street some 14 months ago. I stopped to have a look at the menu and found it interesting. And it passed the "Pilsner Urquell test", which meant, I could invite BF and already have the first goal scored when we would order our drinks.
So yesterday around 9 PM we arrived, only to find the place almost completely packed and the atmosphere lively. BF was about to suggest we went elsewhere, but I took a look in the non-smoking section further behind. There was one table free, but a rather large one which could seat up to 6 persons. Obviously it wasn't such a good idea, but we still chose to sit down. Then the manager arrived with a group of 6 (sic!) people, and very politely asked if we would maybe move to a smaller table, he would get for us. He apologized for the fact that it was in the smoking section, but I'll have to admit that we're both smokers, so we were completely satisfied with the change and would probably have gone for that table, had it been free, when we had our first look.

They have Pilsner, light Kozel, dark Kozel, and non-alcoholic Birell on tap. It was almost a full time job for one man to keep up with the demand for beer, and it wasn't even a hot evening.

So finally we were seated on barstools at a high table. The manager came by again and asked if we were comfortable or if we would rather be moved to a "normal" table as soon as one would become free, but we were completely satisfied and had already ordered our first Pilsner Urquell - Czk. 35,-. The waiters (I think I counted 4) were very busy, but they still managed to be friendly and attentive through the whole evening. When they brought the menus in Czech I asked for one in English, which I got. I can usually manage the Czech versions, but still, it is easier (if I am lazy) to read the English version. I don't know how they spread the word, but after that, every waiter suddenly was bilingual, speaking with BF in Czech and with me in English. It made me feel welcome. When I started to take photos of our food, one of the waiters immediately came to our table and offered to take a picture of us, which also goes to show that no matter how busy, they still care about their customers. As for the manager, he did a good job as well. He seemed to oversee the whole restaurant - sometimes lending a hand to the waiters, sometimes chatting friendly with the guests, sometimes clearing and cleaning a table. He didn't take orders or handle bills, but made sure that everything ran smoothly, and he surely contributed to the nice atmosphere.
The menu is fairly traditional, containing classics such as gulaš (Czk. 136,-), svíčková na smetanĕ (Czk. 136,-), and my all time favourite, baked pork's knee, koleno (Czk. 179,-). At that price, I'll definitely have to come back and try the latter. There are also some salads, of course some steaks and a couple of less interesting vegetarian options. Most of the main courses include a side dish, which actually makes the prices even fairer, as this will usually be Czk. 25-40,- extra. If you order 48 hours in advance, you can have whole ducks, lambs, geese, turkeys or suckling piglets.
But when there is lamb on the menu, I must admit I become quite predictable -  9 times out of 10 I must have the lamb, it's as simple as that! Sokolovna has 2 options: Rolled leg of lamb with rosemary (Czk. 179,-), and a lamb shank with crushed potatoes and a red wine sauce (Czk. 275,-). I went for the latter, because the first one also was with blue cheese which I have never learned how to love. BF ordered a "plate sized" schnitzel of pork with potato salad (Czk. 147,-).

My lamb shank with crushed potatoes. Somehow it looked more delicious in real life
The food arrived after 10-15 minutes, which was perfectly OK - and actually quite fast. considering the amount of people in the restaurant. My lamb shank was really, really good. It was larded with garlic cloves, but they weren't overpowering. The generous serving of red wine sauce (or should I call it gravy?) had celery, cherry tomatoes and small pieces of red bell pepper in it, and went very well with both the meat and with the crushed potatoes, which also had some leak and some bacon (or ham) in it. As for the bacon/ham, I am actually not very crazy about that. When served with meat it may compliment the dish or it may disturb it. In this case it clearly disturbed the balance of flavours in the dish, which I (apart for this detail) found to be really on the spot. The crushed potatoes were very chunky, which I like, when it is not supposed to be mashed potatoes (which I actually believe it was called in the English menu). The meat itself was cooked almost well done, but slightly pink, and it was juicy, perfectly seasoned and very tender. I liked it a lot. Apart from my before mentioned craving for pig's knees, this lamb dish may be my reason for returning to Sokolovna.

BF's schnitzel with potato salad

BF's pork schnitzel was supposed to be plate sized according to the menu, and I actually believe it was. I can see how it doesn't cover the plate, when you look at the photo - but that's because it was a very large plate. It was breaded and had been deep fried. I prefer it to be pan fried, but I rarely (if ever?) see this done anywhere in Czech restaurants. However, the meat was quite tasty and tender, and it got an approving smile from BF, who liked it without being over exited. But then again, how much can you do with a dish like this? I found the potato salad to be delicious with a good amount of onions to give it some edge, although it could do with a little more salt. BF approved it, but said that he can make better potato salad himself. Quite a funny comment, as potato salad is probably the only thing he has ever prepared for me. And his version is good, albeit a little heavy on the mayo.
Both of us were able to finish our dishes, but we didn't have room for desert even though we hadn't had any starters or soup. I would have liked to try the chocolate soufflé (Czk. 95,-), but that'll have to wait to some other time.
The bill was Czk. 597,- before the tip for the 2 main dishes and 5 beers (BF seems to always be able to "sneak" an extra beer down). Considering that I chose one of the more expensive items on the menu, I find that to be really fair, and I am quite sure, I'll be back. Maybe next time for lunch, as I find the daily lunch menus to often give a good feeling for, how seriously the kitchen wants to please their punters even when the prices are low.

Sokolovna Restaurant
Slezska 22
Prague 2 - Vinohrady
+420 222 524 525 (propably best to make a reservation, if our experience was typical)

Recently I became a dog owner for the first time in my life (not this dog), and that has made me realize how friendly mostst people are towards dogs in this country. It is actually very rare that the waiters don't bring water for the dog, and of course almost always in a proper bowl, which every restaurant seems to have 1-3 of ready for our visit.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Golden Tikka Indian restaurant - the lunch is good value for money!

I am no connoisseur of Indian food - on the contrary. Where I come from, we don't have any Indian restaurants at all, I must confess, so my experience stems from my visits with friends in Blackpool - and from Indian restaurants in Prague. It is actually a pity, because I enjoy it very much. I am still confused about the menus, simply because I am not sure what to expect. So for that reason, my first visit to Golden Tikka was helped by the fact that we could choose from the limited, but very fairly priced Lunch menu.

The nice terrace behind Golden Tikka
The restaurant is completely new, and I only discovered it because I was handed a leaflet last Friday on my way to dinner with a friend at U Emy Destinnove further down Katerinska (when walking from I.P. Pavlova). As I can be somewhat cheapish and also caught a glimpse of a blackboard announcing lunches from Czk. 89,- I didn't ignore the leaflet, which I would usually have done. And today I was inspired by Ms. Knedlikova's interesting blog, and suddenly felt like a late Indian lunch. Well, as BF was doing next to nothing, I invited him, and off we went.

The interior is clean and stylish - but lacks some pictures on the wall and other décor to give it a more homely feeling
We walked into the restaurant around 15.30, finding it completely empty. So was the large and nice terrace, where we picked a table and asked the friendly and attentive waiter for the lunch menu - and 2 Pilsner (our all-time favourite among the easy-to-find Czech beers). The beer wasn't a problem, but the lunch menu was, because it was only supposed to be served until 15.00. I clearly remembered from my leaflet that it said 11.30-16.00,  and when I told him that, he smiled and promised to deliver what we wanted, if we would settle for rice as the sidedish.

The lunch menu is limited, but interesting - which is perfect for a beginner like myself.
It is no secret that both BF and myself are carnivores, so we divided 2 of the 3 meat options between us: BF chose the Chicken Tikka Masala Menu, consisting of Chicken Tikka (pieces of chicken baked in a tandoor oven) cooked in a classic, rich onion-tomato and coriander sauce with cream + rice, priced at Czk. 155,-. That left me with the Kuřecí menu / Non-vegetarian Menu, consisting of chicken in a sauce, sabji (mixed vegetables), rice, and raita (white yoghurt with fresh vegetables and spices), priced at Czk. 110,-. There was one more chicken option on the menu, as well as a vegetarian option + 2 choices of homemade cheese cooked in different ways (I guess I should call those vegetarian as well?). So plenty for me to choose from, when I'll hopefully be back during the next days for a couple of business related lunches.

While we were waiting for the beers we could quench our thirst in water brought to the table without even having asked for it. Several restaurants in Prague could learn from that detail.

We didn't have to wait too long, before our food was brought to the table by a smiling waiter, once more apologizing for the misunderstandings with the lunch menu later than 15.00:

My Kuřecí menu / Non-vegetarian Menu

BF's Chicken Tikka Masala Menu
My food wasn't very warm - but I believe that would probably be because of the "lunch misunderstanding", and it wasn't cold either - nothing I would complain about. The chicken was served in rather small, but juicy bits in a sauce with tomato and spinach, and the spice was to my taste, meaning that there was a good bite, but it didn't kill my taste buds. There was some coriander, but not too much - in my taste coriander can easily be too overpowering. I liked the flavours and texture, and was completely satisfied. The vegetable mix was made with the same degree of spiciness, but the flavours were more curry-like. which I liked - no reason to put 2 identical flavours on the plate. If it had been too strong, I could have put out the fire with the raita served in a little cowl on the side.

BF's Chicken Tikka Masala Menu looked simpler - there was one item less on the plate. But the pieces of chicken were nicely marinated and larger than mine - and there was more meat in his portion, probably explaining the higher price. His food was warmer than mine. Like I have said earlier, I am no expert in Indian food, and I am really not sure what to expect from a Chicken Tikka Masala. But I tasted Golden Tikka's version, and I liked it a lot. It was mory spicy than my chicken dish, actually a lot more. But still my taste buds weren't killed by it (BF was full after eating 2/3 of it, so I had a nice sample), and once more, my raita would probably had been able to put out the fire, had it been too strong.
We were both quite happy with our (late) lunch, and I'll definitely be back - probably later this week. Maybe the hardcore Indian food aficionados will find the food to mildly spiced. On the other hand, BF can eat chili sauce as if it were ketchup, and he was satisfied. So I would recommend the place. The lunch is good value for money, and the dinner menu also won't ruin you. And for the service, I felt comfortable and well taken care of.

Our bill for the 2 menus + 4 Pilsner Urquell was a total of Czk. 420,- before tips.

Golden Tikka
Kateřinska 42, Praha 2 (very close to I.P. Pavlova)
+420 224 241 181
Open daily 11.30-23.00


Back online - Prague activities and food - as experienced by "Praha Expert"

It has been a very long while since I posted in this blog. And quite frankly, I don't believe anybody cares.
But inspired by mainly blogs about food in Prague, I decided to give it a go again.
I'll be focusing on the experiences I have in Prague, when time, money, and the weather allows. And I'll try to show you photos of some of all the nice you can experience in this lovely city. Probably mainly food - because BF and me love to eat, and we're very good at it :-)

You should read these  blogs as well - I do:

Czech Please
Knedliky Etc.

See you soon

Praha Expert