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


  1. Good day, Laus!

    Very inpressive review, I've never been in this restaurant.
    Nice to meet with you. We are in one group on Linkedin.

    I have some questions for you and hope you can help me or give some advice.

    I am here, in Czech Republic to create my own small business.
    But I encountered a problem - I cannot find free space (near 15 square meters) for it in place where a lot of people.

    I can say that I wish to start up Juice bar.
    I was at new Galerie Harfa shopping center, thay sad - "We have Frutissimo here and don't give you a place for another Juice bar"...

    May be you know people who have free spaces or a good specialist about rent.

    Here I see phone numbers of this restaurant directors, how you get it. For me it is very interesting to talk with different businesses owners.

    Thank you for any advice. I hope we will communicate in future.

    Anatoly Khalizev

  2. Hi Anatoly;

    Thank you for your friendly comments.

    I don't have any ideas for a free space for your juice bar - but good luck with the project,

    I got Steven's and Jirka's phone numbers from - themselves :-)
    But the numbers are also on the restaurant's website, so no big secret