Friday, 23 March 2012

Barefoot in Bohemia - Restaurants in Prague

My little feet took a battering in Prague. As with all my previous holidays, I spent a lot of time walking to sightsee and soak up the atmosphere. Unlike with other trips, I took more than one pair of shoes and no sensible shoes. Indeed, after my £3 Primark satchel snapped (it had a good innings), the fruits of the bag replacing trip were two pairs of really hot, really pointy, really impractical shoes instead. Oh, and some sunglasses which make me feel like a cat! But anyway, all the new shoes and walking had my feet in tatters. Also my legs at various points sprouted purple broccoli like bruises. The kind that makes you really want to cut into them and let the blood pour out. Gross. Anyway, these factors added to my much less painful now piercings and the cold I've had since the 16th of January should've made me miserable. But you just can't be. Partly because of the sunshine and the beautiful buildings (general consensus is that if Prague was a person, you'd tap that) but mostly because of the rich, warming food. Everything I ate was exactly what an ill person would want to eat.
On the first night, we tried to get a table at Lokal, a place recommended by the hostel. It was full and we were super hungry so we ended up at a crap looking pizzeria, Pizzeria Mikulka, around the corner. We ordered San Paolo pasta (leeks cheese sirloin beef ham mushrooms), ham and pineapple pizza and salami pizza. The pizza seemed pretty good to me but I was informed that there was a soggy base issue. Now I'm about to make a really awful analogy with the pasta. A friend and I were recently talking about how it's strange that you can recognise that someone has all the component parts of a great person but you still sometimes just don't feel it. He described it as 'ineffable' and I really liked that description and have used that word in many a context since. Anyway, i used it to describe the effect of seasoning. Often, it's almost there and is adequate for you to describe a meal as good but when it's perfect, JESUS CHRIST. I had that rush of CHRIST I FORGOT HOW GOOD THIS CAN FEEL when I took the first bite of this pasta. Wonderfully garlicky, hitting the spot/bang on the money/can't think of a third cliche oh wait lists of three are cliches. I must admit that I wasn't expecting much so the breathtaking 'this is delicious' took me by surprise somewhat.
Of course, pizza isn't czech so the next day called for a proper czech lunch. After walking around Kampa and up Petrin tower, we went to Malastranska Beseda, another recommendation of the hostel. Inside, there were more locals than tourists and it had that almost posh vibe that I later came to expect from czech pubs. And we went to the cheapish ones! The guidebook we read on the way to Prague made a joke about czech food being either salty or fatty. Joking they were not. Both the salt and fat levels (honestly, how would you have felt if I'd instead referred to the sodium and lipid levels?) SOARED. In the most spectacular way. We ordered a half duck with crisp salty skin which contrasted with the red cabbage (the most expensive thing there but still less than £10) so nicely. I had potato dumplings which had been carefully filled with beautiful bacon on a bed of heady vinegar cabbage and then topped with more smoky, crisp lardons. That too topped the macaroni cheese like dish with a gloriously heavy cream and cheese sauce. One mouthful made you feel full but it was too good to resist having more.
Glorious though it was, for dinner we wanted something fresher to counter the meat and cheese. I'd read about a couple of Afghan restaurants that I was curious to try out, having never tried afghan food before. So we headed to Ariana ('are you choosing it because it sounds like your name?').
I wasn't filled with confidence when we got there and also was a little disheartened by the price list. It was still cheap but not czech pub cheap. We ordered biryani, falafel, falafel and kofte. All lovely and colourful enough to be able to see the tang of the tomatoes. One gripe I had is that they'd used frozen veg in the biryani. But everything was gently spiced and tender enough that you didnt care. The lamb in both the kofte and the lamb was outstandingly tender. The falafel were the best I've ever eaten, just the right texture of crumb with the right balance of salt. And it came with a very nice spicy salsa/chutney type thing.
The next day we walked along a different bridge and sat on an island and enjoyed the view for a while before heading to the Lennon wall. At first glance, I thought 'Oh, is this it?' but on closer inspection, it does have some great graffiti on it. Including a heart in front of which Earnest and I had a photo taken whilst discussing how she couldn't do this with a boyfriend because it would just be TOO much. This heart also proved useful later because it has some pretentious crap about having affection for people and things in your life even if they're not in it anymore. Look!
Overcome with 'Hey! I'm in Prague!', I'd sent a lengthy 'this is how I'm doing, I hope you're doing well too' email. But then felt strange and fragile and so sent a subsequent email saying 'soz changed my mind not yet but plz get someone to tell me if you die' with the pretentious heart attached. Anyway, after wandering some more along Charles Bridge and taking a look at Agent Provocateur in the hope that maybe things were cheaper in Prague (they're not), we headed to Krcma for lunch. It had been recommended by the hostel as the best place to eat. I agree with them wholeheartedly. It was my favourite place on entrance, an underground cellar with oak and barrels and bottles with candles in everywhere.
Even the menu had a withered tea stained look about it. The food was even better than the atmosphere. After much deliberation (the menu is mouthwatering), I went for the pork neck and baked potatoes, Earnest had the goulash and Batman had marinated beef and root vegetables with cranberry. After taking a bite of the luxuriously meaty goulash, I decided to take the maverick step of asking for some goulash sauce to go with my pork neck. The pork neck itself was perfectly tender, not at all dry despite the breadcrumbs and deep frying. The potatoes were crisp but wet and everything hit the flavour notes it was supposed to. With the goulash sauce (which they kindly gave to me for free), it was even better. The problem with a food blog is that often, words cannot describe how good something is. But yes, this goulash is a strong contender for one of the best things I've ever eaten.
We ended up doing lots of walking after lunch in search of proper ice cream. But still we wanted something a little lighter for dinner. We were feeling quite lazy from drinking gin and juice (the most amazing juice in the world called Cappy which I initially discovered in Croatia) and chatting to Tomas (not of Tereza and Tomas fame, he worked at the hostel) who suggested we get Pizzeria La Ventola to deliver to our hostel. Earnest and I shared a risotto with pork medallions and lots of vegetables in and also a chicken and asparagus pizza. The risotto was not a risotto, more like fried rice, but that's OK because I was craving chinese food. The pizza was so creamy and cheesy yet light with soft chicken and snappy asparagus. Really, really good.
Our mission for the next day was to find me a bag. Except I ended up with two new shoes and also some sunglasses instead. As I was feeling the guilt from spending money drip over me, we went for hot dogs from a fast food place near the Old Town Square. Twenty crowns, less than a pound! I'm sure I'd be horrified if I were to find out what actually went into the hot dog but it tasted great so I don't care. We then headed to the St. Matthew's Fair which we'd been intending on going to the previous night but it closed so we ended up at the very cool non-tourist friendly Klubovna no.2 instead. There was a huge queue outside the fair but it moved really quickly. Once we were inside, we decided to get yet more junk food.
The first round was essentially a stir fry, very MSG heavy but also addictive. My companion went for a more czech delicacy, a sort of doughnuty thing slathered in ketchup and cheese. Again so fatty that you can feel the spots growing but too satisfying to care. Dessert held a round doughnut/pastry type thing covered in sugar and flavoured with cinnamon. I wish they existed in the UK.
We went to Kolkovna for a light (and cheap) soup for dinner to counter the crap we'd eaten in the afternoon. The veal broth and goulash soup we ordered epitomises the 'this is food you want to eat when ill' thing I banged on about earlier. So hearty and nourishing. So well seasoned and with all the meat falling apart. Kolkovna has the great czech classy but cheap atmosphere as well. Although I did not care for being charged almost as much for water as I had for my soup. I just really didn't want beer before doing a lame, scummy (but still quite enjoyable since we met some cool Norwegians) 'all you can drink' crawl. That ended with us bailing after the second bar to share a bucket of KFC and sing on the way home. Oh dear.
Feeling disgusted at ourselves about everything we'd eaten the day before, we headed to the vegetarian cafe, Countrylife, for lunch the next day. At this point, I was covered in bruises, my feet were in pieces and I'd resorted to carrying my bloodstained shoes on the way to the mirror maze because it was less painful than wearing them. This was the most expensive meal I ate in Prague and still didn't exceed £10. They charge you based on weight, you see, and I went mental at the sight of all the green. They're not big on vegetables elsewhere. Worth every penny. Dinner that night was again heavy and czech but deserves its own blog post.
Despite being convinced I'd never be hungry again after my goulash and carrot cake breakfast (leftovers from the night before), after finding the padlock gate and souvenirs, we were ravenous and ended up at Lokal, the place we'd tried to go to twice previously with no success. We had the tenderloin meatloaf and garlic beef with unlimited spinach and buttered potatoes to share. As we'd come to expect from these places, the food was excellent. This place was better than Malastranska Beseda but not as good as Krcma. It was probably on a par with Kolkovna although it was much cheaper so it wins over there. I've talked many a time about how I love garlicky spinach but I really do. And this spinach was hella garlicky. The meatloaf was soft and tasted neither too bready or too meaty. I don't know what else to say apart from that you should go here if you go to Prague. But I suppose I could say that about any of the places mentioned in this post.
I'll finish (as we finished our trip) with a visit to Krasny Ztraty, a very arty student cafe/bar. The name translates to 'beautiful destruction' or something. In the spirit of the place, I ordered a drink called Russian Cocaine. It looked like this.
I had no idea how to drink it. So I just poured the fresh coffee granules into the unidentified spirit and squeezed some lemon into it. It was quite nice in a grown up 'I don't really like this but I've acquired the taste for such bitter things now' way and definitely gave you a kick. But I'd appreciate if someone could tell me how you actually drink that drink.

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