Cheoff

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Café NG Kinský, Prague

Lunch for two: 8 March 2017

"The newly opened restaurant Café NG Kinský can be found in the historical center of Prague on the Old Town Square. It is located in the building of the National Gallery, in Kinsky Palace."

I might as well use that starter from their website to begin the review of this recently opened restaurant.

Mrs Cheoff and I had finished our morning tour of Prague's Jewish Quarter. We needed somewhere to put ourselves in the recovery position from the onslaught of the tribute in the Pinkas Synagogue, dedicated to the memory of 77,000 Czech and Moravian Jewish Holocaust victims.

A walk to the Old Town Square went some way to balancing out those horrors and slipping back into a very slightly more positive present. History is inescapable and insistent but, for now, let's focus on the lunch we enjoyed.

Both of us chose the Club Sandwich... with turkey breast, egg, bacon, mayonnaise, tomato, lettuce and French fries. No real expectations here but when these arrived we realised how, with a little love and understanding, the McChicken® Sandwich can be transformed from the very ordinary into a thing of relative beauty. Fries were a little thicker than Ronald's - and all the better for that.

That's just about it. Satisfaction from simple, well-treated, fresh ingredients is the least you can ask for. Kinsky delivered where so many fail. Nothing seems over-elaborated. The rest of the menu appears to reflect this but we were there in a quiet time at the end of lunch service and did not see any other dishes. I would still recommend the place for exploring decent food and the light, airy, contemporary surroundings. The space looks generous enough to offer the same repose even when the summer tourist buzz arrives.

Mrs. C. also insisted that the homemade lemonade was delicious but I was far too busy enjoying the first and only glass of Staropramen beer which passed my lips on this trip.

On the subject of drink, I had noticed an empty case from the Ornellaia winery being used as a container for menus. Our server, Michal Brichta, was quick to respond to my interest. He led me to the adjoining hall where there is extra seating. And a wall of wine storage. In temperature controlled cabinets, bottles of Ornellaia, along with Sassicaia, were pointed out. These do not appear on the wine list and Michal didn't make it clear how they might be offered. Italy is the regular alternative to local wines here and It would be interesting to know what plans this young, new restaurant has for including such quality wines.  Perhaps a good reason to return and check on developments after their promising start.

The Little Blue Duck, Prague

Dinner for two, Wednesday 8 March 2017

'U Modré kachničky' translates from the Czech as 'The Little Blue Duck (or Duckling)'. The restaurant where we dined, on the recommendation of good friends, was at Michalská 16, 110 00 Prague 1, Old Town. You will find a link on the website to the other, 'first', restaurant, also in Prague.

This was our last chance to sample food on offer in the city. We flew back home the morning after. It seemed right to celebrate our very enjoyable short dip into Prague's history, culture and people with a glass of fizz. Cuvée Quatre Michlovský did a fine job even though its 'extra dry' was a tad sweeter than our often preferred 'brut'.

The patron reminded us a few times that the food served was traditional Czech cuisine, game in all guises being a speciality. This was not by way of an apology; rather a point of pride. All recommendations were earnestly in favour of local and national recipes and wines... and none really disappointed.

Veal paté with brandy and green pepper wrapped in bacon with cranberry sauce

A generous portion of meat for Mrs. Cheoff. Very nearly off-putting generosity. Not so with the small accompanying toasts. But plentiful, fresh bread compensated. We really enjoyed the abundance of lovely sourdough and caraway infused loaves throughout our Prague trip. Oh, there are still unconfirmed reports that those 'cranberries' were actually red-currants.

Smoked venison leg with rowanberry sauce and pickled mushrooms

My starter was pretty fine, probably the success of the evening. I'm not sure how much was produced in-house but the whole thing worked very well. Tender, lightly smoked meat and a delightful return visit to rowan berries (I made jelly with them a couple of years back). They added a fruity but mildly bitter touch... think tangy Seville orange marmalade. My fear that the mushrooms would spoil the show were unfounded. They were delicately pickled and formed the third element of a lovely, balanced trio.

Grilled duck with pears, ginger and shallot mashed potatoes

Roasted duck with bacon Brussels sprouts and garlic potato pancakes

Both mains relied on the eponymous duck to lead the way. Grilled turned out more successful for succulence, since my roasted version was a little dry. You will struggle to find pink duck in the Czech Republic and most will resemble a confit. The skin on our birds was perfect and very tasty... crisp, well seasoned and with just a hint of fennel seed. Don't look for consistent finesse in finish or presentation. My sprouts were surprisingly firm. Enough to be difficult to cut and eat. On the other hand, potato pancakes were just right. 

Red wines are out of favour with Mrs. Cheoff at present so we decided to share our food with a Sauvignon 2014 Gala from Bavory in the Moravian region (why refuse the patron's recommendation?). Although it was 'Late Harvest' there was very little residual sugar and the alcohol content was not too high at 12 1/2 %.

Raspberries and Mascarpone with Blueberry Ice Cream

We had a sweet, romantic assignation involving one dessert and two spoons. Nothing to shout about here. But nothing to spoil the overall enjoyment of our meal.

Other entertainment is provided by a young pianist who plays familiar UK and US music and occasionally breaks into song in English. He alternates with the luxury of a second instrument upstairs so you won't escape him!

Two young female American diners were treated to giggle-inducing moments from one server*. Scarcely raising an eyebrow he asked if he had given satisfaction. The question was delivered with enough inflection, judgement and experience to cause amusement rather than offence. He used the same judgement and experience to leave Mrs. Cheoff alone at the mercy of my usual nonsense. 

The success of our evening at the Blue Duck hinged on the house confidence in the food and wines offered and the interest and atmosphere added by the staff and surroundings. Even if not all are of the finest, their combination was fine enough to provide a fitting end to our Prague experience. I can recommend you book there on at least one of your days in the city.

Taken from the restaurant website

More pictures are available to view at the restaurant's Facebook page.

* This server also provided my current favourite overheard conversation.
Asked by a group of businessmen what were the best Czech red wines he had no hesitation in telling them, "The ones from Italy".

Kavárna Obecní dům, Prague

Here is the rather clunky website for this place showing some of the very attractive surroundings in which you will find yourself. This is lighter and more airy than the downstairs restaurant, function room and cocktail bar. A 'French' restaurant on the other side of the entrance hall to the historic building offers more lavish food at higher prices.

Enjoy what the room has to show in architecture and decor but don't expect to be served anything approaching that quality if you order food. Mrs. Cheoff ploughed through a lamb stew whose meat was at least half fat and uncooked connective tissue. Her potato croquettes were the stuff readily available from supermarkets My 'well-cooked' beef was tender, at least, but had lost most of its flavour in cooking. Bread dumplings, like those croquettes, were very untraditional, 'made away from home' products. The final insults were a squirt of aerosol cream and a few cranberries with enough sugar to induce tooth decay at ten paces. 

We watched a heaving but tired cake and dessert trolley being wheeled around and made the sensible decision to discard any thought of further disappointment, pay the bill and leave.

Servers were reasonably attentive but more than one of them struggled to give any impression that they had confidence in the food they were being paid to present. 

The wisest 'customers' entered, produced a camera to record some artistic details and left without ordering. Their decision was perhaps more informed than ours. It was one of those 'Let's put this down to experience' episodes for us.

Café Jedna, Prague

Café Jedna

If you visit Prague and have taken the time and effort to cross north over the Vltava to view the modern art on show at the Trade Fair Palace you might consider staying for refreshment at this cafe in the same building. 

After almost three hours of delightful submersion in painting, sculpture and design from the nineteenth century to the present, we were grateful for the chance to rest awhile.  

We were in the company of young and old; students, workers and committed, tired tourists like us. The generous space of the building makes it possible to be close to people but never feel crowded by them. 

Soup of the Day was Spiced Chickpea. Lovely sourdough bread came from the counter... taken as you pleased from an enamel bin which, depending on our server, was either green or blue.

How wonderful to enjoy a simple, warming bowl of honestly prepared and truly tasty soup. With that one offering we had avoided the earnest but ubiquitous 'traditional' Czech menu of duck, beef, pork and potatoes and dumplings... and potatoes and dumplings in another form. Look at the rest of the menu here and you can see the escape route which is on offer. Vegetarians and the odd sausage lover are obviously welcome.

The discovery of a John Lemon drinks range was also pleasing. The peace-mongering Beatle has been honoured in ever-changing graffiti on a wall here since the 1980s

Service was keen, informative but relaxed. Our four day whistle-stop tour meant that we had no plans to return to this part of the city but I urge you to include the Jedna 'watering hole' in your itinerary, should you visit.

The cafe is behind those blue-barred windows on the ground floor. How glorious that a building from the 1920s, devastated by fire in 1976 was deemed worthy of reconstruction. It now houses a cafe which, in quality, variety and interest, matches up to the wonderful art on display.

All images and content are the property of Geoff Griffiths. Copyright Geoff Griffiths 2014 ©