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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".

Red Lion Inn - Babcary, Somerset

Visited for dinner 12 May 2016

We got within two minutes of the restaurant, only to be blocked from a direct route after a collision further up the road.

Telephone calls and GPS through intermittent network connection saw us safely arrived after a half hour delay. 

The Red Lion offers plenty of facilities in different rooms and areas and caters for events beyond the norm of a local village pub.

Beetroot & Goat’s Cheese, Apple, Horseradish

This was very nicely plated but only had a sure touch as far as presentation was concerned. Purple beetroot was almost washed out and lacked real earthy flavour while golden beetroot was heavily pickled and far too sharp. The goat’s cheese had lost any character. It was whipped up with a creamy base (cream?!) and missing all goaty, cheesy goodness.

Confit Pork Belly, Butter beans, Honey & Cider Jus, Crackling, Seasonal Veg

Crackling was one of those nods to a ‘Matchmaker’ chocolate stick (thankfully, without the chocolate). Long and thin pig skin. Crunchy, as it should be… but gone too soon.

The pork was pretty soft and forgiving but the whole dish was awash with aniseed sauce. Star anise used so carelessly that nothing else could compete. Honey and cider had given up and were nowhere to be seen or, more importantly, tasted.

Duck Breast, Potato & Pancetta Terrine, Heritage Carrot, Broccoli, Jus

The meat was definitely over-cooked but, strangely, the skin had not been treated to enough heat to render it anything other than inedible fat. The potato terrine sounds good on paper but sat there, watery, tasting of water and with no hint of pancetta. Vegetables were about right and the ‘jus’ was fruity but not too sweet.

Pink ‘Forced’ Rhubarb & Ginger Crumble, Vanilla Ice Cream

This had all the required elements but just cried out for more visual appeal. The unfortunate presentation in a ramekin on a plate with a dollop of ice cream went dangerously close to suggesting a Meals On Wheels delivery.

100% Cacao Chocolate Tart, Honeycomb, Salted Caramel Ice Cream.

Huzzah… I can finish on a high note. Not too sure that this was much more than 70% choccy but that’s usually adequate for a dessert as far as I’m concerned. Chef seemed to have a more assured, practised touch with this one. It looked good on the plate and ate well. The balance between sweet, salty, creamy and crunchy was nicely judged. Unannounced popping candy suddenly made its presence felt. There really was far too much of it but I didn't care at all as it also gave me far too much pleasure, sounding in my mouth and ears. A good end among an uneven set of dishes.

It is good to see a decent range of wines available by the glass.

Young staff at the bar and serving our table were assured and confident. The chef who appeared briefly was perhaps twice their age. I hope he maintains his confidence to explore and deliver a pleasingly varied menu but the quality of his cooking now needs the same assurance. The Red Lion offers better than average ‘pub grub’ and, overall, we did not regret our holiday visit.

The Jews House, Lincoln

This, our first visit, was for dinner on the 25th February 2016. We were with two good friends who had already visited once and were keen to repeat and share their enjoyment with us.

The Jews House has limited space in a very old building. It is suited to fairly intimate dining. I'll put in the spoiler straight away and reveal that we had a terrific evening. Some might even have gone so far as to say it was 'pleasant' (private joke... sorry). The food was lovely and constantly distracted us from being in such very good company.  If you look away from the centred text below it will spare you being given the menu before your visit. 

We took the 'Surprise' Tasting Menu which comprised the following:

Butternut Squash Soup, Cheese soufflé

Citrus Cured Sea Trout, Salad of Crab, Avocado and Pink Grapefruit

Pork Belly Miso, Melon Sorbet, King Prawns

Wild Turbot, Jerusalem Artichokes Roasted in Beurre Noisette, Belper Knolle, Truffle and Madeira Sauce

Roast Lamb Rump, Provencale Shoulder Slow Cooked with Chorizo

Dark Chocolate Mousse, Caramelised White Chocolate Sorbet, Turron and Praline Biscuit

Passion Fruit Cream, Pineapple, Sweet Chilli and Coriander Salad, Coconut Sorbet

Front of House, Samantha Tomkins, made sure that there were no allergies or dislikes before we proceeded. The tasting menu was not truly a 'surprise'. Each course is available on the A la Carte menu. All the cooking could be achieved at home, with the important proviso that you would need a couple of week's planning and prep to achieve it!

Although chef, Gavin Aitkenhead, didn't stretch any boundaries he did just what he promises and concentrated on flavour. The combinations are mostly familiar but they are executed along with nice contrasts of texture and temperature and delivered with a sure hand by a confident kitchen. The small size of that kitchen might go some way to explain the limit on choice. Great variety is still provided within a single dish. 

Highlights for me included the concentrated flavours of fish and meat sauces. Sweet and sour aubergine and a rich tomato confit underpinning, and almost undermining, the lamb. A smoky artichoke purée was perfect with the turbot ('The Big Green Egg' had been on barbecue duty the night we visited). Oh, that melon sorbet was a winner with the pork. A fresh, tropical finish was the proper end to our meal. It was carefully placed after a rich chocolate dessert which would have otherwise swamped it. The richness was in all those endorphin-producing elements which we treasure through childhood and beyond. However, any excess here was perfectly understated and never became cloying. The salt-struck caramel confirmed chef's control.

There were a very few moments when flavours seemed too subtle. That could well be down to my struggling palate which had been challenged by so many other delights so that I'm observing rather than complaining... We had enjoyed a great meal with truly accomplished cooking.

I have still not managed to be so clever as to concentrate on the merits of both challenging food and demanding wines at the same time so it suited me that Samantha did not lead us on much of an adventure with her recommendations from the wine list. The selection there will change, so you might well be guided to enjoy new offerings. Here is what we agreed on:

2013 Iona Sauvignon Blanc, Elgin, South Africa

2012 Berry Bros. & Rudd Good Ordinary Claret

Ken Forrester T Noble Late Harvest 201?

All went down very well... especially with two men who had the terrible task of drinking the major part to compensate for the restraint of their lovely wives!

Samantha seems well-equipped to explain, suggest and recommend with knowledge and confidence. There is much on the wine list to explore. I try not to fret too much about restaurant wine pricing. We don't really go out quite often enough for it to be a threat to our finances. But bottle prices can certainly be a source of worry and dis-satisfaction, with potential for over-shadowing the enjoyment of eating out. If this article is anything to go by, it seems that 'The Jews House' are on track with a 'Good' mark-up of around 200%. 

Let me end by repeating the enjoyment that this visit gave to all of us. We were looked after by discreetly attentive servers and experienced food from a very assured chef and kitchen. The price we paid for our meal might just be beaten elsewhere but it was still excellent value. Lincoln has a modern-day success in a lovely historical setting. I know that we will return. Thank you to all involved.

Mumbai Blues, Waltham… First visit

I went to 'Mumbai Blues' on Monday 14th December 2015 with my wife, Jan.

A day spent pulling all the Christmas decorations, table settings and specially painted glasses out from the loft. Most put into place for the ensuing festivities. Then a very strange breaking of habit with a snap decision to go out and eat at a previously untried restaurant.

Perhaps not so strange really. I’ve been aware of Mumbai Blues for a long time and my wife had already visited a few years back for a staff do.

A ‘safe’ start with the ‘Poppadom Box for Two’ - 2 Plain Poppadoms, 2 Garlic Poppadoms & 4 Naan Bread Twists”. We had these with all four items from the pickle tray. I make my own chutneys and had just finished and preserved a lime pickle at home. I could moan about the quality of restaurant offerings in general but let’s concentrate on those cleverly named naan bread ‘twists’. The dough was cooked but still fluffy inside and there was enough oil in the mix to ensure a light crispy surface outside. Simple but effective.

My choice for main was 'Cod Rogan Balti'. Described on the menu as, “Perfectly flakey Cod cooked in Balti spices, topped with Cherry Tomatoes & Rogan Josh sauce. Garnished with a crushed Onion Bhaji topping.” When I ordered I was told this was a good choice.

Of course, it’s great to design such a fine sounding dish but, let’s face it, everything falls flat if the kitchen can’t deliver. No such worries here… The fish was caressed by the gentle heat of Balti spicing. The Rogan Josh sauce added deep, complex warmth and the crunchy, crumbled bhaji gave delightful contrasting texture. The master-stroke was to present everything on a sticky sweet and sour slick of balsamic reduction. Pilau rice (good pilau rice) helped to soak up much of the sauce but I freely admit to running a finger all over my plate to savour every last bit of goodness.

I’d come out with no real expectations and here I was, two miles from home, having a mini triumph of a meal. Smashing.

My wife, Jan’s, main course was just as pleasing to her.

‘Modhu Murgi’ was her choice… “Honey roasted Chicken lightly spiced with Yoghurt, Ginger, Olive Oil and light Chilli served with a Courgette and mouth-watering Tomato Sauce.” This could have been a car crash of badly juggled sweetness, cream and heat but once again the balance of flavours was spot on.

That was enough for us. We were relaxed and already talking about coming back when we have mentally prepared our stomachs to try a more complex meal.

I'm so pleased we decided to give our kitchen a rest for at least one night. This is not high end dining but the quality of cooking and the clear suggestion that there is enjoyment waiting in all the rest of the menu means I can recommend Mumbai Blues with confidence. So four out of five stars from me... But, of course, you do know what a fussy devil I am! 

Jax Hussain, owner and all round good guy, must take credit for designing the menu, which he is perfectly well skilled to cook himself. I got to know him as he established his latest venture right on my doorstep in Scartho. ‘Lids Tapas & Cocktails’ is a hugely positive addition to our local community. It really is time I went in there for more than a coffee and had a decent sampling of the foods on offer. Watch this space… There will be a review of that here soon! 

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