Lots of people have been asking if new chip shop Ryby & Chips is worth a visit since it opened its doors at the end of December. But the really big question is: is it better than the fish and chips at Dlouha 21?
The short answer is this: it depends on you and your tastes. Yes, I know – what kind of useless answer is that? That’s why I’m writing this post.
I might be a bit of a fish and chip purist. I can’t help it. I ate it so often growing up that Jamie Oliver would be absolutely appalled – on school lunch breaks, on friday nights in front of the TV, As a grown-up returning to England for the briefest of visits, I’ve been known to forsake restaurant dinners in favour of the local chippy.
On my travels, I’ve found myself daydreaming about crispy, golden chunks of batter and warm, fat chips covered in salt and so much vinegar it almost makes your eyes water, eaten from a warm, heavy, many-layered paper parcel.
Not everyone is a fan. One group of Italians told me they hated fish and chips after they had it in Brighton. And where did they try it? One of the spots selling fish locally caught that morning? Nope. Wetherspoons. I had to ask – what did you expect? The same goes for anyone who’s been to London and stumbled upon an overpriced, rubbery excuse for our national dish in some miserable tourist hotspot. Of course it was crap.
But not to worry – both of Prague’s chip shops make a better impression. I like different things about each of them. And not everyone is as fussy as me. So here’s quick side-by-side comparison of the two to help you decide for yourself.
Dlouha – As the name suggests, it’s on Dlouha street at number 21, close to Old Town Square and some of Prague’s best-known bars and clubs.
Ryby – On Myslikova, between Karlovo Namesti and the river, pretty convenient for everyone passing through by tram or metro.
Atmosphere and decor
Dlouha – Kitschy as hell with big chandeliers, mirrors and lots of daft ‘British stuff’ everywhere: Beatles photos, red phone boxes, faux newspaper prints, London street signs and Mr Bean on the telly. So over the top and silly that I actually liked it. Tables are crammed in very close together and when it gets busy you can barely move, but there’s a nice, warm atmosphere. A proper sit-down dining room with cutlery, candles and so on.
Ryby – Bright, white, stark and sparsely decorated – perhaps they’re intending to furnish it more later. Everything is black, white and silver, with a blackboard behind the counter and lots of quite amusing quotes and sayings about fish and chips written in black and white along the lower walls. The only cheesy ‘British stuff’ to be seen here is the London underground-style sign. This is more of a takeaway, not a restaurant. Though there are places to sit now, there’s only counter service. There’s not a lot in the way of atmosphere but, well, it’s a chippy.
Fish and chips
Dlouha – The cod, hake and haddock were all good-sized, fresh and tasty pieces, but all were slightly dry. I preferred the herb batter to the beer batter, which I find heavy, floury and bland. On my last visit we weren’t offered a choice and I forgot to specify, so I’m not sure if they only do beer batter now. Either way, the batter has always been a bit soft for my liking.
The menu lists “french fries”, but they’re actually big thick-cut chips, like oven chips, and obviously bought in frozen. They’re not bad, but having fresh, homemade chips is kind of the whole point of a chip shop.
The “Cod XXL” seems to be their most popular menu item and the best option for your money. It comes with mushy peas and coleslaw – in small separate dishes – and “bottomless” chips (meaning you get free extra portions.) Inexplicably, at 195kc this is cheaper than other types fish on the menu, which start at 225kc and all of which come with small portions of chips (not bottomless ones!) and mushy peas.
As you can see, the presentation is quite nice and thoughtful, though I’m not sure what purpose the wedge of “newspaper” serves, other than to give the fish something to perch on. I’d prefer more chips in its place.
The mushy peas are disappointing – always strangely sweet, and sometimes really dark in colour and dried out, as if they’ve been left sitting around for a long while.
On the menu, they call it “Manchester caviar”, which is something I’ve never heard before despite being from Manchester – obviously I’m missing something. The coleslaw was also a bit dry and didn’t taste of much. I didn’t really know why it was there.
This photo of the hake isn’t the best, but the dark green colour of the peas is actually accurate. The other dish is garlic sauce, swiped from my companion’s plate – their garlic sauce is very good indeed. They do have proper Heinz ketchup – for 25kc. I didn’t see any brown (HP) sauce. There was proper malt vinegar.
The posh version of fish and chips at Dlouha 21 was fine, but it reminded me a lot of the fish and chips you get in pubs and restaurants (not chip shops) at home. Comforting, but pretty bland and a bit too expensive.
Ryby – This is as close to the real deal as I could hope to find outside of the UK. Everything tastes pretty much like it does in a chip shop back home. Both the ever-popular cod, and the haddock – the preferred chippy fish in many parts of the north of England – were good-sized and fresh-tasting. The chips were home made and the right thickness, soft. oily and slightly crispy on the outside. The mushy peas were, well, like the ones at home, and there was some mint sauce to go with them last time I went. Again served separately, apparently because some people don’t like them. But if you’re a fan you can always say so and they’ll give you a bit extra.
They do fish and chips in small or regular size. Regular is pretty big. There’s a choice of cod or haddock with plenty of chips and a small portion of mushy peas.
The regular size fish and chips is 159kc and includes a choice of coke, sprite, water or a cup of tea, which seems like good value to me.
The one thing letting them down is the vinegar, or lack of it. There was some kind of watery “non-brewed condiment” instead, the cheap stuff made from water and acetic acid that can’t legally be labelled as vinegar. For anyone who doesn’t know, malt vinegar has only one ingredient: malt vinegar. It should be strong enough to get up your nose and make your eyelids sweat. This stuff could barely be tasted.
I asked about it on their Facebook page. Their reply was that this stuff is what’s used in chip shops in the UK. Cheeky. We know that isn’t true, don’t we?
I was then told they were getting some proper vinegar in at the end of January. When I visited again in the beginning of February, the only thing that had changed was that the non-brewed condiment had been put into unmarked bottles. Dlouha 21 has proper malt vinegar, and plenty of Czech restaurants have it, even Tesco has it.
I didn’t see either Heinz ketchup or HP sauce, but then, I didn’t ask, so it may well be behind the counter. As much as I love both I don’t tend to put either on chippy chips. I prefer to cover them in gravy. (But not the fish, of course – I’m not a barbarian.) I didn’t see gravy on the menu either. I also didn’t see any mention of things like tartar sauce or mayonnaise either, but then, that would be an abomination.
If you’re craving proper fish and chips, Ryby & Chips is as close as you’re going to get – but then, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as the best to non-Brits, as it probably won’t have the same ‘taste of home’ appeal for most people.
Other items on the menu
Ryby – they do all the chippy classics like battered sausages (that took some explaining to my Swedish boyfriend) and pies with a few different fillings including a good chicken and mushroom – tender and well-seasoned with good puff pasty, it was the best I’ve found in Prague (without making it myself, of course!)
There are also burgers and other things on the menu, and at home at least, that isn’t a good sign in a chip shop. Unfortunately, I’ve heard some pretty bad things about the cheeseburgers. If anyone else had one and enjoyed it, please let me know.
Dlouha – they have quite a big menu with lots of fast-food type dishes and, here, it somehow works well. I’m a big fan of their beef burger, which isn’t huge but the beef seems to be good quality, not too finely ground and it comes cooked perfectly medium rare, with a side of strong garlic sauce. I’d actually rather have this than their fish and chips which is a bit tragic. The lamb burger was very flavourful too, spiced with tahini and coriander, if a bit sloppy and messy to eat. There are lots of other things, few of which are particularly (or remotely) British, from hot dogs to tzatziki salad to moules mariniere, and also the Czech pub favourites like fried Eidam cheese or chicken schnitzel.
Despite Ryby being counter service only, the staff were very friendly and even those with limited English were cracking jokes and smiling a lot. The waiters at Dlouha aren’t very smiley, but then, that’s nothing unusual in this city, and we haven’t had any problems.
So there you have it. Overall, Ryby & Chips was the winner for me because it tasted much more like the fish and chips at home and I also thought it was better value for money. From their Facebook page, it looks like lots of (especially British) people living in Prague feel the same. I’ll still be back to visit Dlouha, which is a nice place for a sit-down meal, but I’ll probably have a burger.
Did you have a similar experience, or a completely different one? Which do you you think is best and why? If you’ve tried either place I’d love to hear from you in the comments below or on Twitter.