Three days before the end of the six-week-long Grand Restaurant Festival, I finally remembered to use the tickets I’d bought at the beginning of the year.
For the uninitiated, this festival is quite different from the Prague Food Festival (although it’s organised by the same people.) It’s a chance to try out lots of restaurants, including some very pricey ones, for the usually much lower price of festival tickets which start at 250kc (in Prague) for a ticket for one tasting dish, to a 600kc ticket which gets you three dishes, a couple of glasses of wine, water and whatever other treats the restaurant decides to send your way.
You buy your tickets online, choose your restaurant from the list of participants on their website and then use your ticket/voucher code to book a table. I found the system a bit fiddly at first, but once figured out it worked fine.
We had three-course tickets, and the menu we liked the sound of most was at Midtown Grill, at the Marriott Hotel on V Celnici. I’d never heard anything about it before and I had no idea what to expect, but the whole idea of a food festival is to try something new, after all!
I’m sometimes wary of hotel – especially chain hotel – restaurants, which I think usually feel bland and a bit sterile. I worked in a couple of fairly high-end ones when I was younger and found a lot to dislike about them – which I won’t go into here! But of course there are some very good hotel restaurants, too.
I was kind of expecting the Marriott’s restaurant to be middle of the road, but actually, I was pleasantly surprised.
Here’s a photo of the interior, from their website. Yes, it very much had the hotel restaurant vibe, but it was nicer than most. The walls are decorated with black and white images of Prague’s main sights. The tables are big and leave plenty of space. We lucked out and got a good table right in the middle of the room. When we arrived it was around half full, and around half of those diners seemed to be having the tasting menu as well.
Before our first tasting course arrived we received an amuse bouche of duck breast terrine with pistachio bread, as well as a basket of actual bread, and butter.
The terrine was rich and smooth, and very tasty with the pistachio bread, which is not something I‘ve ever seen before. It looked and felt less like bread and more like a little piece of bright green sponge or dough – which was more pleasant than it sounds, I swear.
Shortly after, we got our first course, and the one I’d been looking forward to most: Sauteed prawns with ginger and garlic butter, with lemon toast and pear mustard. (Sorry about the bad photo – it was dark in there!)
The prawns were quite big and juicy, and there were six of them. The flavours of the ginger and garlic butter on the lemon toast, with the sweetness of the pear, made this into something pretty special. I could’ve happily sat there and eaten this all night – with glass after glass of the Riesling it was paired with, Qvinterra feinherb 2011. It was an unusually sweet Riesling with citrus notes. The waiter promised I “wouldn’t be disappointed” by it, and he was not wrong.
After a ten minute break our next course arrived: Roasted leg of veal with dried cranberry and walnut stuffing in red wine sauce with spinach and potato roll.
This was an incredibly rich, wintry, foresty dish. The red wine sauce was heavy and very fruity. The meat wasn’t too remarkable and was slightly dry in places, but the flavours of the stuffing lifted it up enormously. The spinach and potato rolls were halved, inside a thin pastry, and my companion remarked that they resembled spring rolls. They made a good accompaniment to the rich flavours on the plate.
This time my camera completely failed me, and I ended up with a truly horrific image worthy of Dimly Lit Meals for One. So here’s the promo pic from the restaurant festival website – it did look a lot like this, but with much more red wine sauce, only one slice of veal and only one of the halves of spinach and potato roll, which were also smaller and more spring roll-shaped.
Our third course was flank steak, though not just any old flank steak, but premium corn-fed USDA beef from Creekstone Farm. It came with a truffle waffle, marinated chicory and a foie gras jus.
The idea of pairing a cheaper cut of beef with foie gras and truffle struck me as a little odd, but I wasn’t exactly complaining.
I can’t say I’ve had much corn-fed American steak and don’t know a lot about it, but I was underwhelmed by this. It was overdone (we weren’t given an option, and I think it was meant to have been done medium-well) not only for my liking, but for the quality of the cut. If overdone, flank steak can take on a taste and texture that I think is either “liver-y”, or resembles that of a cheap cut of beef which was been stewed. That was certainly starting to happen here in some parts of the steak, though the cooking was a bit uneven so other parts were still very good, especially where still pink.
The full-sized (250g) version of the flank steak was on the restaurant’s regular menu for 495kc.
The jus may have been slightly overpowering, but still, I really like the intense and (over)indulgent flavour of foie gras with steak. The chicory was limp and pretty flavourless. My truffle waffle was dry, crumbly, not at all crispy and didn’t taste even remotely of truffles.
Unimpressed, I put it on my companion’s plate, as he said he liked it. It turned out that was because his was much better than mine – crispy, fluffy in the middle and with a strong truffle flavour, though still very dense. His steak was also better cooked. There was a big difference in quality between the two supposedly identical dishes on the table.
With the steak, we had another German wine, this time the Zweigelt Selektion 2010 Tement. It was very fruity with a taste of cranberry, and not too heavy at all. We ended up having a couple of glasses of it.
The tasting menu at Midtown Grill also included a dessert and espresso, which was a nice little extra. We had a small square of their almond pie with marinated cherries and white chocolate. It was again quite rich and dense, but not overly sweet. The full-sized version on the menu comes with ice cream.
Our waiters were really friendly, seemed enthusiastic about the food, and especially the wine, and spoke English pretty well, so service was relaxed but still faultless.
According to their website, the house specialties are ribs and crabcakes. They seem to be quite well known for their Sunday Brunch, which I believe includes a “prime rib carvery” and seafood, though may be a little steep at 895kc per person!
I’m not sure if I would’ve ever thought to visit Midtown Grill if it wasn’t for the restaurant festival, but I’m glad I did. While it didn’t blow me away, we were happy overall. The little extras made their tasting menu really good value for money, the wine pairings were great, and I loved the prawns. I’d definitely go back for them – the full-sized version as a starter was on the blackboard for 185kc, which seems like a bargain – or to try some of their other seafood, but I’m not so sure about the steak.
Midtown Grill at the Marriott Hotel