It was a chilly autumn evening, the streets were empty. and here I was peering down through a tiny basement window into a bright, white space that seemed empty of people. The lights were on, but was anybody home?
Down the steps and inside, I found that Mozaika Burger & Co wasn’t actually abandoned. A cluster of tables were occupied at the far end, close to the bar and the open kitchen. The rest of this cellar space, with its vaulted ceilings and new monochrome design, was empty. My reservation had been pretty unnecessary, then – after so many visits to to Dish and the Tavern, I’ve started automatically reaching for the phone to book a table whenever I feel a burger craving coming on.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the new Mozaika Burger at all. It reopened a couple of months ago, after renovation. The old Mozaika was always quite well known for its burgers, and it looks like the owners have decided the way forward is to turn the place into another burgrárna (How I love that word!)
But it’s not like Prague was crying out for another one. With so many burger joints springing up around town – some of them pretty hard to tell apart – I wondered: has this one got anything new to bring to the table?
I have to admit I only went to the old Mozaika once. I didn’t really get the food. I’m wary of places that have such a broad range of flavours and types of international cuisine on the menu (everything from nori seaweed-wrapped salmon to duck pate to tandoori chicken) just because so few chefs or kitchens can pull all of those things off, never mind keep all the different ingredients fresh. The sort of places that have “something for everyone” aren’t for me. It was also smoky and badly ventilated (it’s now non-smoking), and seemed a bit pricey for what it was. Not a bad place, and lots of people raved about it, but I just never liked it enough to go back.
The new Mozaika got mixed reactions on Twitter, and some people hated the square, slightly sweet burger buns. Some people found them too sweet or too dense. I personally didn’t, though I was unsure at first (square buns? what is this devilry?) but after a few bites I was sold. The slight sweetness lifted up the flavours of what was on the bun.
Another common complaint from early visitors was the that the actual eating of most of the burgers is a very messy undertaking, requiring cutlery and a whole pack of napkins. That’s definitely true for their Mozaika burger, above (which seems like an updated version of the burger they had on the “old Mozaika” menu.) When picked up, it immediately disintegrates and oozes sauce and juices.
But on that visit, everyone agreed it was worth all the mess. The combination of lean, peppery meat cooked perfectly to medium, caramelised onion, mushroom, tomato, lettuce and plenty of creamy mayo was a hit. Some people were even saying it was one of the best burgers they’d had in Prague, even for the comparatively high price of 189kc without sides.
The crispy potato wedges with herb aioli were also a hit, with second portions quickly ordered.
This is the chicken “Beran” burger, which is relatively easy to eat. The tender chicken came with cheddar, tomato, just enough jalepenos and some fresh coriander (sorry, cilantro…) pesto. I had no trouble keeping this thing together and it wasn’t sloppy – there was just enough sauce. I was also happy that the chicken burger was an actual burger, and not just a chicken fillet on a bun, as it often is at burger places.
It cost 179kc without sides – there are no bargains to be had here – but I’d get it again.
I liked the drinks. They had a perfectly decent Czech cider made by “F H Prager” – I’m a massive cider fan so, though it was nothing to write home about, I was happy enough just to find a decent cider here – and a Matuska beer which we were told was made especially for Mozaika. It definitely went down well with the burgers – maybe a bit too well at 60kc for a small, 0.4l glass.
I had less luck when I returned one lunchtime a couple of weeks later. The salmon burger, a regular lunchtime special, turned out not to be a burger but just an enormous salmon fillet on a bun – no toppings, no sauce. Have you ever tried to eat a whole salmon fillet, squashed awkwardly between two pieces of bread? I’m pretty sure it’s not meant to be done by anyone, but I couldn’t manage it.
The fish itself was cooked perfectly, and that was a problem. It flaked and slid effortlessly apart at the slightest touch – meaning that if I tried to pick up my supposed burger, big chunks of juicy salmon fell out everywhere. It was time to get the cutlery out. Eating a collapsed salmon fillet with a side of dry bread bun was just a little weird.
The whole experience at lunchtime was a bit of a letdown after the great evening visit. It wasn’t particularly busy in the evening, even though it was a Friday, and there was a nice, warm atmosphere. Service was friendly, too. But at lunch it was dark, busy and very noisy – the bare-bones design doesn’t help the acoustics. Service was rushed, our waitress was in a bad mood, and the prices of the lunch menu (only found scribbled in semi-legible Czech on a blackboard) weren’t much lower than those on the regular menu, though you do get free fries or salad with your burger at lunchtime.
The Mozaika burger – ordered again by my friend, who loved it last time – was also a bit disappointing. After a long wait it arrived far from medium and almost raw in the middle; dark red and mushy. Not appetising.
With mayo at an extra charge and a soft drink each, this lacklustre lunch added up to over 600kc.
There’s more than just burgers on the menu – there are salads and wraps, and you can also order their burgers in a smaller size, as “sliders”, or with their homemade mashed potato instead of the bun. I haven’t tried that.
There are only two desserts on the menu: brownies with vanilla ice-cream, and cheesecake. The brownies, which came with unexpected walnuts, were nice enough – perfectly chewy and soft in the middle – but warming them up a bit would’ve made them better. This dish was let down by the ice cream, which tasted shop-bought and was full of ice crystals.
The creamy cheesecake with raspberry coulis was divine, though.
While Mozaika definitely set themselves apart from the glut of average burger places around town, they seem to have issues with consistency, the menu is a bit hit and miss (and on the pricey side for a burger place), and their unusual bun seems to be something people either love or hate. Personally, I liked some of the menu items so much that I’ll definitely be back. Just not at lunchtime.