This venerable place was one of the new Republic’s first proper restaurants, opening its doors in 1991, and it still has a good reputation after more than two decades of service. The big guidebooks gush embarrassingly over it. Every hotel receptionist recommends it. But is all the good press really deserved?
A lot has changed since the early days. From what I’ve read, it’s probably almost unrecognisable now. The biggest difference is the fact that today, the chef is Indian. He apparently came to work in Prague for just a few weeks, but liked it so much he ended up staying for years (hey, isn’t that pretty much everyone’s story?)
Due to popular demand, dishes like svíčková na smetaně and roast duck with cabbage have been kept on the menu, resulting in a surprising mix of traditional Czech, modern Czech with an Italian accent, and modern Indian, plus some sashimi and ravioli thrown in, too. Usually I’d be sceptical about a kitchen that claimed to be able to turn out all these cuisines equally well, but not with V Zátiší’s reputation – and prices. I was expecting great things.
You can choose two or three courses, composing your own menu from their Indian dishes, “Best of Bohemian” dishes, and all else besides. We were there for the Grand Restaurant Festival and didn’t have the agony of choosing, since there’s a set tasting menu for a set festival price.
Normally, a three-course dinner with wine pairing here would set you back almost 1700kc per person. I don’t know about you, but it’s not the sort of place I can afford to eat at every week of the year.
The staff were welcoming and kind from the minute we walked in the door. We were ushered into the near-full dining room at our designated Restaurant Festival dining time of 5.30pm. The coffee-toned, designer dining room was eerily quiet. Tables of mostly two sat in a nervous hush; some actually seemed to be whispering. I hope it’s not like that all the time, though I’m told it’s not exactly a lively place.
We were introduced to our wines, and I had a feeling right away we were going to get on. We also got an amuse-bouche of creamy tuna pate spiked with apple, which was not unpleasant at all.
I was practically trembling with excitement by the time my starter arrived. Yes, I really am that sad, but give me a break – I’ve not found any really great Indian food in this city, and I was hoping this might be ‘the one.’
The Indian appetiser platter arrived: a rectangular plate carrying a small piece of tandoori chicken and a cup of tomato-lentil soup, separated by a tiny salad clump.
The tandoori chicken was the real deal: impossibly juicy and tender thigh meat, red-tinged and slightly smoky. I wanted much more. The turmeric-laced soup had a deep flavour, though tomato soon swamped everything else. A blob of standout coriander-mint sauce was natural, tangy and refreshing, strong enough to cut through all the other flavours. Our wine with this course was a light and uncomplicated Moravian veltlínské zelené.
The main course veered sharply away from the Indian influences in the kitchen, bypassed the Czech Republic entirely, and headed for northern Italy. I personally wished it hadn’t.
Osso buco, slow-braised veal shank, is one of those classic dishes that a lot of people insist you just don’t mess with. Best leave it to the Milanese, say purists. Well here, they’d be outraged; where classic recipes call for the veal to be braised in white wine, here it’s in black beer. It sounds interesting but in reality it didn’t add anything to the flavour, resulting only in a heavy, dull sauce. The meat itself was disappointingly dry and not particularly tender.
It was served with a light, golden saffron risotto, and seasonal vegetables – in February, that apparently means soft broccoli and a couple of squidgy brown mushrooms. The risotto though was dreamlike, and after giving most of my meat away I was happy enough with that and my glass of red wine.
The easygoing, fruity Reserve de L’Aube Syrah Merlot was one of the most easily drinkable wines I’ve discovered in a long time. (Maybe not one for the serious wine snobs, but this mere mortal was very happy with it.) Sadly it didn’t seem to be on the usual wine list here, though it was so long I can’t be sure.
Dessert, mango cheesecake, had been partly deconstructed; its base carefully crumbled around one side of the plate and dotted just-so with a couple of different berries. It was let down by a thin, gelatinous mango layer on top, which would’ve felt at home in a cheap cukrárna. The thick, slightly tart sauce saved this very average cheesecake. Not that I was really bothered. By the end of the meal I was feeling calm and satisfied and my troubles felt very far away. And I still had some of that wine left – bonus.
Despite the high prices, I’d probably go back to try more from their Indian menu. That tandoori chicken reeled me in. Maybe they should focus on Indian food.
Their Czech classics were great when I tried them but that was a few years ago now – to be honest, I’m not into paying so much money for fancy versions of things like kulajda and svíčková. As so many Czech people have told me, these things are better homemade – or in the pub. It’s true. But I often hear rave reviews from people on holiday in Prague who’ve eaten here and been ecstatic about it.
Dinner at V Zátiší wasn’t perfection, but it was the sort of dining experience that can make you feel warm inside and glad to be alive. This place sent me out into the night beaming like a wine-sozzled idiot (and I swear I only had two glasses.) Maybe this feeling is what’s most important.