When in Prague, visit Eska

Serendipity: some concept with an argument on reality. Yet, a fortunate set of circumstances made me believe in it for a moment. The time of a meal, the time to digest it, the time to travel through it.

When in Prague, and by accident in Karlin – the coming up neighborhood of the Czech Republic’s capital – and by chance hungry, and by some sort of crazy thought looking for a restaurant on Tripadvisor… Where “serendipity” is the title of a recent review of Eska.

Eska - Entrance

Lodged in a masterfully repurposed factory, high from its 6 months of age, the entrance shies away from view. Paradox: an outlet with a reimagined Flash logo, bright in red neon, and not a chance to stumble upon it by mistake.

Eska - Beef Tartar

The menu is as efficient as a group tour: 6 appetizers, 6 mains, 1 cheese and 2 desserts. Options are 5 or 8 courses tasting menu. All is inspired by what is available in the surroundings of Prague, with hints here and there of a chef who likes traveling and open wide his eyes and mouth. The bus driver takes you for a ride.

Eska - Chicken

He has a risk-taking attitude. Raw beef, chicken hearts, fermented cheese – not the obvious choices for a tasting menu and enough to put off the least adventurous.

Eska is not a restaurant, it’s a tour guide, it’s taking a bus through the countryside, through hills and fields, down a path made of soil, farms, grass. And they are all to be eaten.

Eska - Celeriac

Where can you go, travelling, and be inviting to eat the country itself – its hearts (chicken), its root (celeriac), its forest and pastures (mushrooms, garlic flowers, grass)?

Eska - Cheese

You cannot. Paradox: it’s in the renewed part of the city, the modern hotspot, that the old country is there to grasp.

As if you could bite the landscape through the train’s windows. I know I did.

Address: Pernerova 49, 186 00 Praha 8-Karlín, Czech Republic
Website: http://eska.ambi.cz/

Frites Central (Restaurant Review Series)

New to the Restaurant Reviews Series? Have a look at the ReReM first.

What: Belgian
Where: 1/F The Wellington, Wellington St, Central, Hong Kong
Verdict: 10/20
Damages: HK$ 520.– per pax (mains and desserts as described below, 1 glass of wine).

Would I go back? While there is a lot to like about Frites’ ambiance and concept, the plates tend to leave an after-taste of missed opportunities. I might go back to it to catch up with friends and have Western mussels (not so evident to find in HK), but I would not make the trip solely for the food.

Visited & Reviewed: December 2015

I first met with Frites in 2010, when they still had the restaurant in Central near Crawford House (H&M at the time, now Zara) and at which a life-size plastic Trappist monk welcomed the dinners. Then there was (and still is) the Quarry Bay outlet. Now, Frites has four restaurants: in Quarry Bay as mentioned, in Wan Chai, the latest in Causeway Bay and in Central/Sheung Wan – the subject of this review.

 

frites-central-interior-1-730x500
Frites Central – Picture from the restaurant official website

 

Our order was: a 1/2 kg serving of Frites House Mussels, the duck à l’orange, finishing off with a Bailey’s Crème Brulée and a waffle.

The mussels were nice, cooked through and the sauce – a little bitter – called for saucing it with the (provided) garlic bread. Some of them molluscs were not cleaned enough or selected well, giving a taste and texture of sand from time to time. The Frites, after all, the eponym dish of the place, were good and served with homemade mayo. Each table had a little basket/cart with a choice of sauces: ketchup, Worcestershire, mustards, tabasco, etc.

The duck was confit overcooked and not crispy. The piece itself is certainly good duck, adding minutes to the cook does not help and made the meat chewy. The orange sauce was sweet and well done but its over-presence made the skin soaked and not so enjoyable. The dish remained edible and was not sent back.

Desserts were announced to take a little time, probably owing to the waffle being prepared on demand. Which is sort of disappointing because the waffle was spongy and warmish instead of crispy and hot as a Belgian waffle should be.

Throughout our meal the service was ok, nothing too bad worth mentioning. Re-orders of drinks were offered.

Frites failed to send me away to Belgium for the duration of the meal by un-exciting my taste buds. It remains a valuable option for gatherings and catch-up with friends owing to its ambiance. But not for the food and not at that price point.

Chez Patrick Deli (Restaurant Reviews Series)

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What: French Café & Déli
Where: 3 Star Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Verdict: 13/20
Damages: HK$ 624.– for two pax (2 entrées, 1 main course, 2 soft drink and a large mineral water)

Would I go back? Definitely. It’s good food and good service, it’s casual but respectful of diners’ time. Perhaps a little pricey for dishes on the menus that are standards and not overly creative.

Visited & Reviewed: September 2015

One can describe Star Street in Wan Chai and its neighbor alleys and dead ends as the upmarket cousin of Sai Ying Pun: out with the vegan-cum-hipsters cookeries and artisans, in with top of the range furniture shops, a L’occitane Spa, super-hip fragrances store Le Labo and the Odd One Out gallery; the whole with something of a boutiquey feeling. Which of course comes with its lot of eateries of all sort: italian café, spanish restaurant, the odd Pizza Express, etc.

Among them is Chez Patrick Déli, one of the several venues in HK under the Patrick label. The Star Street Déli is more casual and approachable than its older brother in Sheung Wan. Designed to create a market food court feeling, the first sight being offered to diners is the long presentation of cheeses behind glass, all available for purchase, like any delicatessen (hence the name). The decorum is further enhanced by a very large – and tall! – array of shelves which serve as wine cellar. There are no doubts you are in French territory.

The menu would achieve to convince anyone who doubts of the French presence, with mussels, duck confit, foie gras and of course, cheese platters. We opted for an asparagus salad and a chef’s salad for starters, followed by a duck confit to share. Drinks chosen were as casual as possible: an Orangina and a Bitter Lime Soda. To our defence, the following day was an early workday.

Chez Patrick Deli 2

While the asparagus salad (above) was sophisticated, very fresh and tiny, the chef’s salad (below) was on the heavy side, lacked substance and is just a patchwork of good ingredients. While some of the tastes were match, this salad lacks a lot of cohesion – hence the patchwork.

Chez Patrick Deli 1

An invader made his way to the salad: there was a hair in it, and it was very obvious that it did not come from either of the diners. We pointed it to our waitress, who promptly reacted. Although she suddenly had a surprised face, she promptly took the plate away, apologizing. I felt she was sincere. A few minutes later she presented us with another plate, and a possible explication for the invader’s presence. All the way it was professionally dealt with.

In typical French fashion, the starters arrived at the same time, and only once cleared, the main course arrived. Good and right rhythm. The duck confit was excellent: cooked through, crispy skin, a sauce well done. The accompanying potatoes were excellent.

Chez Patrick Deli 2b

While we had not ordered it, we were each offered a dessert, an apology token for the hair found in the salad. It was a good dessert: a chocolate mousse topped with a (thick) whipped cream, it seemed homemade and felt fresh. The presentation is nice, in Le Parfait pots, but not really convenient.

We appreciate the gesture, even more so since we had not shown any sign of nervousness about the hair.

Chez Patrick Deli 3

Upon departure, (presumably) the manager greet us and engaged in conversation with us, he was nice and genuine, in line with the overall impression of confidence in what the food service is.

Việt (Restaurant Reviews Series)

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What: Casual Vietnamese
Where: , Hong Kong (map below)
Verdict: 11/20
Damages: HK$ 120 + Service Charge for one person – set lunch one starter and one main course, plus optional drink.

Would I go back? Maybe. This is a difficult one. I know a fair bit of Vietnamese food and while Việt ticks all the ingredients points, there is still work to recreate what a bún or a phở really is, but perhaps that’s not the point. Extra point for the price. Because of the service, there are a few of points lost on service.

Visited & Reviewed: September 2015

Viet's Lunch Menu

The starter was rice paper rolls, 3 pieces per serving. They were nicely made and I can bet the rice paper is Made in Vietnam, however without a lot of sauce they were lacking taste.

The main course however could be described as ‘over tasty’. This may sound a little weird. Vietnamese food is generally very flavourful and scented, rarely one ingredients takes over the entire dish. The rice vermicelli with caramelized pork was good if you like pork. Its sweetness placed a lot of imbalance into a dish that is commonly mixed up altogether and topped with fish sauce and herbs. Here the pork took over the whole thing.

Throughout the meal, the waiting staff was rushing us out, not explicitly of course but expect to get the bill at the very moment you rest your chopsticks after the last bite in your plate. Sure enough there is a queue at the front and the restaurant needs to make money, and rents are high. Feeling rush and pushed out does not make me want to go back, so the investment in time-saving practices may not pay off.

Linguini Fini (Restaurant Reviews Series)

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What: Italian – Homemade Pasta & Pizza
Where: 49, Elgin St, Central, Hong Kong (map below)
Verdict: 12/20
Damages: HK$ 690.– for two pax (antipasti and pizza as described, 1 beer, 1 cocktail). All prices on the menu include the service charge.

Would I go back? Sure, why not: Liguini Fini is casual, easy, its patchy service is made up for by massive and well-made pizzas. People smile and everyone’s happy with an 18-incher. While I was not transported into a surreal emotional state of mind brought forth by the flavours, all was good and well and pairings of dish was easy because well-balanced.

Visited & Reviewed: September 2015

Linguini Fini is making history (sic): the first of a hopefully long series of restaurant reviews on my little website. No pictures in this review, future reviews may or may not feature any.

The restaurant enjoys a great location, and a sort of reputation on its own. First, it is sitting right in front of your feet when you start believing you are done with the world’s longest (really?) escalator – second, a number of friends mentioned it to me recently. 1.5 good reasons to check it out.

Liguini Fini Location

It was a Thursday evening, no reservations, we walked in at about 8pm and were promptly delivered to a rather good table. Drinks ordered (a cocktail and a beer). Beer came first, then came two glasses and a bottle of still water.

We ordered 2 antipasti and 1 pizza, the first of which –a Caprese salad – arrived faster than a TaoBao delivery. Decent, easy to share, correct tomatoes which is nice and a good serving of basile, also nice. A little extra olive oil, perhaps on the side? There are extra virgin fanatics out there who have to fulfill their needs (yes, we are still talking about oil…)

Buddy: “Would you have some salt and pepper please?”
Waiter: “Sure, here it is” (delivering at the instant the pepper mill)
Buddy: “Thanks, could I also have salt?”
Waiter: “Hold on, I’ll find one.”
(delivered within a minute)

Then came the cocktail, and wait – where’s that bottle of water now? Someone sneaked it away to make room for the HUGE pizza. 18” worth of dough, cheese, tomato sauce, meatball, etc. Meet the “Bronx”, announced for 30 minutes of foreplay before consumption, delivered in 14. Later the waitress would nicely comment that the oven is not very busy tonight so they could make it a little prompter than announced.

The pizza was really good. With so much meat on it I had anticipated that it will be super salty. It turned out to be well balanced. Dough was thin enough and tasty, especially these slightly burned crusts that everyone seems to love. Tomato sauce was of quality and although the meat was overcooked, the sauce got the balance in check again. Really nothing wrong with that pizza; yet, nothing transcending either.

Buddy: (referring to the second antipasti) “Where’s my sausage?”
Me: “Let’s see, they might have forgot it.”
Buddy: “Yeah, someone did that before.”
Me: “We’re not talking about the same sausage I hope.”

Count 4 minutes and 6 slices of a giant pizza later, then here comes the homemade spicy sausage. And spicy it was, which I love but that may not be for everyone, the menu was not very clear on the spiciness level (in fairness it does say ‘spicy’) so watch out for it if you are sensitive. Either way, it came on a nice serving of fried bell peppers – which levelled the spiciness – and was cooked through, consistent and tasty.

A word on the cocktail: it was well prepared. The beer hardly needs a mention and there was no complaints there.