Zlatnickà 3, 110 00, Prague 1, Czech Republic
+420 295 563 440 www.next-door.cz
A la Carte
(£1 = 28Kc, rounded to the nearest £0.50)
Starters: £4.00 - £12.50 | Mains: £9.00 - £17.50 | Desserts: £2.00 - £6.00
Cooking 5/10 | Service 4/5 | Flavour 3.5/5 | Value 4.5/5
I’m in Prague and I’m confused. Now before you all start to state what you believe to be obvious, or before those in the know blame it on too much slivovice while wetting the head of new grandson Edwin, allow me to explain. My new chum Václav, head keys at my hotel, has recommended this place. Obviously, the Imperial will be the focal point, and I should find it adjoining. Simples. I duly find The Imperial, with Next Door…across the road. Oh well.
This is all soon forgotten as some lovely cheery Czechs usher me to a corner table. (I have no idea why I felt it relevant to comment on Czech people being in a restaurant in the Czech Republic; rereading the sentence I guess it’s my unwillingness to allow a good alliteration to slip through the fingers.) It’s exactly as Václav and the website describe it, a modern Czech bistro. A handsome space, painted ceilings and a lot of light oak. I have no issues with glass display cases; however, the fact that this one is full of cake slices makes me hope like crazy that it’s refrigerated.
I think you have to smile to be allowed in here, whether as customer or server. At 7 on a Saturday evening the place is buzzing. There is a lot of laughter, in many languages. I’m happy to smile along with my waiter, but, Pagliacci-like this hides a frown when I see he doesn’t write anything down. Why do you do this, boys and girls? It’s lose-lose. If everything duly arrives, are you expecting a pat on the back or an extra tip for having a decent memory? And, if the inevitable happens, you look foolish. And I, as a solo diner, having insufficient to do (apart, that is, from checking the football scores, sending emails, glancing at Messenger and Facebook, and tweeting about inconsequential matters), spend my time worrying on your behalf.
My fears have but a short time to incubate. There is a concise but well chosen selection of wines by the glass, and I’m staying with the mother country. I’ve ordered a glass of white to accompany the wild boar terrine with salad of celery, apples and nuts sauce. I’m more than half way through the course before the wine, an excellent Riesling style, appears. The terrine is a sort of ballotine, and is a little too smooth and too bland for my taste; however, it comes with an excellent remoulade of celeriac with a few walnuts. I’m not a fan of smears on plates, and this dark brown one is particularly alarming, but I think that walnuts were used in its concoction as well.
Perhaps surprisingly, the braised beef with creamy sauce, bread dumplings and cranberries was the cheapest of the main courses, at just over £9. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I had to issue a reminder for the side of veg of the day. Saint Nicholas/Good King Wenceslas hailed from these parts. Santa, please deliver a case of waiters’ notebooks here this December.
Braising beef well isn’t as easy as you might think. Probably the best way is to take the cheapest cut you can find, and simmer it for 40 days and nights. Restaurants which use better quality beef have a tendency to overcook it. Here were two slices of something like rump, done to perfection. The sauce was thick, creamy, a bit of stock, probably a hint of the accompanying cranberry. Not bad at all. The Czech red (until a couple of years ago, neither I nor my resident Czech expert was aware that such a thing existed) could have passed for a good Rhone, dark and peppery. The veg dish, when it came, was perhaps the best part of the meal. Cauliflower with hazelnuts. I think the slices had been steamed first, then fried with quite a lot of butter. The chopped hazelnuts slipped to the bottom of the dish and didn’t add much, but a nice touch. And to think we used to disregard this as the most boring of veg.
Even had I had space, the wall of cake would not have tempted me. But, as those who know me are aware, I’m very easily led. So when a list of digestifs was wafted under my nose, I perked up. In eastern Europe these selections are always different. Congratulations to the Kleiners who produce a 7 year old apricot brandy, smooth as you like, with a hint of fruit remaining. No sweetness, but think of a really good Calvados and you get the idea.
I had a lovely evening here. Restaurateurs often regard solo diners as a nuisance (or else fear them as authentic food critics). I had half expected to be in and out in an hour, so that the table could be turned. Nothing of the sort. It’s difficult to evaluate tonight’s experience. I enjoy my grub in this country, or in Germany or the like, but subtlety isn’t its middle name, even with sauces and terrines: I enjoyed the smiley service, but have to deduct a mark for the memory failings: I have to allocate a score, because that is the rod I created for myself. But for once, I would say to you, never mind the numbers, feel the warmth.