Review: Vidlicky A Noze, Prague, Czech Republic

You guys know about my love for Hong Kong-style diners right? The food is never that great, but it’s always cheap and plentiful. The ambiance and service might not be fantastic, but it’s always efficient and designed to get you in and out as fast as possible. Most importantly, they always evoke a sense of nostalgia for me, and I tend to reflect back to primary school days when my father used to pick me up from school and take me to a diner for afternoon tea. Special daddy-daughter time as it were.

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I always thought the Hong Kong diner was a unique concept – at least until we visited Vidlicky A Noze in Prague. While it’s technically a ‘proper’ restaurant offering a full menu of traditional Czech dishes, most of the locals who visit order off their menu of five or six daily specials, all priced under $6 AUD a dish.

Like in a Honky diner, we watched groups and individuals all enter, order quickly after a quick glance at the specials, get served their meal in under five minutes, eat in under ten minutes, and then pay and leave. Done and dusted in under half an hour. Quick and efficient, the Cantonese way.

Home-made lemonade with mint and with elderflower, 40 Czech Koruna each
Home-made lemonade with mint and with elderflower, 40 Czech Koruna each

We took a bit longer though, and lingered for a while over the menu as we needed the waitress to translate the specials (written in Czech only) into English for us! While we perused the menu, we had some drinks to start – a Homemade Lemonade with Mint for me, and Homemade Lemonade with Elderflower for K. For some reason, K’s lemonade was carbonated and subsequently more refreshing, while mine was particularly flat and a bit too sweet on the palate. I’m not sure why they were made differently!

Grilled pork steak with caramelised onions and french fries, 92 Czech Koruna
Grilled pork steak with caramelised onions and french fries, 92 Czech Koruna

We decided to ignore the main menu and copied the locals in ordering off the specials. I chose the Grilled Pork Steak, served with caramelised onions, gravy and french fries for only $5 AUD. A real bargain, and surprisingly delicious though not particularly nutritious. The pork was nice and tender with a smoky grilled flavour, the onions were sweet and the crunchy fries were delicious dipped in the salty gravy. A real comfort meal.

Chicken cooked in paprika with pasta, 85 Czech Koruna
Chicken cooked in paprika with pasta, 85 Czech Koruna

K’s was a little less inspiring – Chicken in Paprika with Pasta. The chicken pieces were a little dry and overdone, and the sauce lacked that true paprika heat. Not quite the dish he hoped for, but that’s the risk you run with the cheap daily specials! He should have figured it out from looking at what the locals were eating though. Plenty of them had chosen my dish, but no one else seemed to have chosen the pasta. When in doubt, follow the local choices!

Grilled vegetables, 55 Czech Koruna
Grilled vegetables, 55 Czech Koruna

Feeling guilty about the number of carbs and rich sauces we had consumed with our meals, we ordered some Grilled Vegetables to share to vary our diet slightly. Not quite as nice as the ones that K had ordered at Atmosphere Cafe Pub, these vegetables hadn’t been grilled quite enough. For example, the sweetness hadn’t really come out of the capsicum properly – an extra minute on the grill could have brought it out!

Traditional homemade strawberry dumplings with cottage cheese and strawberry dip, 69 Czech Koruna
Traditional homemade strawberry dumplings with cottage cheese and strawberry dip, 69 Czech Koruna

We finished off our meal by sharing the Homemade Strawberry Dumplings, served with cottage cheese, strawberry coulis and powdered sugar on top. It was a surprisingly large serve – definitely a dessert best shared between two people. These dumplings were delicious though, kind of like a cross between delicious soft but dense brioche, but with the syrupy goodness of Greek loukamades. With a poached strawberry inside each dumpling simply oozing sweet syrup, you really can’t go wrong!

While you can order typical Czech dishes like duck confit, goulash or roast pork at Vidlicky A Noze, you shouldn’t. If you want to eat like the locals, you need to order from their simple daily specials menu. Food is cheap and plentiful, and if you order by referring to what others are ordering, you can’t go wrong! Not one to rush to when in Prague, but worth dropping in if you like cheap and cheerful meals.

Vidlicky A Noze is located at 93/11 Vodni in Prague, Czech Republic.

Review: Atmosphere Cafe Pub, Prague, Czech Republic

On our free walking tour guide around Prague, we learnt that the Czechs are the largest consumers of beer in the world, drinking a combined 1.5 billion litres of beer every year. Assuming that the 70% of the population between the ages of 15 and 64 are the primary consumers of beer, that means that the 1.5 billion litres of beer is consumed by 7 million people with everyone drinking 214 litres of beer every year. Wow!

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Presumably most of the drinking happens in cafe pubs like Atmosphere in Prague. With a half litre of beer setting you back an average of $1.80 to $2.30 Australian dollars, drinking in Prague is one of the most affordable activities you can do. We weren’t there for the beer though, our walking tour guide Tatiana had actually recommended Atmosphere for cheap local food so we dropped in for lunch!

We settled ourselves into the rear restaurant part of the pub, hoping to avoid all the smokers in the front pub and the outside courtyard. Don’t be fooled though – smoking inside restaurants in Prague is completely acceptable and it wasn’t long before some fellow diners next to us started lighting up. Ah well, c’est la vie – or “To je život” as they say in Prague!

Orange juice, 36 Czech Koruna, and a House-made lemonade, 45 Czech Koruna
Orange juice, 36 Czech Koruna, and a House-made lemonade, 45 Czech Koruna

Some non-beery drinks to start – an orange juice for me, and a house-made lemonade for K. My juice was out of a bottle and tasted very much like Just Juice – understandable, that’s not what they specialise in! K’s house-made lemonade was particularly refreshing, though it didn’t have much of the citrusy tartness that I like. Still, it was proved to be a good palate-cleanser for the heavy meals to come!

Grilled pork cutlet marinated in lemon pepper, spring onion and coriander sauce, 165 Czech Koruna, with Grilled Vegetables, 40 Czech Koruna
Grilled pork cutlet marinated in lemon pepper, spring onion and coriander sauce, 165 Czech Koruna, with Grilled Vegetables, 40 Czech Koruna

K ordered a Grilled Pork Cutlet, and added on a side of Grilled Vegetables on the recommendation of the waitress ($11.45 AUD in total). What I liked about the menu at Atmosphere was how clear it was on portion sizes – next to the pork cutlet, they indicated it was 200gm of meat, next to the Grilled Vegetables, they indicated 200gm of vegetables, making this quite a hearty meal.

The grilled vegetables were particularly delicious, with just the right amount of charcoal smokiness. It was a good range as well, with zucchini, eggplant, capsicum and onion all equally well-represented. The pork cutlet was quite well cooked, but the real highlight was the fragrant pepper and onion sauce – delicious!

Honey marinated roast pork ribs with grilled chilli peppers and garlic bread, 179 Czech Koruna
Honey marinated roast pork ribs with grilled chilli peppers and garlic bread, 179 Czech Koruna

I opted for the Honey Marinated Roast Pork Ribs, advertised at 450gm with bones included ($10 AUD). I was absolutely blown away by the amount of ribs included on the plate for the price charged. There was at least a full rack of ribs on the plate though it was chopped up into smaller pieces. You can’t beat that for value, or taste either, with a finger-licking-good sweet honey marinade. Full points to the ultra-fragrant garlic bread as well, though I kept clear of the super-hot chilli pepper that made K’s eyes water!

Atmosphere Cafe Pub offers mainly meat-heavy dishes to line the stomachs of the beer-swilling local Czechs. That’s not a bad thing, as the meat is cooked well, and the marinades are absolutely delicious. Just be aware that if you don’t like barbecue or ribs or steaks, this is probably not the place to go! If you’re a dedicated carnivore though, Atmosphere is a great place to go for a cheap and hearty meet feed.

Atmosphere Cafe Pub is located at Smetanovo nabr 327/14 in Prague, Czech Republic.

Review: The White Hart Inn, Edinburgh Scotland

While Australia obviously has one of the oldest surviving indigenous civilisations in the world with a millenia of oral history, the sad thing is that modern-day Australian culture generally suppresses this history through the celebration of the arrival of Captain Cook and the early colonial settlers, as though Australia was only ‘discovered’ in 1788 and did not exist before then. That’s white privilege for you.

Europe on the other hand, has more than oral history on its side. Almost all streets you walk down in town centres have buildings that date back hundreds of years, or boast of luminaries from their past, or talk proudly of how the town was founded by Romans in the early years of A.D. European history isn’t any more superior to Australian indigenous history, but by virtue of its tangibility, is more widely celebrated and acknowledged by historians.

I will have to admit, I’m susceptible to this historical bias. Walking around in Europe, I got particularly excited over the written and documented histories that we were exposed to – more excited, than when I stand on sacred indigenous sites in Australia. That’s a fault of mine, and one of which I’m trying to be conscious.

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Still, it’s hard for me not to get excited over eating at places like the White Hart Inn, reputedly the oldest pub in Edinburgh, celebrating its 500 years of operation in 2016. Combined with its link to royal history (the white hart was a mythical creature that could only be captured by those of royal blood), it had enough appeal to draw me in for lunch one day while we were in Edinburgh.

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The pub is surprisingly small inside, seating only about thirty for a meal at various tables and booths, plus a few more at the bar. It’s quiet during the daytime, catering mainly to tourists and local workers looking for a bite to eat, but gets busier at night with people looking to have a drink during whatever sports game is playing on the TV.

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Table service was prompt and friendly – the waiter came around from the bar to serve us drinks and take our orders, and walked by throughout our meal to check on us. He recommended their White Hart ale for K and served it in the smaller half-pint after K shied away from the full pint. It was a particularly malty and full-bodied ale, with quite a beery aftertaste. I was happy to stick to my usual Diet Coke!

Wee Taste of Haggis, served with creamy mashed potatoes, bashed neeps and creamy whiskey sauce, 4.99 GBP
Wee Taste of Haggis, served with creamy mashed potatoes, bashed neeps and creamy whiskey sauce, 4.99 GBP

K was keen to try a bit of haggis for tradition’s sake, as we hadn’t yet tried this stereotypical Scottish dish in our time in Edinburgh. Haggis is traditionally served as it is here – with mashed potatoes, mashed neeps (turnips, or rutabagas) and a healthy drizzle of gravy.

One of our tour guides had claimed that haggis was no longer the random mixture of offal that people expect – these days they are apparently made up more of different bits of ground meat, oats and spices – livers, kidneys and hearts are used only rarely.

Despite this claim though, I still found this particular haggis mix particularly liver-y with too much of an offal flavour to entice me to try any more than a mouthful! K ended up eating most of this dish.

Grilled Scottish Salmon Hollandaise, served with creamy mashed potatoes and garden peas, 12.99 GBP
Grilled Scottish Salmon Hollandaise, served with creamy mashed potatoes and garden peas, 12.99 GBP

He went on to have Grilled Scottish Salmon Hollandaise for his main course, served of course with mashed potatoes and peas – the two side dish mainstays in a British pub. The salmon was a bit over-dry, even when coated with the hollandaise sauce – but the mashed potato was quite buttery soft.

Steak and Ale Pie served with garden peas, creamy mashed potatoes and a jug of ale gravy, 9.99 GBP
Steak and Ale Pie served with garden peas, creamy mashed potatoes and a jug of ale gravy, 9.99 GBP

My Steak and Ale Pie was absolutely delicious, far superior to K’s salmon. Again served with mashed potato and peas, the sides came with a jug of ale gravy which was quite thin, but surprisingly full of flavour. The highlight was the pie itself though, with its super crispy tower of puff pastry (buttery and delicious) and its large chunks of tender beef cooked in a thick savoury sauce. This is what a pie is supposed to taste like!

I have a feeling that the White Hart Inn occasionally takes advantage of its position as (one of) the oldest pubs in Edinburgh, perhaps letting some standards drop as in the case of the dry salmon. In other ways though, they are an excellent local establishment – service is fast and friendly, and they serve up a mean pub classic like the steak and ale pie. Go for the history and the pie, and stay to watch a sports game with a drink.

The White Hart Inn is located at 34 Grassmarket in Edinburgh, Scotland.