I have to admit a certain nervousness, when I am invite to dinner a truly international couple out in Prague; either, I will be taking them to one of their few haunts that they frequent all the time, or, risk pushing the boundaries of their local culinary experience, usually with disastrous results. This week, I was more nervous than usual, as my guests were Serge Borenstein, founder of Karlin Real Estate and his charming wife Marie, who is a very successful business entrepreneur in her own right and some years ago, launched the restaurant “Nostresse”, which continues to compete with some of the best in Prague’s Old Town.
I had asked my office to arrange a Degustation Menu at La Finestra and, as well as the Borenstein’s, had invited another important guest. ( She never made it, apparently having important matters of State to attend to that evening, perhaps trying to drum up a foreign investor to bail out Czech Airlines ? ). The thing all my invited had in common, was a great appreciation and knowledge of red wine, so meat courses with La Finestra’s corresponding red wines choices was the order of the evening.
Sadly, it seemed that someone had got in before us and booked out the whole of the lower ground floor, “wine cellar” dining area. That’s the right setting for this kind of meal and the ambience is special and seductive to a long and memorable evening.
However, Ondrej Rakosnik ( manager, co-founder of La Finestra ) gave me and the blonde and his customary cheerful greeting at the door, then plumped us down in a nice large table, pretty much set in the main body of the restaurant. He quickly arrived at the table with a bottle of Berlucchi Max Rose, explaining that the Berlucchi family were one of the first in Italy to introduce “Methode Champenoise” to their wine estate. The result is a slightly softer version of a good Laurent Perrier Rose; only the imminent arrival of the Borensteins, stopped me quaffing my glass very fast to get in a second ( sneaky ) one. Seemed that Serge and Marie knew half the diners in the restaurant and had a fair bit of “room working” to do before they could sit down and relax.
I am not going to give you a blow by blow of each dish and its wine; for one thing, in the absence of written notes being made at the time, I have some trouble remembering the finer distinguishing points of the various wines. Suffice to say there was not a mediocre one amongst them and the variation was as interesting as it was intoxicating. But first up after one or two small “amuse guelles” was a very tender and fresh beef tarter, with black truffles and topped with an anchovy, accompanied by the very robust Villa Martis, Marchesi di Gresy 2006.
One of the disadvantages of sitting in the main dining area is the surrounding noise, there being so many hard surfaces in the “rustic” finish of the restaurant that conversations reverberate around this otherwise pleasantly appointed space. Indeed, from one end of our table for six, were Ondrej was describing the quality and history of the various wines, to the other end where Serge was sitting, it would have been impossible to hear clearly. So I had to chase Ondrej each time down the table so that Serge could get an ear-full of suitable comment. This spoilt what would otherwise have been a nice little interlude to be entertained and maybe, ask a few questions – a little “vignette” in a sea of ocean of intoxicating indulgence.
Riccardo Lucque, the celebrity chef/owner of Aromi and now La Finestra popped up from nowhere like a Magician, suddenly appearing in a puff of smoke next to Serge at the far end of the table. Always effusively welcoming and warmly appreciate of our patronage, he dutifully did the round of the table and then, disappeared as mysteriously as he had arrived. His establishments receive so many plaudits that mine would be gratuitous and patronising, but I must record that all at the table were quite convinced that he is deserving of at least one Michelin Star, Serge reckons two and who am I to argue with his judgement ?
Course after course then arrived, mostly adorned with Black Truffles and, accompanied by wines that can now only evoke pleasant memories in my subconscious. Except for an unexpected sharp blast from the desert wine Mostcata D’Asti, La Spinneta 2007, which tasted like a chilled “Appeltizer” – (fizzy apple juice to those who have not visited South Africa ). This was the only derisive comment I can find, to throw into my review for the evening and no doubt, those of sophistication, will attribute it to my peasant Irish routes roots, rather than being truly fair to La Finestra. But as you know, I report my dining experiences as I feel them and this evening’s, will always be remembered as one of the best ever in Prague.
Riccardo, Ondrej you are local superstars and fully deserve your evident success; but please, try to accommodate me in the cellar next time !!