Sunday, 4 October 2009

La Veranda.....for a birthday bash

It was the blonde's birthday and as the occassion demanded a restaurant of some distinction had to be chosen for the evening. Somewhere in my sub-conscious I was aware of being recommended La Veranda for several years but probably being unable to ever find it, I had never dined there before. Going on to "Google" to see what had been written by my reviewing peers and others proved relatively fruitless, but wanting something small and romantic it seemed to be worth taking the punt.

I did manage to find that the Executive Chef, Radek David adopted an approach of introducing good local produce into his menu, rather than relying on the boring Prague tradition of beef from Argentina, lamb from New Zealand and vegtables that taste as if they come from Tesco. So many of his competitors are too lazy to explore the special local offerings of meats and other ingredients that on that basis alone, he should be congratulated.

Arriving at the door transported by the trusty AAA Cab Company, the smiling waitress quickly found our reservation and showed us to a nice table, large enough for four people but already laid for the two of us. Sitting on two adjacent sides of this table gave us both a nice view of the cozy main dining room and was vastly preferable to occupying one of the tables for two, where ( usually the man ) has to sit with his back to the room, cheek by jowl with those at the next table for two in the row. I wish restaurants would start to work on their table layouts and avoid these rows of tables for two; its neither pleasant nor romantic to spend a couple of hours or more seated like this. Perhaps, tolerable for the "date" but not for the poor chap on the outside !!

Anyway, we settled in comfortably and although the restaurant was not full, other diners started to drift in and it was pretty evident they had booked rather than just being "trippers" stumbling around in the maze of streets just off Pariska. Either they had been to La Veranda before or, someone with recommended them. The portents for a good meal were all good at this point. But as I gazed around the room, I could not quite place what it represented, Provence brasserie, rustic Tuscan, Bohemian shabby genteel ? Hoping that the menu and wine list would clear this up for me did not help either; while the English version I was given was properly translated ( why can't other Prague restaurants manage this ? ) ; the dishes all sounded appetizing many with a touch of Mediterranean cuisine, but a clear theme was lacking. I do not necessarily mean this as a criticism as many of the top London restaurants follow this trend but, somehow the cottagey decor of main room demanded more a "sense of place" be reflected in the menu. All in all, a bit too unfocused and unstructured for the taste of the common man.

However, the blonde was not complaining as she quaffed the first of many glasses of Tattinger Brut Reserve. This promised to be an evening to remember. The same cannot be said for my "starter", a fine pasta with a rabbit ragout. The pasta sat in a sticky and somewhat overcooked heap in the middle of the plate, while the ragout, incorporating generous lumps of well cooked bunny, did little to rescue improve the situation. I pushed aside a half finished plate and joined the blonde in quaffing copious quantities of the bubbly, to take the salty and indifferent taste away. She had elected to wait for a "main course" and declined my offer ( which I had cunningly made to look generous ) to finish off the bunny bits. At this stage I was mentally crossing my fingers that the next course would dramatically improve.

It did. And in grand style along with a glass of exceptionally good Bordeaux 2005.
I had wanted the pigeon from the daily special menu, but these must have flown early, so I had roast quail from the main menu. Radek David himself came out to carve two birds next to our table and they were cooked and presented to perfection, including the small asparagus nestling underneath. The blonde's plate was a colourful medley of vegtables and sea bass. Impeccably presented and the fish soft and cooked just the right amount of time; the vegtables crisp and no doubt, carefully selected by Radek from his local suppliers.

A nice little "birthday" cake followed. Again, served with style and a small round of applause from the other diners. Radek and his staff did a fine job throughout the evening of making one welcome and well looked after. Hard to find this standard of attention and it came along with a friendly smile. I will return to test other offerings and properly sample the international wine list.

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