Thursday, 8 October 2009

Lost in the Sahara..........Cafe

Hosting business dinners for fairly large numbers of people always exercises my imagination. One has to balance the excellence of the food, ambience against cost and the time available. In this instance I was entertaining the celebrity golf designer, Kyle Philips on one of his regular trips to Prague. Kyle is a charming and softly spoken American from California and one of the world's top in his profession.

Earlier in the day we had been treated to lunch at the excellent Kogo restaurant in the main town square in Bratislava ( opposite the Carlton Hotel ). This was a casual affair, enjoyed in the late autumn sunlight and, I can swear, the passing girls seemed much, much prettier than the ones you see walking up and down Wenceslas Square in Prague. This "Slovakian" Kogo serves much the same fare as the Prague ones and like them, normally provides good quality dishes, served promptly at a reasonable price.

I wish the same could be said for the Sahara Cafe, which occupies a prime position on Namesti Miru in Vinohrady ( just away from the teeming hordes of trippers that infest Prague's City Centre ). I have been a long standing client of the Sahara Cafe, going back to its first days of opening when none of the staff could even make a cappucino, let alone cook anything. In those days it was truly a "Fawlty Towers" experience and I remember the then ( first ) manager, some fellow from Sicily, telling me that his Chef had just walked out, but he would try and cook me something himself. You can guess the result.

Nowadays, they seem to have managed to recruit one or two cooks, but no manager is in evidence and the former Sicilian manager, no doubt gone back to the easier life on his island. The menu has been expanded and they have a very credible wine list that is perhaps the high point of any dining experience there.

Kyle and my team sat down at our table at 8pm; around 8.30 pm a waiter eventually appeared to take our pre-dinner drinks order. Going straight into the wine list I selected a couple of Italian wines that could easily have been selling for double, given their vintage and quality. Well done the wine buyer and general praise prevailed from around the table.

The food at the Sahara Cafe is sadly, another story. After a further long wait to have the order taken and an even longer one for them to arrive ( we decided to all skip starters, or the 8 pm start would have turned into a midnight session ). Kyle had ordered a Lamb Aggadir Casserole, where two very tiny lamb chops were hiding under some overcooked vegtables; I went daringly for "Asian Duck Breast" but I challenge anyone to indentify exactly what the meat was when it arrived - could have been pork, chicken, veal or even calamari. Cooked to death in a mess of vaguely Asian spiced soggy vegtables and tired looking rice.

Across the table, one of my colleagues was tucking into what looked like an exceptionally large and juicy filet mignon. He kept casting anxious glances at Kyle and myself as we jealously eyed his succulent slab of cow. In the end, he managed to hoover it all down without, yours truly even getting a small taste, so I must give his choice the benefit of the doubt.

Lost in the "waiter wilderness" again while we waited another 30 minutes for coffees and the bill, we eventually made it out after some 2.5 hours. I guess time passes more slowly in the Sahara than in the bustling metropolis of Prague, so I should not complain too loudly

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