BY MAXIMILIAN KWIATKOWSKI
Czech cuisine is not the fanciest. It lacks the high focus on fresh ingredients and rich flavours the French have and it doesn’t use fine seasoning and blend them like the Italians do. But Czech cuisine is about the most basic things: meat, butter and root vegetables. It’s all comfort food and it’s all so much better than those pretentious Romance-language-speakers can throw at you. A Czech meal is about hanging out, having a good warm meal and relaxing. The best place I found for this in Prague was U Balouna (Wenceslas Square 20 110 00, Prague 1).
The place is underground in Wenceslas Square with an easy to traverse staircase. When I got in I was greeted by a few friendly Czechs. Traditional drinking songs were playing at a normal volume while a few TVs were showing Olympic hockey they TiVo’d a few weeks back.
It was immaculate inside; everything looked brand new. The walls were adorned with painted scenes from the Adventures of the Brave Soldier Svejk, a famous Czech satire of World War I. The other patrons were older Germans or Czechs. It was cozy and incredibly welcoming (especially being of Slavic descent, I blended in well).
Service was quick and there when you wanted it. They spoke perfect English and were legitimately friendly. They got me my drinks and went out of their way to see if I needed anything. That’s all I ever ask for in service and that’s all I need.
My first course was a cabbage soup with sausage. It was heavily seasoned with paprika with a thick stew-like broth. It was quite good, but could have used more sausage. The bowl was 49 KC which is about $3. The bread given with the meal was decent, and went well with the soup.
My second course was a large baked duck (279 KC or $15). The plate was served with a mound of cabbage sauerkraut and bread dumplings. The duck was lightly seasoned with cumin and salt, which added a savory taste. It was tender and easily pulled off the bones. The sauerkraut and cabbage were sweet and went well with the dish. However, the dumplings, while good, were lacking in flavor except for some bits of pork baked into them. They were complemented with fried onion strings, though, which helped the blandness. I would prefer Czech potato dumplings, but they worked with what was already quite a good dish.
I would recommend coming here in a group after a long day of sightseeing. U Balouna is by no means fancy or fine dining. But the atmosphere is relaxed and low tension. It’s a good place to unwind with great food and good service.
4 out of 5 stars