Monday, June 30, 2008

Restaurant Review: Omnia Hotel

This review originally appeared in Czech translation in the 21/06/08 edition of Lidové Noviny.

Can a restaurant in the mountains compete with those in Prague?

According to chef Martin Haken, the answer is a decided yes. He and the management of the recently-built four-star Omnia Hotel in Jánské Lázně have made a fair amount of hoopla about their self-styled mission to offer guests a culinary experience as grand as any to be found in the capital city.
In theory, it’s a great idea. Many discerning visitors to the Krkonoše have lamented the Czech mountains’ general lack of high-quality dining and accommodation. When Omnia opened in October of last year, it was heralded as a much-needed oasis of luxury in a beautiful landscape blighted by amateurish pensions and mediocre cuisine.

Unfortunately, at least as far as the restaurant goes, the word ‘luxurious’ doesn’t exactly spring to my mind as an appropriate descriptor.

I can’t speak to the quality of the hotel’s lodgings, but I must say that Omnia did strike me as an attractive place to stay. Situated just at the foot of the newly reconstructed Černá Hora cable car, the building comes across as rather simple and box-like; the concept behind the construction, apparently, was for the hotel to blend in with its pristine natural surroundings. Many of the rooms have balconies facing a quiet, tree-covered slope, and the hotel's various amenities include a sports hall, sauna, and indoor swimming pool. Its lobby is all sharp angles and charcoal-grey walls, except for a clever display of birch tree trunks stacked and lit up behind clear glass paneling at the reception counter.

The hotel restaurant also highlights this unusual blend of stark minimalism and raw natural elements: bare light bulb lamps hang from the ceiling while the long bar is studded with tree trunks, this time cut into cross-sections that make for a pretty pattern of wooden circles. The pared-down interior might strike some seasoned city-dwellers as a little too familiar – Praguers have seen similar creations popping up nearly everywhere, from Kampa Group restaurants to shopping mall cafés – but this sort of design is quite the novelty in the Krkonoše, and it contrasts pleasantly with the outdoor scenery visible through the restaurant's expansive windows.
Of course, an eatery with two kinds of foie gras on its menu is pretty unheard of in these parts, too. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to class up the countryside a little – I’m all for it, if it’s done right. But at Omnia, it’s done only halfway, with the hope, perhaps, that since there’s no other fancy-ish restaurant anywhere near Jánské Lázně, a bit of cheating will be forgiven or go unnoticed.

When our main courses arrived, I couldn't help but notice that, although one was veal (480 CZK), another salmon (240 CZK) and the third chicken (205 CZK), they all looked suspiciously similar. Two of them (the veal and the chicken), it turned out, bore the same red wine reduction. The veal and the salmon, on the other hand, were both drenched in the same Hollandaise sauce, although the menu described one as Hollandaise and the other as Bearnaise. The distinction between Hollandaise and Bearnaise sauces is fairly subtle – both are an emulsion of butter in egg yolks, but Hollandaise is flavored with lemon and Bearnaise is made with vinegar and tarragon – but why note the difference on the menu when you're not going to follow through on the plate? It smacks of laziness.
But so does most of the cooking at Omnia. The shallots served with the lamb (described as "roasted") were exactly the same as the "seared" shallots that filled the goat cheese salad's butter tart (105 CZK). A "double consommé of corn-fed chicken with vegetable drums and breast poached in saffron sherry" (50 CZK) was nothing more than a small bowl of chicken broth containing a small piece of chicken and exactly one sliver each of carrot and zucchini. No vegetable "drums," whatever that was supposed to mean. And the soup was so salty that I had to suspect the kitchen of using powdered stock as a flavor enhancer.

Nevermind that my salmon had a fairly strong whiff of fishiness, or that the spinach and mushrooms accompanying it were so salty that they were literally inedible. Or that the home-made truffle cake with pineapple compote, star anise, and mango sorbet (150 CZK) arrived half-frozen and and was really pretty terrible, anyway.

To be fair, I did visit Omnia in the off-season. But Martin Haken only stepped away from his previous post at Prague's Rybí Trh in January, and one would hope that a decent level of quality could be maintained even in the spring and summer months. An Omnia Hotel press release quotes the executive chef as saying, "Janské Lázně isn't Prague, but it's a great challenge for me to prove to our guests that high-quality gastronomy isn't impossible to find outside the borders of the capital city."

Mr. Haken and his team have a long way to go before they prove that particular point. Until then, the next time I happen to find myself in Jánské Lázně, I'll be lunching on a cold Budvar and a 15-CZK párek v rohlíku at the Kolonáda downtown. The atmosphere there is pretty great, and the parek is exactly what you want it to be: simple and delicious, and not pretending to be anything it isn't. It's one Krkonoše meal, at least, that I can highly recommend.

Omnia Hotel Restaurant
Černohorská 327
Janské Lázně
Tel.: +420 499 859 780



Jacek said...

In Omnia hotels we spent an excellent time.
Me and my son we spent a few days, everything was tip top.
Although the Poles tells us that we do noisy shambles that recent tips and that we generally lakot, but let us for a review of the Omnia hotel in Janske Lazne.
During which we spent at this hotel was for us really luxury and great.
Personal either from reception through the operator and the cleaners was direct, willing, helpful and went out to meet us in everything what we wished and wanted.
He does not behave to us than other hotels when know that we are from Poland.
This hotel can only and only Recommend to all people who want to leave and pamper pamper whether quiet or vice versa.
In Janske Lazne can not ski, and especially you can indulge and trips.
Local people are really willing, dedicated and skillful

hotels in prague said...

Wow Omnia Hotel seems great..
I think I should take a visit in here..