Monday, July 28, 2008

Restaurant Review: Safir / Beas

This review originally appeared in Czech translation in the 07/06/08 edition of Lidové Noviny.

With a surging interest in gourmet cuisine among its residents, Prague can now lay claim to plenty of upscale restaurants. But some of its best and most interesting food is also its least expensive – and doesn’t require table service. Here’s an overview of two great spots to get a satisfying meal for under 150 CZK.

When its original location on Havelská shut down, fans of Safir Grill’s reliable, low-cost Lebanese food found themselves without a place to go. Not long after, the restaurant re-emerged, this time simply as Safir, in the newly-built Nový Smíchov shopping mall.

This low-key Middle Eastern joint is a nice addition to the typical food court – not as greasy as the McDonald’s across the way, but not as time-demanding as some of the sit-down restaurants nearby. At lunchtime, the lines at Safir are long, but the wait is minimized by the efficient and friendly staff.

There’s a variety of classic Lebanese dishes here, both with and without meat: gyros, tabbouleh, dolmas, and falafel are among them. For a convenient to-go food, try the twister gyros, a tightly-wrapped sandwich of roasted chicken and cabbage in Lebanese bread. It’s something like KFC’s Twister sandwich, only better – and certainly healthier.

Safir’s tabbouleh is a little on the flavorless side, probably because they make theirs with curly parsley instead of the more tasty (and less common in these parts) flat Italian variety. But their hummus and baba ganoush are delicious, especially when paired with a plate of crispy, freshly-made falafel patties.

I also love their grape leaves and cabbage leaves, which come served with the refreshing yoghurt and cucumber sauce known as tzatziki. For dessert, they offer sticky-sweet pistachio or peanut baklava (pistachio is better) or the soft, spongy harisa cake, in either coconut or walnut versions. Everything can be wrapped up to go, so it’s a good option for a last-minute dinner when you don’t feel like cooking.

The atmosphere is a little lacking, but what can you expect from a shopping mall restaurant? Safir does their best under the circumstances, with mosaic tables, Arabic-style mirrors, and even shisha pipes offered on the menu – though I have yet to see anyone try them. Just watch out for your belongings; thieves occasionally lurk among the tables, looking for a stray purse to grab while its owner has her hands full of falafel.

Late last year, Safir opened up a second location in the DBK department store at Budějovická. I still wish they had a spot downtown, since there’s an unfortunate lack of good quality, low-budget Middle Eastern food in the city center. Maybe they’ll be back someday. For now, we’ll have to rely on shopping malls in order to get our Safir fix.

OC Nový Smíchov
Plzeňská 8 – Praha 5
Tel: 257 310 149

DBK Praha
Budějovická 1667/64 – Praha 4
Tel: 296 825 111

It almost seems too good to be true: two portions of vegetable stew, rice, salad, soup, yoghurt sauce, chutney, and dessert for only 98 CZK (pictured below). But at Beas, this is the standard menu (the large one, anyway; a smaller version, which comes minus the chutney and dessert, goes for 85 CZK).

The food here is not only plentiful and cheap, but is some of the better Indian you’ll find in town. Beas employs Indian chefs at both its locations, and isn’t afraid of being authentic; they even serve pickles, the super-spicy condiment made of pickled fruits and vegetables.

Meat-eaters might be disappointed that Beas is exclusively vegetarian, but the offerings here are so rich and filling that some of them may hardly even notice. The generous portions of rice (either white or flavored, depending on your preference), sabji (vegetable stew), and dhal (bean, chickpea, or lentil stew) are hearty enough alone to fill up the hungriest lunchtime patrons. The other menu elements are there to round out the experience – like the raita (yoghurt sauce with herbs), which acts as a cooling contrast to the spicy stews, or the chutney (a condiment made of dates, raisins, or other fruits), whose sweet, gooey texture is a natural complement to the savory vegetables.

The set menu is served to at the counter, cafeteria-style, but if you have a little more time, it’s worth waiting for the kitchen to whip up some of the Indian specialties they prepare to order. Among these are the excellent dosa, a thin, crispy pancake made of rice and flour and stuffed with either potatoes or spinach, and the parantha, a type of whole wheat flatbread filled with a spicy potato mixture (pictured below; on a recent visit to the Bělehradská Beas, however, only two of the six made-to-order options were in stock).

Both locations have pleasant courtyards to eat in, but the interiors are perfectly nice, too, with cream-colored walls and sleek wooden chairs. At the Týnská restaurant, each table carries a silver pitcher full of tap water, a quaint touch that adds to the homey surroundings. Unfortunately, the Bělehradská location has now replaced the pitchers with plastic water filters – more hygienic, perhaps, but a little less aesthetically pleasing.

If you’re curious about Indian desserts, be sure to try Beas’s halva. Unlike Arabic halvas, which are usually sesame-based, the Indian variety is made from semolina wheat and has a soft, couscous-like consistency. Served with a thick vanilla cream, it’s the perfect way to finish a meal at the dhaba. Or try a glass of the mango lassi – like most things at Beas, it’s delicious and healthy, and it won’t strain your wallet.

Týnská 19 (in the courtyard) – Praha 1
Open Mon-Sat 11:00-20:00, Sun 11:00-18:00

Bělehradská 90 – Praha 2
Open Mon-Fri 11:00-21:00, Sat 12:00-20:00, Sun 12:00-18:00
tel.+420 608 035 727



Anonymous said...

With Safir, you are right on!
Everytime we go there, there are some Arabs having dinner. That probably means that food here is authentic and good.
I only wish they didn't smoke despite the smoke ban....


Erin said...

I'm glad to see Safir getting more press... Their hummus and salads are particularly good. (Though I'll stick to Chez Amis for falafel.) ;)

Anonymous said...

Beas is one of the first places I went to in Prague and I've been there many times since.

They're delicious!

Nice to see you reviewing a small but spot-on place Laura :-)

sabina said...

safir is cool, but the food in baes is bland or blander, depending on the chef; still good value (for the area) healthy fare and I visit sometimes. nothing to do with good indian food, despite the chefs.

Tom said...

semolina wheat halva is actually the greek style of making it, indian is also typically sesame based, the greek method involves the wheat.

Yerel Turizm said...

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Safir Restoran Denizli de yakın zamanda açılmış, müşterilerine enfes lezzetler ve kaliteli hizmet sunan meka