Monday, September 8, 2008

Restaurant Review: Piano Nobile @ Chateau Mcely





This review originally appeared in Czech translation in the 30/08/08 edition of Lidové Noviny.

Since its opening in May 2006, much has been written about Chateau Mcely in the Czech press – and for good reason. Many have deemed the transformation of this crumbling 17th-century chateau into a glamorous boutique hotel to be nothing short of a miracle, and a look through the before and after pictures of the renovation makes it easy to see why.

But the real driving force behind Chateau Mcely's success is much more tangible than a supposed miracle, although in the Czech Republic it is no less rare. The hotel is a bona fide labor of love, the result of years of careful planning and passionate dedication on the part of owners Inez and James Cusumano.

The Cusumanos' meticulous attention to detail is clear from the first glimpse of Mcely's immaculate front lawn dotted with a small flock of picturesque wooden sheep. This couple knows that in order to create a truly special experience, it's not enough to simply shower a business with money and hope it will sprout customers. A lot of crowns have been spent on this project, to be sure, but more important is the palpable amount of time and energy expended on making visitors to Mcely as comfortable as possible.

Aside from its status as one of only two European five star "green" hotels, meaning that it operates with maximum consideration for the environment, the 24-room Chateau Mcely has also earned the distinction of being named one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. It's a true boutique hotel, with intimate service (a personalized welcome letter awaited us in our room) and unusual amenities (dogs receive first-class treatment here; they receive a toy, blanket, and pillow upon arrival and even have their own menu).

It's this heartfelt attitude that allowed even an old cynic like me to overlook the occasional sickly-sweet detail during my one-night stay at Mcely, such as the repetition of the hotel's printed motto ("honey, silk, and pearls") at every turn, or the mildly cheesy quotes written alongside each dish listed on the menu ("Dover sole served with health, flavor, and real SOUL"). My heart was positively melted by Chateau Mcely's natural warmth and charm.

Unfortunately, it hardened again slightly during my main course at the hotel restaurant, Piano Nobile. The food was by no means terrible, but it didn't quite measure up to the standard set by the rest of the chateau. My entrée of pigeon roasted in wine (610 CZK and apparently made according to "an old castle recipe") was unexciting at best. The bird itself was bland and dry, and the sauce it came with was so over-seasoned that the chanterelle mushrooms couldn't be tasted at all.

The pigeon did come with a nice herbed potato puree – so nice, I suppose, that the chef felt compelled to serve the same potatoes alongside my companion's entrée, the Argentinian beef sirloin (810 CZK). With their dollops of mashed potatoes and brown gravies, the main courses ended up looking very similar to one another. In a restaurant at this price level (and at a hotel of this caliber), that sort of repetition shouldn't happen. The beef, for its part, was of good quality and – amazingly in a country where steaks are so often overdone – cooked medium-rare according to my friend's specification.

As seems to be the case in many restaurants I've eaten at lately, Piano Nobile's appetizers outshone its entrées. The soup of the day, a carrot-orange puree (250 CZK), had a beautiful saffron-yellow color and a flavor just as bright, thanks in part to the fact that it was made without cream. A chanterelle risotto (330 CZK, or 590 CZK as a main course) was rich and cheesy and tasted strongly of forest mushrooms. And a roasted red mullet served with cucumber relish and green salad (330 CZK) was light and delicious.

So it wasn't all bad, though the desserts could have been better, too. The lime crème brûlée (210 CZK) was pretty dismal; for once, the sugar crust on top was nicely browned, but the consistency of the cream was too mushy, and the lime flavor should have been infused into the milk (there were overpowering slivers of candied lime rind in the cream instead). I wasn't a big fan of the poached pear dessert (240 CZK), either, which with its caramel, cognac, and clove flavoring seemed far too Christmasy for a summertime menu.

Like the rest of Chateau Mcely, Piano Nobile has a memorable atmosphere. The style is both classic and contemporary, elegant and relaxed. A dresser lined with custom-made plates by designer Oto Bláha sits against one wall, and a grand piano, covered in photo albums, rests in a corner. Plush fabrics, candelabras, and gentle classical music make for a romantic atmosphere. The lighting was a little too dim for my taste, but of course I was there to examine the food, not gaze into the eyes of my lover – though if that's what you're into, Mcely is definitely the place to do it.

To my relief, the service wasn't pompous or overbearing, as can sometimes happen in noble-esque establishments. All of the staff I encountered during my stay were helpful, polite, and relaxed, and seemed willing to go the extra mile to accommodate their guests' needs. Nothing, it seemed, was a problem.

That sort of thing is why, in spite of the problems with the kitchen, I am sure I will visit Chateau Mcely again. It is a uniquely beautiful place, and we are lucky to have it in such close proximity to our capital city. If the restaurant could kick it up a notch, it would be a truly phenomenal destination.

I'm confident that Piano Nobile's weaknesses will be overcome, mostly because I get the feeling that this is one restaurant whose owners aren't averse to a little constructive criticism. When somebody cares as much about their customers' satisfaction as the Cusumanos and their staff obviously do, they are constantly looking for ways to improve.

And that – at least for me – is the true miracle of Chateau Mcely.

Piano Nobile (Chateau Mcely)
Club Hotel and Forest Retreat
Mcely 61
Mcely
map
Tel.: +420 325 600 000

images: chateaumcely.com

2 comments:

Tina said...

Your blog is absolutely fantastic Laura, I enjoy your writing very much! I've just spent a good hour reading through several of your entries in here. Do you have any reviews on vegetarian or vegan restaurants in Prague?

The first night I was in Prague Rachel and I ate at Lehká Hlava and I loved the atmosphere. I had a simple salad but the menu seemed to have a lot of interesting alternatives. Have you ever reviewed that place. Any other places you know of in Prague that are specifically vegetarian or vegan? (aside from Radost FX obviously...)

I'll definitely be adding your blog to my favorites! Feel free to stop by my fashion blog (http://fashtastic.wordpress.com) or fashion website (http://www.fashtastic.net) too!

Ciao! /Tina

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