Monday, December 15, 2008

Restaurant Review: L'Angolo by Kogo





This review originally appeared in Czech translation in the 22/11/08 edition of Lidové Noviny.

There are more difficult jobs than writing restaurant reviews: coal mining, for example, or pediatric neurosurgery. I'm not one to complain.

But when I have to write about a restaurant like L'Angolo, my work suddenly starts to feel kind of hard.

It's always more interesting to write either about a fantastic dining experience (food so good it brings tears to my eyes) or a horrific one (greasy sauce being poured into my shoe by an idiotic waiter). Some people might think I look for things to criticize about a restaurant, or that I invent quirky details to make my articles more readable. I don’t. I try to give as honest an opinion – and yes, for those who are still in doubt, my articles are opinion pieces, not factual reports – as I possibly can.

What am I going to say about a restaurant that's not great and not terrible, that doesn't seem to have a distinct identity or particular specialty? Well, I'm going to say exactly that, I guess.

L'Angolo is a sister to the Yugoslavian-owned Kogo restaurants, which are known for their high-quality Italian food, consistent service, and sleek yet unintimidating settings. Unfortunately, this new venture (or semi-new, since L'Angolo recently reopened following a kitchen fire last spring) doesn't quite match the standards of the original.

I've been a fan of Kogo since the first location opened on Havelská in 1994. Back then, there were very few restaurants in Prague that wouldn't leave a sane person annoyed, if not completely enraged, by the end of the evening, either because of obnoxiously rude service or terrible meals or some nasty combination of both. Kogo's owners understood that to keep customers coming back, their food needed to be reliably good and their staff had to be properly trained. It helps that they have an apparent policy of hiring only waiters from the former Yugoslavia, who seem to be more naturally inclined to friendliness than their Czech counterparts (the Yugo dudes also tend to be very nice to look at, which might earn Kogo a few bonus points for atmosphere).

But it was only after the Slovanský dům location opened in 2000 that Kogo became a local institution. Suddenly, the huge, airy restaurant with the spacious garden at the back of Prague's newest shopping mall became a must-visit destination for politicians, czelebrities, and businessmen. In 2002, one would-be customer even told MF Dnes that he avoids Kogo out of principle because every time he visits, he runs into so many people he knows.

No matter that menu prices have spiked considerably since the restaurant first opened, or that patrons have to walk through the unappetizing stench of Palace Cinema's bacon-flavored popcorn to get to the restaurant. There's just something about Kogo that people love.

Still, not every Kogo enterprise has been as successful as the Havelská and Slovanský dům spots; the owners have been forced to close branches of Kogo in Karlín and on Karlovo náměstí (they also plan to open a Kogo in the new Albatross golf resort outside of Prague). And although L'Angolo has a much better location than those failed ventures, I'm afraid it may end up having to struggle a bit before it finds its customer base.

The major problem, as I see it, is that the food at L'Angolo just isn't quite as good as at the other Kogo restaurants. It's certainly not bad, and there are definitely some high points, like the homemade tiramisu (90 CZK), for example, or a wonderful dorado fillet with thinly sliced, almost chip-like potatoes (495 CZK) that was on special one evening. And the tomato soup (90 CZK), sweetened by red bell pepper and decorated with a swirl of pesto, was thick and satisfying.

But there were mistakes, too. Another special, the maltagliati with homemade sausage (245 CZK, pictured above), would have been excellent if the pasta had been salted more in the pot. The spaghetti with garlic, olive oil, and chili peppers (245 CZK) suffered the same problem. A salad of arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and parmesan (280 CZK), on the other hand, was so salty it was close to inedible – the parmesan had been grated into very fine pieces, making them impossible to separate from the rest of the salad.

Then there were the grilled lamb cutlets, served with cipollini onions and a Barolo wine reduction sauce (680 CZK), that didn't have any sauce at all other than a thin gravy. The lamb was cooked well, but it was full of fat – not the best cut of meat. For such an expensive dish (made more expensive by the 80-CZK side dishes that must be ordered separately), it was very unremarkable.

L'Angolo's décor is not especially memorable, either, even if it is quite tasteful. White wooden panels line the walls, starched white table cloths cover the tables, and black chairs are upholstered in cream-colored leather. Oversized black lampshades hang from the ceiling, and a special lighting system allows the restaurant to change the colors of the lights overhead (orange, on both of my visits). Most interesting, perhaps, is the enormous mirror against the back wall that gives visitors a view of the freshly-renovated Lexus Lounge in the basement below.

The restaurant has been decorated expensively, and it shows. But for me, there's something missing, something that even the large windows and spotless bathrooms can't make up for. Maybe I'm bothered by the kitchen's lack of sophistication, or the slightly cold feeling I get from the atmosphere.

Or maybe the restaurant just needs some time to settle. Perhaps in a couple of months or so, L'Angolo will have figured out how to live up to the second half of its name. At the moment, though, Kogo's little sister has some growing up to do.

L'Angolo by Kogo
Dlouhá 7
Praha 1 - Old Town
map
Tel.: +420 224 829 355

Open Mon-Sun 8:00–24:00

photographs 1, 2, 6: Tomáš Krist for Lidové Noviny; 3, 4, 7: mgmont.cz; all others: praguespoon

7 comments:

Roberto Lucarelli said...

ya, there's something missing, perhaps only the soul of architect!

Anonymous said...

We ate here -- and then at Kogo itself -- courtesy your review (thanks!). Lovely soups, great pasta and tasty pizza for not-ridiculous prices. The bread rolls were fresh, warm and AMAZING.

The service we had at both places was most welcoming (Kogo was full on a Friday night, but they found some space for us anyway, which was great).

I love Italian food and both of these places were perfectly serviceable, especially by Prague standards; thanks for the tip(s).

Anonymous said...

Yep, there are more difficult jobs than writing restaurant reviews, pity you can't even do such an easy job properly.

Mark said...

I enjoyed your review, but I think maybe you missed a major point here with L'Angolo. Prague already has a Kogo -- in fact we have two Kogos that are relatively similar. What we didn't need was another Kogo. I think the L'Angolo concept was flawed from the start.

If I want Kogo, I'll simply go to Slovansky Dum, and judging by L'Angolo's empty tables, lots of other people feel exactly the same way.

Mark

Anonymous said...

Tak to dopada, kdyz restauraci odeberou dusi... a z originality udelaji tuctovou zalezitost.....ze by zmena architekta? Mne se libilo prostredi vice pred rekonstrukci.

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