Monday, May 18, 2009

Restaurant Review: China Fusion

This review originally appeared in Czech translatio
n in the 02/05/09 edition of Lidové Noviny.

The restaurant was empty. Except, that is, for a table in the far corner, occupied by two men and a woman who were evidently well on their way to being very drunk. As she tried to light a cigarette, the woman knocked a glass of red wine across the table; the other two shouted and jeered. Their profanities almost drowned out the waiter's inquiry as to whether he should take our coats.

I settled into my seat and took in the ambiance, or what little of it there was. With its stark energy-saving light bulbs and bare walls, the large room felt cold and gloomy, and a soundtrack of woozy ambient music didn't help, either. I wasn't sure if the atmosphere would have been better or worse if our sloshed co-patrons hadn't been there.

So this was China Fusion. I'd wondered about the restaurant for some time, but had never made it up the stairs in Světozor to check it out. Now I was close to regretting even coming here in the first place.

Still, I had to give the food a try. I'd heard it wasn’t bad, and I'd been looking for some good Chinese for a while now. I was intrigued by the energizing soup (140 CZK), which was described as including ten different Chinese herbs. Maybe it would help me get rid of the migraine I'd been nursing for the past few days.

Now, I'll admit that my palate probably isn't developed enough to distinguish ten different Chinese herbs in a broth, but I can definitely recognize when two dishes are almost exactly the same. My mother had ordered the chicken broth with ginseng (180 CZK), but it was more or less indistinguishable from my special energizing soup. Both were black in color, contained chicken and some unchewable herbs, and were basically flavorless. I did not feel particularly energized.

Or maybe I was just annoyed by our waitress, who every few minutes came over to commit one of the most egregious sins of Czech service: the refilling of Mattoni. Again and again, she came by to pick up our water bottles and fill up our glasses.

Can somebody please explain to me why so many waiters feel it necessary to do this? Why do they haunt my table, ready to pop in and interrupt my conversation every time I take a sip of water? Do I look incapable of picking up the Mattoni bottle and pouring it myself? Maybe it never occurred to any of them that I might want to keep my drink cold and my bubbles bubbly for as long as possible.

This practice is especially obnoxious when done with bottled beer, as it becomes warm and flat much more quickly in the glass. One of my companions had to request that the waitress refrain from pouring his Plzeň for him (the beer is bottled only; one of the choices is Asahi, a Japanese beer that our waitress claimed was from China).
At least the food came promptly. My main course was the Cantonese duck (1/4 duck for 370 CZK), which came with the traditional chopped spring onions and cucumbers, hoi sin sauce, and Chinese pancakes (ordered separately for 50 CZK). The meat could have been a little more tender and its skin more flavorful, but it still tasted great rolled up in the pancake with the other ingredients.

Another successful dish was the chicken steak fried in almonds with lime sauce (310 CZK). The sauce was a bright, radioactive-looking yellow, so I was a little skeptical of it – but combined with the slightly sweet, crispy chicken battered in almonds, its sharp flavor was surprisingly delicious.

The same couldn't be said for the marinated octopus (130 CZK), which was super-rubbery, or the spring rolls (110 CZK), which were nicely crunchy but were filled with a negligible amount of vegetables and came with a boring dipping sauce (when will Asian restaurants stop using that same bottled sweet chili sauce already? If anyone finds a restaurant that makes their own dipping sauce for spring rolls, I want to hear about it). Then there was the udon noodle soup with vegetables (148 CZK), whose veggies bore a very close resemblance to the familiar supermarket mixture of frozen peas, corn, and diced carrots.

Udon noodles are Japanese, anyway, as is sushi, which China Fusion also has on its menu. Is that what the "fusion" part is supposed to be, or have they just added sushi as a kind of afterthought, as so many restaurants seem to be doing nowadays? I didn't manage to find out because I don't really like ordering sushi when it's just a sidebar on the menu and the restaurant isn't very popular. I always worry that the fish isn't going to be fresh.

I have mixed feelings about China Fusion. Some of the food is good, quite authentic, and different from the regular kuřecí kung pao you'll find at the cheaper Chinese restaurants around town. But the menu seems to be a little too large for them to handle, so some dishes end up getting carbon-copied (like the soups) or faked a little (like the udon). And with its lack of windows, charmless décor, and drab setting in the Světozor pasáž, I wouldn’t want to be sitting there again anytime soon. Do they do takeout, perhaps?

As we waited for our check, a waiter uncorked the rowdy trio's third bottle of red wine since we'd gotten there. It didn't seem entirely necessary; one of the men had already fallen asleep with his chin resting on his chest in a drunken stupor, his forehead dangerously close to slamming itself down on top of his espresso cup.

Looks like the guy could have used some of that energizing soup.

China Fusion
Pasáž Světozor
Vodičkova 41
Praha 1 - New Town
Tel: 224 946 268

Open Mon-Sun 11:00-23:00

photographs Tomáš Krist for Lidové Noviny; all others


Leo said...

the noodle bar near the vyton stop make their own dipping sauce for spring rolls.

Laura Baranik said...

Oh, good to know. Thanks Leo!

glee said...

thanks for this review. Now I know not to bother with China Fusion.

I'm Chinese, so when I need a good Chinese food fix, I go to Peking restaurant, near Pankrac metro station. The interior decoration is definitely authentic Chinese, and the cuisine is probably the most authentic I've tasted in Prague.

And the prices are nowhere near as expensive as China Fusion.

Laura Baranik said...

Thank you for the tip -- I haven't been to Peking. I'll have to check it out next time I get a craving for Chinese.

Anonymous said...

The Noodle Bar--the place a few blocks past Palackeho namesti--are you kidding? That place is terrible even by Prague standards.

Laura Baranik said...

The Noodle Bar used to be good, but apparently they've gone downhill.

Anonymous said...

Huang He Vrsovice is still the best in my opinion.
Atmosphere isn't much, but the hunan dishes are very tasty.

Anonymous said...

I've been to China Fushion a handful of times. It's usually empty (the prices are pretty expensive). I don't like the no-draught beer (sigh), but I've been quite happy with the spicy chicken with cashew nuts. It is properly spicy (and they'll even add an alarm bell or two if you ask). I'll have to try a couple of recommended Chinese restaus in the comments section, but most of the "Chinese" "restaurants" in this country are several steps past awful. China Fushion is good enough (at least in this town) to at least deserve a look-see.

Antiquated Tory said...

At the risk of sounding like a Bourdain wannabe, I'd suggest the nameless Chinese worker's cafe in Malesice Vietnamese market. If you go straight into the market past the turning to the right for the parking lot, it's in the next complex on the right, the one which has an actual restaurant with a Gambrinus sign. The Chinese place is second from the end, tucked in between 2 excellent Pho cafes. All it is, is some Chinese folks with woks on propane burners and a big steam tray. It's a lunchtime place, obviously, and it's best I think to be there in the early lunch period. 80kc per small dish of help yourself to whatever. The char siu pork is especially good, and there are always 2 or 3 good simple vegetables, presumably whatever the surrounding vendors have a lot of that day.