Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Restaurant Review: Zlatý Anděl Fusion

This review originally appeared in Czech translation in the 16/05/09 edition of Lidové Noviny.

Here's a handy rule of thumb to use when choosing where to have your next meal: when a restaurant has its lunch menu written on its windows in green and orange marker, it's probably a good place not to go. The marker-on-the-window thing stinks so potently of desperation that I've heard a friend of mine refer to it as "the mark of death" – something akin to the symbol they used to draw in chalk on the doors of infected houses during the time of the bubonic plague.

This tacky practice has become so popular that it's pretty difficult nowadays to find a restaurant in the center that isn't covered in fluorescent cloud shapes and the price of roasted pork knuckles. So I was willing to give Zlatý Anděl Fusion a shot despite its copious use of war paint – particularly because its head chef, Martial Clement, had wowed me last year at his previous post, Zahrada v Opeře.

A fully-renovated Dům U Zlatého Anděla had sat empty for over a year before finding an occupant, a local outpost of the Spanish chain Barceló hotels. The hotel might be filling up, but its restaurant has been largely ignored by locals and visitors alike; the long main part of the dining room, packed with closely-set tables and chairs, was empty and almost dark when we arrived. We sat in the front café area instead, a somewhat livelier space with large windows facing the street that nonetheless feels very much like a part of the adjacent hotel lobby.

I tried to speak with the maitre d' in Czech, but he apparently did not speak a word of the local language. His English was only so-so – he sometimes appeared to have trouble understanding us and explaining himself. I wondered if this was a restaurant meant exclusively for Spanish speakers. A few of them appeared during our meal, and the waiter chatted with them at length while we waited for our soup spoons.

They never came, so I used a fork to eat my coconut velouté with crab ravioli (190 CZK). I didn't care all that much because the soup was completely tasteless, like I'd imagine coconut milk to be if it was watered down and thickened with flour. The ravioli was filled with a solid mass that didn't seem to have much to do with crab, and the calamari it came with were rubbery. My companion's mozzarella salad (270 CZK) was even worse: it was nothing more than a pile of dry mesclun, a soggy half-ciabatta covered in melted cheese, a strip of uncooked bacon, and a thin slice of zucchini.

This was not what I expected from Mr. Clement, whose carefully arranged, flavor-packed dishes at Záhrada stand out in my mind as some of the best I've tried since I started writing this column. I would even venture to say that the main course I had at Zlatý Anděl was one of the worst dishes I've ever had in a restaurant above the III. skupina.

I'm talking about the veal tournedos (450 CZK), which were as tough as well-chewed chewing gum and completely unseasoned – unless you count the black charring that scarred both sides of the meat. The accompanying carrots, zucchini, and mushrooms had been burnt mercilessly, too. It was like eating a big lump of coal with little lumps of coal on the side.

Other culinary highlights included a freezer-burnt tuna steak (450 CZK) and a risotto "Arborio" (390 CZK) that was not made with Arborio rice. It did contain carrots, zucchini, and some waterlogged shiitake mushrooms, the same combo of vegetables that graced my dinner plate. The key ingredient to risotto besides rice, parmesan cheese, was missing entirely.

The one good dish we had all evening was the chocolate fondant (150 CZK), served with coconut ice cream, black currant foam, and mango sauce. Unfortunately for me, I had chosen the profiteroles for dessert. They were filled with a watery, unsatisfying vanilla ice cream. Because my companion's order of homemade gelato included a very different version of vanilla, I suspected the profiteroles hadn't been made in-house.

Along with these gastronomical atrocities came some almost comically incompetent service. When we asked for our Gavi to be chilled, the waiter put it in a bucket with a little bit of ice and no water, a method that ensured the wine would not have cooled had we sat there all night. He then proceeded to dole out the lukewarm wine, always first to the man and then to the women – a definite no-no in any half-decent restaurant.

The servers were pretty friendly, but seemed to lack any kind of common sense or courtesy. Two of us refused the slices of bread we were offered (it was just bone-dry Šumavský chleba, after all), only to find out a minute later that the bread was necessary in order to eat the amuse-bouche – a dish consisting of olive oil, two olives, and a slab of butter. When we started to get cold and tried to close the unwieldy French doors that were open right next to us, the waiter saw us struggling and didn't offer to help. And for a quarter of an hour I watched, fascinated, as he repeatedly walked around a customer's sweater that had fallen onto the floor from the back of his chair. At least he didn't walk through it, I guess.

You kind of expect these luxury hotel restaurants to be not all that great. But this bad? With that chef? Oh, Prague, dear Prague; the depths of your culinary hell never cease to surprise me.

Heed the window paint on this one: avoid it as you would the plague.

Zlatý Anděl Fusion Restaurant & Café
Barceló Old Town Praha Hotel
Celetná 29
Praha 1 - Old Town
Tel: 222 337 807

Open Mon-Sun 12:00-15:00, 19:00-00:00

photographs Pavel Wellner for Lidové Noviny; all others barcelo.com


Brewsta said...

Since you had to use a fork for the flavorless coconut velouté, a rating of "no spoons" for the food is deliciously ironic ;-)

Laura Baranik said...

Ha! I didn't think of that before :-)

Mme Verdurin said...

1. There are plenty of risottos which do not require Parmesan, or any other cheese.
2. Zlaty andel is most CERTAINLY not a luxury hotel.
3. Which luxury hotels in Prague have bad restaurants? I'm kind of thinking of the ones I've eaten at: Allegro, Essensia, Alcron, Le Papillon, Maze (though that's not a luxury hotel technically). Not too shabby in general. But then again, you don't seem to have much of a clue about what "luxury" is.

Laura Baranik said...

Which Italian risotto recipes do not require cheese? The only one I've found is traditional Venetian seafood risotto. Either way, this risotto was foul.

Hotel restaurants - including all of the ones you mention above - tend to have a hotel-y kind of atmosphere, even when they have good chefs. I'm not crazy about them, generally.

Oops. Barcelo Old Town is a four-star hotel, not a five-star. My mistake. But then again, I don't have much of a clue about what "luxury" is.

Mme Verdurin said...

Generally, risotti made with seafood don't necessarily require cheese (though some do), and to claim there is only "one" such recipe is ridiculous. The sine qua non ingredients of a risotto are risotto rice, butter or oil, and stock/broth. Often, wine. Cheese optional. Oh and by the way the cheese doesn't need to be Parmesan - witness the excellent risotti made with gorgonzola dolce, pecorino, or other cheeses.

So, hotel restaurants "even when they have good chefs" are just too hotel-y for you? Wow, good to know that food is just a secondary consideration after design/ambience - you and the average Prague restaurateur have much in common after all.

Anonymous said...

Mme Verdurin:
We do get your point alright: You are a very international and sophisticated person, and in great need to make it known to those who aren't. But: Why? Have you tried instead to get laid (without reporting it to us)? Or, if that is an impossibility, to do something useful?

Mme Verdurin said...

My sex life is completely satisfactory, thank you very much, and yes I am indeed tremendously international and sophisticated (and also utterly glamorous) - glad you noticed.

However, it could be argued that it is Ms. Baranik who making a great effort to project her own (supposed) sophistication when it comes to restaurants, and frequently uses rather harsh language when judging the local scene. Which is fine - I am all for just criticism! This may not be the world's capital of dining but some standards should be upheld. But they should be upheld both by restaurants and by those who write about them professionally, as Ms. Baranik does.

Pointing out the errors in Ms. B's reviews seems like a useful thing to do. It fulfills me! In a completely different way than sex.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Laura!
I think Mme Verdurin is nitpicking and using personal attacks that are out of place here - god knows why she does it. This is a good blog and she should get over any little things she doesn't like.
We like this blog - please keep on doing it.

R. said...

Although I like Artel's little shop around the corner, I wish that this reconstruction had never happened and that pivnice Radegast was still there. How many wonderful old things will they rip out of this city to make way for shiny new crap?

Anonymous said...

Mme Verdurin, our Proustian hero to all hotel restaurants!

Have you eaten at Zlaty Andel Fusion? If so, post any agreements or disagreements based on your own experience. I'm sure we'd all like see if you can do it better than Ms. Baranik, as you seem to believe you can with your bitter remarks and unsubstantiated claims of vast international sophistication.

If you haven't eaten there, then your words are based solely on ignorance and serve no purpose here other than to vicariously compensate for your own life's (obviously profound) shortcomings.

Please keep your pretentious shit-smearing off this honest, intelligent and insightful blog. It has no place here. Anything constructive, however, would I'm sure be welcome by all.

And Ms. Baranik, keep up the great work!

Mme Verdurin said...

Anonymous, ma chère,

Methinks you're getting your sous-vêtements in a twist over very little. I am not interested in competing with Ms. Baranik in any way, or - god forbid - take her job! What a funny notion.

If you do yourself the favor and reread my comments, you will be surprised to learn they have nothing to do whatsoever with the restaurant in question, but with the quality (or the lack thereof) of Ms. Baranik's bloviations. And why not? She's "Prague's most opinionated eater", and I may be her most opinionated reader. Why, it's all in good fun!

Secondly, I congratulate you on the novel expression "pretentious shit-smearing". You are a person of rare style and imagination.