Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Restaurant Review: Mirellie

It's not hard to see why the most-asked question about Mirellie is whether or not it's affiliated with the popular restaurant chain Kogo. All you have to do is open their menu.

Anyone familiar with Kogo's offerings will experience a little déjà vu at Mirellie. The divisions between dishes are the same and in the same order – starters, fish starters, soups, pastas, risottos, etc. – and many of the dishes themselves are word-for-word copies. Plus, just like at Kogo, the selection is enormous.

The difference is in the prices. At Kogo Slovanský Dům, the grilled roast beef with arugula and parmesan cheese goes for 310 CZK. The same dish at Mirellie costs 135 CZK. At Kogo, a simple plate of linguine with olive oil, garlic and shrimps will set you back 295 CZK. Mirellie charges 165 CZK. A fish soup at Kogo? 210 CZK. Mirellie's is priced at 90 CZK.

No, Mirellie is not affiliated with Kogo. At least some of its owners, however, are former Kogo employees, and it seems they've decided to beat their fellow countrymen-restaurateurs at their own game (both Kogo's and Mirellie's proprietors are from the former Yugoslavia): serving a large range of Mediterranean classics in a modestly upscale atmosphere.

Mirellie's location on a quiet Bubeneč street used to be home to the Asian fusion restaurant Monsoon, and not much has changed in terms of the décor. The dining area is separated into upstairs and downstairs sections, the walls and furniture various shades of brown, grey and beige. The upper space has a bar, a couple of leather couches, and a flat-screen TV; the tables down below are adjacent to the kitchen and toilets. Unfortunately, the non-smoking section is in the far less pleasant downstairs area – a decision that makes sense in terms of its proximity to the kitchen, but continues the city's depressing trend of giving priority to smokers.

Since it opened at the beginning of this year, Mirellie has gained quite a few regular customers. Some of them might be neighborhood diners looking for a decent place to eat – Bubeneč and Dejvice are still low on quality restaurants, and one of the few comparable upper-scale Italian options, Da Emanuel, is very much on the expensive side. Other patrons are former fans of Kogo who have become disillusioned with its constant price hikes and are willing to travel out of the center to get their Yugo-pasta fix.

I count myself as one of the latter. I don't want to mislead anybody; I'm still a big fan of Kogo's, and for years, their restaurants have been some of the most consistently high-quality spots in town. But Kogo is now the kind of place I can't eat in very often without feeling guilty about the money I'm spending.

So on my first visit to Mirellie, naturally, I ordered my favorite Kogo dish: the tagliatelle with arugula and shrimp. At Kogo, this would have set me back 285 CZK; here, it was a mere 170 CZK. But the Mirellie version wasn't as good as Kogo's. The pasta seemed a little dry, as if there wasn't enough sauce or the sauce wasn't especially flavorful. The shrimp, however, were plentiful and perfectly cooked (on a recent Kogo Slovanský Dům visit, the shrimp had been way too soft), as was the pasta, so I was pretty happy overall.

And there were some real delights: a huge portion of bean soup (60 CZK), loaded with the musky aroma of smoked bacon; a small grilled sea bass (290 CZK), so fresh it still tasted of the ocean, served whole but deboned. One of the weekly specials, a lobster salad (260 CZK), could only be described as a fabulous deal. Almost anywhere else, you don't even get to smell a lobster for under 300 CZK. Here, there was a solid half-lobster, several shrimp, and a generous amount of garden salad in a creamy, Russian-style dressing (I didn't get to taste another intriguing special, the polenta with porcini mushrooms, because it wasn't available on either of my visits).

It's certainly not the quantity of food that Mirellie's saving its money on; my pizza Vegetariana (129 CZK) was so big it spilled over the edges of a large dinner plate. It had a thin, cripsy crust and was topped with marinated bell peppers, (undercooked) eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, and kalamata olives. I got half of it wrapped up to go. The grilled octopus with beans and leek (160 CZK) was another large dish, even for an appetizer, with lots of gently browned octopus. I suspected the beans had come out of the can, but they still tasted good. When you've got over two hundred dishes on the menu, I guess you have to cut corners somewhere.

I didn't have any dessert on either of my visits – I was too full, and besides, the dessert options seemed to be limited to the frozen Bindi cakes and profiteroles that so many other restaurants and cafés carry.

The service at Mirellie can be a little slow and forgetful sometimes (on one evening, two of us never got any napkins), and, at other times, a little too eager to clean up plates and pour out Mattoni bottles. I also didn't like that we were charged for bread (10 CZK each for a pizza dough-type roll) even if we didn't eat it. Were we expected to take it home?

Mirellie is destined to be compared to Kogo. People like me will come in and order their usual Kogo dish and will end up either disappointed or pleasantly surprised. But for all the similarities between the two restaurants, the newer one really is doing its own thing, and doing it well. Soon enough, perhaps, guests won't even think to ask about the connection. They'll just appreciate Mirellie for what it is.

V.P. Čkalova 14
Praha 6 – Bubeneč
Tel.: 222 959 999

Open Mon-Sun 11:00-23:00

photographs 1, 2, 4, 5, 6
Tomáš Krist for Lidové noviny; all others mirellie.cz

This review originally appeared in Czech translation in the 22/08/09 edition of Lidové Noviny.


Grant Podelco said...

I enjoy your reviews and find them helpful, but I find it odd that you allow your picture to be published in places such as on Radio Prague's website. You will never be able to review with anonymity, and receive the same service and food that everyone else does, if the management knows who you are. And now they *definitely* know who you are. Your goal should be not to call *any* attention to yourself and allowing your picture to be published is about as far from that as I can imagine. So much for objective reviewing.

Anonymous said...

Looks and sounds good. But I can't stand to be charged for something I didn't request, regardless of the amount, and so won't be going there.

Laura said...

Radio Prague did not ask for permission to publish my photograph. But since that same picture can be found elsewhere on the internet with a simple Google search, I decided not to ask them to remove it.

I can only assume that by now, most of the people who read my column know what I look like based on a couple of pictures that have been floating around for a while. I am still recognized only very rarely during review dinners -- and trust me, I know it when it happens. When it does, I always mention it in the review. That's about the best I can do.

Grant Podelco said...

But your picture is featured prominently on Lidové noviny's website in promotions for your column. And your picture is part of your bio on this very blog. That's hardly what I would call a couple of pictures floating around the Internet. In all my years in the U.S. newspaper business, I've never heard of a restaurant critic who published his/her photo with reviews. You simply can't review anonymously that way. Anyway, I wish you the best. Perhaps we'll meet up around Prague sometime and can discuss in person.

Anonymous said...

Many people are visiting here because of your recent Radio Prague interview, broadcast nationwide in Canada on CBC Overnight.

What would you suggest, once settled in and refreshed, a good first night in Prague sampler? Can one graze Czech food in Prague at several restaurants?
And what is an early (market stall?) breakfast place before most Praguians(?) are up?

Your radio interview was interesting and I later found the transcript. Many R.Prague don't find such good English speakers.

Bill Lee from
Vancouver, Canada

Laura Baranik said...

Hi Bill,

Sorry for the late reply to your comment. For Czech food, I usually recommend Cafe Savoy -- it's more expensive than your regular pub, but the food is really well made (look for the dishes that have the little Czech lion next to them; they also serve French dishes). My favorite there is the sirloin in cream sauce.

Cafe Louvre is good for an early breakfast. They open at 8am. There isn't really much in the way of market stalls - unless you like bratwurst for breakfast :-)