Monday, December 7, 2009

Restaurant Review: Hard Rock Café

Prague's Hard Rock Café may have opened just this year, but the American rock 'n' roll-themed restaurant chain had already had a presence here since the early 1990s. That's when tourist-oriented vendors began selling (next to those ubiquitous "Prague: Czech It Out" shirts) Hard Rock Café Prague T-shirts. The joke, of course, as that there was no Hard Rock Café, but that didn't prevent burger-craving tourists from pestering locals about where the Prague branch actually was.

Now, when a group of foreign teenagers asks me where the Hard Rock Café is (a surprisingly frequent request, surpassed only by inquiries about the metro, "The Clock," and – God only knows why – the Wax Museum), there's actually a direction in which I can point them. The Prague Hard Rock Café is located conveniently close to The Clock, on Malé Náměstí.

I can't be the only person who's walked past the new Hard Rock Café and felt a pang of nostalgia. For 150 years, the Dům U Rotta was home to one of the most well-known Czech department stores, a three-story family-owned hardware emporium that was famous for selling just about everything. In the height of the store's success in the 1930s, it carried 70,000 varieties of metal goods, along with electronic appliances, building materials, hockey equipment, and fishing gear. The interior was notable for its light-filled atrium, crowned by a glass and cement cupola – the first of its kind in Czechoslovakia.

The Rott building now has another, more dubious, achievement to add to its list: at 1900 square meters, it houses the largest Hard Rock Café in Europe. The décor is predictably rock-oriented, with rows of glass cases holding the memorabilia the Café is famous for – Bob Dylan's guitar and setlist, for example, or Jimi Hendrix's fringed leather vest, or (not as exciting) a hat and tambourine from local group Žlutý Pes. There are American-style booth seats and flat-screen televisions playing rock music videos, and in the middle of the famous atrium hangs a custom-made 5-meter-long crystal chandelier in the shape of an electric guitar, which sounds ghastly but is actually quite beautiful.

The energy at Hard Rock is kind of frenetic: the music is loud (deafeningly so when there's a live band playing), there are usually lots of customers, and the waiters rush around trying to keep everybody happy. I'm not sure exactly which drug they're giving the servers, by the way, but whatever it is, it seems to be working. Everyone is all smiles, all the time. The joy actually seems to be genuine; on my last visit, I saw a waitress, milkshake in hand, bounce her way down the steps, a big smile on her face as she danced to the thumping rock music.

That sort of thing may be bizarre for Prague, but it's normal for the Hard Rock Café, which prides itself on having replicated the very same menu, style of décor, and standard of service in 140 locations in 36 countries. The food is exactly what you'd expect of an American rock 'n' roll chain restaurant, which is to say it's low on greens and heavy on grease.

In short, don't come here if you're on a diet. You could always order the h
honey citrus grilled chicken salad (290 CZK), of course, but even that lone sort of low-fat dish on the menu comes with blue cheese on top – and besides, you wouldn't get to taste what Hard Rock is all about. The best way to accomplish that is to order the Jumbo Combo (420 CZK), which combines all of the appetizers onto one plate along with various sauces. There are deep-fried chicken tenders with a honey mustard sauce (good, crispy), potato skins with sour cream (dry and flavorless), chicken wings in a spicy "heavy metal" sauce and a blue cheese dip (nice and meaty), onion rings with barbecue sauce (huge), and Mexican-style spring rolls filled with spinach (totally gross). It's like the deep fryer's greatest hits, if you'll forgive the rock-themed pun.

I've written about the Hard Rock Café burger before, and it really is excellent, with ten different varieties and all the proper fixings. But on this visit, I decided to have something new. I went for the hickory-smoked barbecue ribs (390 CZK): 650 grams worth, served whole on the rack with a special knife for separating the ribs so you can pick them up with your fingers and suck off the meat. These were probably the best ribs I've had in Prague (if you don't count the ones made by my friend Steve from Alabama, which are unbeatable). The meat was tender and fell right off the bone, and had a nice smoky flavor. They were served with cole slaw and French fries, along with a side of ranch beans that were, unfortunately, cold.

I could have used an extra napkin or three after those ribs to wipe down my fingers – and my shirt, which had gotten splattered with barbecue sauce during the process. We'd gotten some wet napkins to go with our Jumbo Combo, but now there weren't any to be found, and I hadn't gotten a plate for my rib bones, either. On previous visits, I had found the service at Hard Rock to be stellar, but there were all kinds of problems now: we also waited ages for them to take our plates away, and they didn’t wipe down our table when it was covered in sauce and crumbs.

At least our waiter was super friendly. And besides, if you have a complaint about the service, you can go online to fill out a survey after your meal and get $5 off your next visit. How very American – and appropriately so.

Hard Rock Café
Dům U Rotta
Malé Náměstí 3
Praha 1 - Old Town
Tel.: 224 229 529

Open Mon-Sun 11:30AM - 01:00AM

photographs 1, 4, 5, 6 Jindřich Mynařík for Lidové noviny; all others

This review originally appeared in Czech translation in the 14/11/09 edition of Lidové Noviny.


Anonymous said...

Interesting how you don't see any customers in any of the photos.

Anonymous said...

Not a bad place, though I'd certainly not visit (on principle) an HRC in a city that had other decent Americanish food.

The ribs are indeed the best I've had here -- by quite a margin -- and their burger is easily in the top 2 or 3. Try the side salad, BTW. Not too expensive (85 kcs or so?) and pretty tasty.

I've not had bad service there at all (ignoring the Stepfordesque style) and the one time there was a food disaster, it was immediately fixed without the usual deep sighs and rolling eyes.

They make good cocktails too; during Happy Hour(s) they've got to be about the best value in the city.

Jane said...

Nice place for food, There is no of bars and cafes to sit out .The price of drinks is quite expensive but we enjoyed there a lot.
Prague places to visit

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