Monday, December 21, 2009

Restaurant Review: Paprika

It was a rainy Friday night, and we were looking for a restaurant called Paprika. The streets behind the Pražská Tržnice were dark and abandoned. No people, and certainly no restaurants, in sight. I was beginning to think we were lost…

Well, not really. We were in a car, warm and dry, and we had a GPS navigation system to guide us to Jateční 39. But even after we'd reached our destination, I still couldn't quite believe we were in the right spot. The place was tiny and had Budvar signs on the outside, and its windows looked grimy. This looked more like a neighborhood herna than a Hungarian restaurant.

"Do you still want to go?" one of my companions asked when we had parked. He looked more than a little apprehensive.

"Of course!" I replied. My friend stepped out of the car with an audible sigh.

I had been looking forward to this for a while. I like Hungarian food; like many Slovaks, I'd been raised on chicken paprikáš and lečo. So when I heard there was a new, family-owned Hungarian restaurant in town, I was eager to give it a try.

I'd called the restaurant a few months ago, also on a weekend night, to make a reservation. Paprika's website had said it was hosting a talented chef from the homeland who would cook up some fabulous Hungarian specialties. When I first dialed the reservation number, there was no answer. Then, a little while later, I called again. A sleepy-sounding man picked up the phone.

"Hello. I would like to make a reservation for the special event this weekend."

"No, no," the voice said. "Closed. Sorry. Closed for weekend." He hung up.

That conversation was a little discouraging. But now I'd succeeded in making reservations, and it turned out that every Friday night is a special night – not necessarily because of a mythical guest chef, but because that’s when the kitchen cooks a Hungarian dish not on the menu.

The interior of Paprika wasn't nearly as sketchy as our initial impression had promised. There was a small room in the front, paneled in light-colored wood with matching tables and chairs. The tablecloths were red and white checkered, and a cheerful row of red peppers had been painted around the room's perimeter. Hungarian folk music played from the speakers. There was another seating area in the back of the restaurant, but it appeared to be closed. The lighting was a bit bright and the air a little smoky, but it was still quite cozy.

Besides, our host was so friendly that the place immediately felt welcoming. The special dish that night, he told us, was a traditional lamb goulash. They don't cook off the menu on Fridays, but they had a couple of other dishes ready in the kitchen, too.

The regular menu has a couple of soups on offer (goulash soup and bean goulash soup), but that night, the only appetizer available was brains. I am generally not a fan of offal, partly because I am a bit squeamish and partly because organ meat is a little too fatty and rich for my taste. But even I had to admit that the pig brains on toast at Paprika (90 CZK) were good. Served over grilled brown bread and mixed with paprika, the brain spread had the texture of warm babaganoush; it was especially tasty when topped with a smear of spicy red pepper paste (our waiter's own, as he proudly informed us).

Since I'd taken a risk for the first course, I felt justified in ordering an old favorite of mine as my entrée. The chicken paprikáš (140 CZK) came with a tender piece each of chicken leg and breast in a thin paprika sauce and a healthy portion of halušky (small dumplings). A large dollop of thick sour cream was placed on top – I chose to dip into it as I ate rather than mix it in with the sauce. The dumplings were slightly bland, but had obviously been freshly made, and the sauce was perfumed with the mild sweetness of the paprika spice.

Looking across the table, it would be easy to think that my dinner companions had ordered the same dish as I had; the heavy Hungarian use of paprika makes a lot of their national dishes look quite similar. But one of them had ordered the lamb goulash (159 CZK), also served with halušky, and the other the segedínsky goulash (120 CZK), a thick stew of sauerkraut mixed with tender chunks of pork and served with bread.

The plates looked similar enough, apparently, that even the restaurant staff was confused. When it came time for our entrees, my friend sitting next to me and I were presented with the paprikáš we had both ordered. Only the meat didn't seem very chicken-like – it turned out to be the lamb goulash belonging to the table next to us. The waitress swooped in five minutes later and transferred the dishes to the other guests. Luckily, we hadn't dug in with our forks yet, because we didn't have any; it took another five minutes after we had been given the correct dishes to get a set of cutlery.

So things at Paprika can sometimes be a little disorganized. We had ordered some sides of čalamáda (pickled cabbage), but they never arrived. For dessert, I had two pancakes rolled up with apricot jam and walnuts and sprinkled with powdered sugar (90 CZK), which would have been great if the nuts weren't stale and bitter.

Still, I can definitely recommend Paprika. The dishes are cheap, the portions are large, and we definitely don't get enough Hungarian food around here. And even if you don't have a thing for paprika, you can always have pig brains.

Jateční 39
Praha 7 – Holešovice
Tel.: 772 064 214

Open Mon-Fri 11:00-22:00, Sat 15:00-22:00. Closed Sunday.

photographs 1, 2, 4, 5 Tomáš Krist for Lidové noviny; all others

This review originally appeared in Czech translation in the 21/11/09 edition of Lidové Noviny.


Nick said...

I went here for a large, raucous dinner party several months ago. I agree, the host (Laszlo) is a really nice and welcoming guy.

He offered up lots of recommendations and we tasted them all, passing around the dishes family style.

All in attendance agreed that Everything was delicious, the lamb goulash, goulash soup, chicken paprikas, brain on toast, halusky, and especially the Egri Bikaver and Tokaj wine.

It was a fantastic time; relaxed, warm, with good food and a very welcoming restaurant and host.

If only it wasn't so hard to find! Otherwise, its really a tremendous restaurant.

Valter said...


I actually remember seeing you in there when you were doing this review. You entered the place with board expression on your face. I tend to disagree with you with a bunch of stuff. If you are expecting gold plated walls and tiny drop of delicate in the middle of your plate, then this is not the place for you.

I go there every few weeks with my friends for Friday special. We never had a problem making reservation. Owner is reallllly friendly (friendly service especially with the smile is a rare thing here in Prague). After my first time there, i felt like i know the guy for years. The place is warm and cozy. Food is excellent, portions are big, wine is great and of course there is owner's home made palinka to start the night. PS. he will even make his special pancakes if tell him that you are bringing girl you want to impress :)

havuz said...

thank you very much this is very delicious.

peruk said...

thanks a lot very well

prefabrik said...

oo this is delicious. ı can come this place :)

ürün fotoğrafçısı said...

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çocuk montu said...

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toptan takım elbise said...

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Bursaspor Trabzonspor Maçı İzle said...

oo greattt. well done!

Spices Manufacturer Jaipur said...

Wow, what a picture, i can guess how much delicious this food is..

Nice Receipe.. I will do it.

Delicious, You guys are rocking.

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