Friday, 9 July 2010
All You Can Eat in Prague
Town Hall Astronomical Clock
Some of the afternoon sleeping. The sheer beauty and exuberance is - and I feel like a worn-out aesthete in the Des Esseintes (that's not Des as in Desmond) mode saying this - a little exhausting. The fact we had to rise at 3.30 in the morning at Stansted has something to do with it too.
But early evening we are out again and soon enough we are looking to eat. Walking out of the Old Square with its famous town hall clock and its famous hordes photographing each other under arches, in front of gateways, pointing to landmarks, grinning all the while because, I suppose, they must be happy (and here I sound like a hypocritical misanthrope, because I too am happy), not to mention the famous heaving, yelling cafes and restaurants, we find ourselves in a less rabidly beautiful street, almost a dull street, and there's a quiet restaurant with just two tables outside.
The menu looks good. If you're vegetarian and don't want to know the result, look away now.
There's duck: one roast leg dish and one duck breast dish in a sauce flavoured with slivovic, but also six other fascinating sounding main courses including the various fleshly viands - incidentally I use the term viands to spare your feelings - in richly dense settings, not to mention tempting hors'doeuvres and soups of potentially the highest order.
What it also says is (I translate loosely out of the restaurant's own loose English translation): Take the special menu and try a taster of everything, and come back for seconds or thirds, frankly we don't care. Eat all you can. We practically dare you to. Drinks extra, sweets extra. Cost roughly £20 the lot, bar the extras. That's £20 give or take a bit (well, add a bit, actually.)
Tasters, sounds possible - it must mean a mouthful each - and gorgeous. We are, after all, hungry. We do think hard about it, but this is a celebration so let's gamble.
The first course is an amalgam of four starters, the whole adding up to an all-but-full meal. Very nice. I will not go into Krudyesque detail here, but imagine duck pâté, pork pâté, several slivers of tongue together with a sauce of horse-radish and cranberry, as well as some warm red onion marmalade. That is your starter.
The second course is a choice of two soups. C chooses potato soup, I choose the venison. It's not a vast bowl of soup, but it is a perfectly reasonable bowl, about the size of a cereal bowl. I am not Falstaff nor was meant to be, so I am now full.
But there are eight courses of main dishes to follow, and the establishment's idea of a taster does not seem to correspond with ours. An American couple, from New York I'd guess from his accent not from hers because she hardly does any speaking and when she speaks it's a a whisper, has just been served knee of pork. That's a pig's knee to you. True, they are having it as the single main course, but it's so huge it's practically the pig. The pig's knees! I reckon it's a large boar.
The first duck arrives. Roasted, delicious. Red cabbage, white cabbage either side like a royal escort. I'd say it was about two-thirds of a normal full meal - a full meal nouvelle cuisine style. Still, granted a little curiosity, it is just about manageable. I just about manage, but in managing I realise I am not cut out for this. C who is as slim now as she was when I met her, indeed slimmer and lither still, seems more engaged in this act than I am.
Second duck. Oh, that slivovic sauce! It's worth busting a gut for, and frankly it is on the point of busting. Some people take years to become obese. Why waste all that time? Why not achieve it in a single night? Six courses still to go!
I summon all my manly courage and chicken out. I tell the waiter not to bring the next five courses. In about twenty minutes he might bring the sixth, which is a sweet. The waiter looks at me patiently but, I imagine, with an inner contempt. You a girl or something? I imagine the chef working his way up to the full John Cleese, all sweat and cleavers, screaming: What's wrong with my food!? What's wrong with them!? Thirty years in this kitchen, and now this!
C does the extraordinary thing. She takes one more main course, the trout. I watch her eat the fish but without touching the potatoes, for assuredly there are potatoes and other side dishes. I can hardly bear to look.
Eventually it comes to an end. We order two espressos, which are properly dense, almost Turkish style. A spoonful of the necessary sugar just about manages to penetrate it.
The maître d' is a gentlemanly looking gentleman with a kind silver beard. He looks discreet. We assure him the food was very good, just a little too much. I put my hand on his sleeve as I say this. I don't want him to worry. I ask him if anyone has ever gone the entire mixed hors d'oeuvre, soup and eight main courses. He frowns in a truly beautiful way. He remembers one man, some weeks ago, who not only managed the lot but came back for two more duck courses. He Ate All He Could.
I feel we have almost forged a friendship and, as a last throw, ask him if he himself could manage the lot. He gives a sad, understanding smile and says, no. We are friends for life now. He is an honorary good uncle.
I consider Szindbad, as in the post below. This is pure Szindbad territory. But Szindbad is radiantly handsome, on the slender side of normal, and remains irresistible to women. He can work his way through not ten but twenty courses, each bigger than any of these. On the other hand he is over three-hundred years old and - occasionally - dead. Such meals might be possible under those circumstances.
And I think of that Hungarian short story about a plum-dumpling eating contest where the winner eats forty then drops dead.
It is not the way I want to go. Some say the world will end in fire, writes Robert Frost, Some say in ice.
It will not end in pig's knee, not if I can help it.