La Bodeguita del Medio: A taste of the
Written by: Tim Gosling
Photo: Dorothea Bylica
It is said that expatriate writer
Ernest Hemingway had a hand in inventing the Mojito cocktail at
La Bogeduita del Medio in Havana. Fast forward fifty years or so
and that same drink is being mixed in La Bodeguita del Medio, only
this time in the center of Prague.
The original La Bodeguita del Medio has been inebriating the population
with music, dancing and rum in the Cuban capital Havana since 1942.
The labyrinth of colonial-style chambers on Kaprova, opened in
December 2002, is the eleventh and newest restaurant in a chain
that stretches from Japan, through the Middle East and back to
Central America, where a profusion of doppelgangers in Mexico,
California and Guatemala surround the home turf. Roman Cibulka,
managing director of parent company K.V.P Gastro - whose roster
includes six other restaurants and a catering service - and his
old friend from catering school David mídek, the restaurant's
manager, claim that by far the largest percentage of their customers
are local, with a healthy helping of tourists in the summer. "Tourists
see the name and recognize it," says mídek.
The Cuban franchise grants a recognized name and support in finding
the best authentic staff: eight Cuban professionals lead local
teams in the kitchen, behind the bar, serving the tables and providing
the entertainment. However, there are few demands on the local
management, allowing them to craft a bespoke Cuban emporium, adapting
the menu and atmosphere to suit central European tastes and conditions.
Although details like grafitti-covered walls may strike some as "enforced
wackiness", La Bodeguita's authenticity is not fatally wounded
in the process. Cibulka and mídek describe for instance the lengths
they go to in sourcing unorthodox ingredients, such as platanas -
large, hard, green Cuban bananas, a less saccharine fruit than the
yellow crescents usually found at your local greengrocers, that are
essential for the delightful desert of fried bananas with caramel.
The menu contains around a dozen or so Cuban dishes, selected by
imported chef José Lambrada, as well as international offerings,
with a heavy accent on steaks. "Most people want to try the
Cuban dishes," which can also be described as creole, according
to Cibulka. This alternative moniker could be a little confusing.
Granted there's a healthy selection of fresh seafood on display,
but further similarities with the spicy jumble of dishes to be found
in Louisiana's bayous appear few and far between.
Those wishing to interrogate a range of creole samplings can plump
for the two-person mixed plates featuring either meat or seafood:
the "Hemingway" seafood platter, or the blood-heavy mixed
grill "Che Guevara". Pulpo "El Morro" al ajillo,
a spicy octopus salad marinated in garlic and served in a seashell,
makes for an invigorating starter.
As far as atmosphere goes, flamboyance and passion just opposite
Staroměstská metro station may smack of cliché, but Cibulka and mídek
remain entirely unapologetic: "We wanted to do something different," claims
the manager. As some barometer of the festive spirit that reigns,
the restaurant serves over three hundred Mojitos daily. Fuelled by
copious servings of white rum, brown sugar, and citrus fruit, diners
squeeze themselves into every corner in the evenings to abandon their
pulses to the rhythms of the live music that breaks out courtesy
of Cuban troupe Clave Mixta (save for a reverent pause on Sundays).
Salsa dancers entertain three days a week, and on Saturdays join
forces with the musicians in the dining-hall down below to turn the
heat up a notch or two. Salsa rhythms are notoriously contagious,
and diners are accordingly invited to join the throng under the experts'
instruction. Crammed as the cellar is more often than not, one wonders
where these lessons take place. "The people who want to dance
find a place," says mídek, grinning. "You can dance anywhere," enthuses
La Bodeguita del Medio
Kaprova 5, Praha 1
daily 10:00 - 02:00
All major CCs.
Photo: Dorothea Bylica
- Old Town goes Latin
WITH BOMBAY CAFE
on one end and the oft-thronged Roxy on the other,
it may not seem as though Dlouhá street needs to
get any livelier, but a new combination of cocktail
bar, club, and restaurant is giving it a try. Billing
itself as Prague's finest Latin American, it offers
zesty cuisine from the regions that made peppers
famous, as well as spicy rhythms to match the menu.
Enjoy the atmosphere and fine flavors under ochre
arches and potted palms, all aglow with soft lighting.
And if your rhythm has gotten rusty, you can also
sign up for the popular salsa lessons.
Dlouhá 35, Praha 1,
Tel.: 224 826 415, www.bonanzaprague.cz
FARTHER AFIELD: Na Prachandě
On their way to southern Bohemia, lovers of authentic, traditional
Czech cuisine often turn off the main highway and have a bite to
eat at the restaurant Na Prachandě in Dobří. The full parking
lot is always a good sign for travellers, indicating that stopping
by was no mistake.
The restaurant's greatest hit is its so-called "specials",
dishes prepared in advance according to traditional recipes. Its
fillet mignon and goulash are unsurpassed in the area, and the
price/quality ratio is outstanding. The kitchen makes everything
from fresh ingredients, and the size of the dishes will satisfy
even the heartiest diners. Calorie-conscious diners can choose
from a wide range of short orders, where you'll find dishes prepared
according to the latest rational nutrition trends. Also, you can
combine a meal at your favorite restaurant with a visit to the
local castle and its beautiful park.
Restaurace Na Prachandě
Praská 469, Dobří,
tel.: 318 522 219,
open daily 10-22
How to get there: From Prague towards Strakonice, turn off at Dobří
and at the city limit, past the railroad crossing, you'll see Na
Prachandě on your left.
partner, EC Harris
"My choice of restaurant is Ambiente in Mánesova. It's
full of character and has a very friendly atmosphere. The staff
are always pleasant and happy to advise you on the menu selection.
The food edges towards tex-mex, but also has a great selection
of steaks which come with a "chef's tip" for the side
order, which is normally worth following. The wine list is a nice
mixture of Czech and international labels at reasonable prices.
For those of us who live in the area, one of the great attractions
is that the entire menu is available for "take away".
Finally, as you might expect, I eat there a lot - but I never tire
of the menu."
Ambiente, Mánesova 59, Praha 2, tel.: 222 727 851