Review: Bar Bar

Not just a Bar-Bar: Jessica Rose explores the Patchwork of this hidden gem amongst the Malá Strana dining scene

Expats.cz

Written by Expats.cz
Published on 26.11.2008 15:38 (updated on 26.11.2008)

A light glow from ground-level windows patterns a patch of twisty sidewalk on a narrow J-shaped street. The snow is falling lightly like the last bits in a shaken snowglobe, and I´ve tripped in my heels on the slick cobblestone a good five times before I´ve confirmed that, yes, the light from below is Bar Bar, a restaurant tucked away on a street off Ujezd in Mala Strana.

Bar Bar is an eccentric patchwork from every angle.

I sat upon an antiquated walnut bench that bears, in tact, the tapestries of its back-cushions, and sistering an adjacent rustic piece with fluted legs and an intricate craftsmanship of wood, highly endangered if not extinct in new decor. This bonelet of the den lends a view of the whole dining room, freckled with petite chairs and tables, ornamented by simple fresh flowers and candles. Creepy fantastical little creatures boxed in gutted old television sets share the dining room from the windowsills. Lily-capped fan-arms and corner lights branch out overhead, toasting the ambience with muffled yellow light, under a ceiling with blue and white paper stars. Wild splashes of color from the art exhibition encircle the room.

Expats.cz Rating
Atmosphere
Food
Service
Overall
From our plate
142 CZK Beef Carpaccio
89 CZK Grilled Mediterranean Vegetables
65 CZK Onion Rings
69 CZK The “Royal Cheese”
159 CZK Gambas with tomato sauce & feta
129CZK Mixed salad with goat cheese & black olives
45 CZK Soup
139 CZK “Al Rabiata” pasta
115 CZK – 154 CZK  Savory Pancakes
74 CZK – 85 CZK Sweet Pancakes
125 CZK Mille-Feuille with grilled courgettes and aubergines
169 CZK Turkey roll wrapped in English bacon
195 CZK
Rump steak grilled in a walnut and pine nut crust
186 CZK Pork loin with caramel apple and plum sauce
45 CZK Side orders
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There is a lot to take in. (Note that it´s perfect to hush up or escape from chatterbox companions.)

In this peculiar collaboration of old and new, simple and complex, the ambience engulfs guests into a Pan’s Labyrinth-esque atmosphere, inspired by childlike visions, executed by worldly hands. The ideas in both the interior–as well as the menu—reveal no obvious link or thread from one to the next; yet somehow result in a colorful quilt, perfect for winter.

Somehow it all works. What at first seems a jumble of creative disarray concludes as original style, delivered with finesse. Take your plain black H&M shirt, the boots you haven´t slipped on in a good few years, and untangle all those seemingly unmatchable accessories, and voila: the old becomes new, the boring becomes creative.

Bar Bar´s fare is a culinary cross-pollination. Like its interior, it seems to have been constructed frivolously, by adventurous exploration with a disregard for rules. A glance-over reveals that it dabbles playfully across Czech, French, British, American, Italian and Mediterranean flavors—just to name a few—and confuses ethnic gastronomic staples with add-ons, and add-ons with staples.  It´s vast in its palette-appeal, and I learned as a first-time guest that its various sections require a butterfly scan from one section to the next in order to make an optimal decision.

Some starters aren´t listed under starters. There are additional menu sections that flutter between and beyond, that scatter like jazz. And a chalkboard with the day´s specials behind me, on the wall above my head, added more choices. The choices were so many and so diverse, my companion and I had to devise a plan.

Of the starters—some of which we designated as such—the carpaccio was the runner-up, dressed ever so lightly to show off the beef quality. By grating it in such a way to look fresh, parmesan can often be deceiving, adding more texture than flavor to a dish and therefore requiring more abundant amounts to compensate, but the sprinkle of Parmesan across the carpaccio was young and full of energy, echoing Bar Bar´s appreciation for detail. At 142 CZK, this dish is a pricier appetizer, but the portion rounds out the tab, and overall, it´s the best carpaccio I´ve experienced anywhere in Prague…so far.

 The grilled Mediterranean vegetables, pickled with herbs in virgin olive oil and sided with garlic toast, were more a sampling of fresh produce than of the kitchen´s innovation. It´s a bore´s (or a dieter´s) order, especially considering other items, but the garden-fresh assorted pile, including hefty asparagus, confirmed that Bar Bar´s kitchen doesn´t rip open a plastic bag from the freezer for its produce.

The shrimp in the gambas, so, too, was off high quality, plump and immersed in a fresh tomato and feta cheese combination, which surprisingly merged quite well. The caliber of shrimp somewhat startled me, as I assumed that given the wide range of other ingredients sprawled across the menu, some area would be lacking, and it would probably be in this tiny corner. And, indeed, it is a “tiny corner” for 159CZK, but shrimp like that in Prague is considered (by me) exotic.
 
“Something to go with Beer.” Despite Bar Bar´s dramatic list of spirits, cocktails, and wines (including a Beaujolais Nouveau, which tickled my French partner´s fancy since it´s a wine that has its own celebratory day in France), there is this small section of the menu suggesting dishes to compliment the Czech´s favorite pastime. It´s international favorite bar-food selections, including onion rings, fried jalapenos filled with feta, nachos, and tapas. And it´s from this list that I found my winning starter:  the “royal cheese”. A layered cake of marinated brie, centered with pickled onion and cabbage, and drizzled in a light oil. It´s on my own list of “Something to go with Everything and Anything, Any time.”

There are also two sections of “pancakes,” savory and sweet. Yes, they´re galettes/crepes (not Czech potato pancakes), most of which combine flavors that reflect the kitchen´s innovation and diversity. Both of our choices were a success: the choice with “bryndza”, smoked bacon, sour cabbage and mashed potatoes, as well as the one that oozed with cheeses, including blue cheese, and garnished with an apple, cranberries and a spoonful of sour cream. I´m still curious about how Bar Bar presents the option with chicken noodles and English bacon served with garlic-herb dip.

The sweet crepes weren´t as satisfying, lacking in filling. Grilled banana prepared with white wine was an eye-catcher from the start, when my companion kept bugging me about the sweeter menu selections before we had even ordered our drinks. But when it finally arrived, it didn´t live up to the “ooo”´s provoked by its description.

The menu indicates vegetarian dishes with little carrot icons, but its “meat and potatoes” is, well, meat, so most of our choices were of the carnivorous appetite. Here´s the thing. Although the turkey roll is great, stuffed with mushrooms and parsley and wrapped in bacon, and the rump steak is enjoyable, coated with a thick layer of walnuts and pine nuts, and it´s all presented elegantly, these dishes arrive with only the meat, in solitude. There is a reason for the list of side dishes. The dressings are flavorful and different, but a meat dish requires diversity, so we ordered potatoes au gratin and the Kenyan beans (the “Kenyan” part is a mystery to me, as they were just fresh greens beans tossed with bacon) to expand the main course experience.

The star of the main dishes? It came with the pork loin dish but it wasn´t the pork loin, though its juicy, tender texture and subtle flavoring provided the stage. In another inventive gastronomical creation, Bar Bar´s kitchen transformed a basic dish into a screaming success by putting a unique caramel apple and plum sauce in the spotlight. When this delicious sauce left only tiny fork-trails on the plate, the pork loin seemed lonely and boring. Like that black shirt I was talking about.

I had remaining portions boxed up to take home (if you´ve seen me, you know that I don´t stretch the use of the term “sampling”), short of the crepes and delicious desserts, like the crčme brulee and chocolate cake. Sidenote/Bonus points: I was pleased to see that the take-away boxes were not styrofoam, which is used commonly here in Prague and annoys me immensely seeing as how we´re eco-knowledgeable in 2008. Anyway. The server made sure it was all packaged and bagged neatly, remaining consistent with the fast attentive service we received all evening, so that this little piggy went “Weei! Weei! Weei!” all the way home…

Then all the way back again for the lunch special the very next day.

Bar Bar
Všehrdova 17, Prague 1
+420 257 312 246


Disclaimer: All stars are relative to an establishment´s context.

Jessica Rose can be reached at jessica@expats.cz