Alas, between my Monday-to-Friday yawn a couple of weeks ago, I had something to be excited about, and not just during the hour of make-up brushes, curling iron, and waiting for my date to buzz me. This is a place that lit up the description of my evening plans all week with the use of a proper noun and an exclamation point: instead of saying “We´re going out for dinner, and then ” I exclaimed, “We´re going to Buddha Bar!”
It´s shiny and new, and surely the talk of the town, at least in Old Town. Dress to kill. Arm yourself with a heavy wallet, and maybe some night vision goggles until your eyes adjust to the dark crimson ambience that immerses the theater-sized dining room and overlooking cocktail lounge.
Enter Buddha Bar, exit the same-old same-old—unless, of course, you´ve visited the other Buddha Bar locations in the world´s most fashionable cities, like New York or Paris, where the trendy concept has shared its time in the limelight and existed as a sort of contradiction to its “escapist” atmosphere as the place to see and be seen.
In a city commendable for preserving the old with an enchanting polish, Prague´s accommodation for newer, more cosmopolitan tastes is confirmed by Buddha Bar´s massive presence on the scene. And trust me when I say massive—the size alone is at first a mental blue-print scramble to make sense of Buddha squeezing all those fat rolls into the tight-looped belt of Old Town.
There are plenty of aspects of Buddha Bar I´d like to elaborate on, such as how the Prague location is anomalous in that it´s the first Buddha Bar Hotel; the other services offered, like the hammam steam room, the fitness facilities, and mystical spa treatments; as well as who the hell it was that the annoying paparazzi lights were chasing around all night at the Grand Opening party a few weeks ago. But my job—just to be clear—is to tell you about the restaurant. There´s a lot to say about it, but no matter what follows in this article: you have to experience this place. You just have to, even if just for a fresh cocktail and an appetizer, like the spicy tuna tartare with avocado and grapefruit, which I recall as a starting highlight. Even if for no other reason than to alleviate your curiosity, go. Splurge a bit, and do something different. Have something to talk about on Monday besides this weather.
The interior is opium. Intricately carved mahogany furniture, sparkling, betassled chandeliers, rich red and gold hues on plush fabrics, and a buddzillion pillows that align a cushioned bench along the wall where my dining companion and I sat—the ambience is an exotic Asian éclat with an underlayer of French colonialism. And, of course, a giant Buddha statue overlooks the entire cavernous space, his head leveling the cocktail lounge that circles above in lavish furniture that begs you to lounge in for hours. I couldn´t do that (at least not on this evening), but I did find myself sinking into the seats of the cocktail lounge between courses, sipping wine, getting a closer look at the DJ, who was trickling dreamy lounge beats throughout the night, and waiting for one of our two servers to notify us of a new arrival on the table. “Wow, they did that?” you ask? Why, yes they did. Service is a crucial part of the Buddha Bar experience, and I can´t rave enough about the impeccable service we received from beginning to end.
Here are my four noble truths about the quite ambitious—by quality, not quantity—Buddha Bar menu. One: Its concept is Asian fusion. Duh. Our server was very specific in telling us that the chef and kitchen staff is from Asia. Two: A hefty portion of it is about the Sushi Bar, which sounds promising, and keeps its promises. Three: Correct me if I´m wrong (and I´m certain someone will jump to do that), but this might be the only menu in Prague that offers Japanese Kobe beef, which comes from Wagyu cattle and is raised according to strict tradition. My companion told me the cattle are given massages (!) and groomed daily. Go on, Wikipedia that shiz; it´s interesting and for real. Anyway, this main course is 1475CZK so I didn´t order it, because I wasn´t feeling special enough or deserving of it but let me know. This brings me to the fourth truth: this place is expensive. But keep in mind you´re paying for the entire experience. My companion shaped his opinion this way: “It´s only 45% to 50% about the food.” You do the math. And believe me, you will.
Of the main menu, I already mentioned the spicy tuna tartare as a notable appetizer, vivaciously fresh and delicious. The Vietnamese spring rolls were above average, not overly greasy, and arrived in a filling portion, but when I have to scan my notes too carefully for too long, I decide on a “meh.” I was looking forward to the wok-fried octopus and frogs legs with rice wine, but was a bit disappointed, as the spicy batter overly costumed the bite-sized contents and didn´t redeem the meager dish from its absence of sauce. 400CZK. Hmm—uptown frogs.
The Peking style duck—tender, juicy, and not overly drenched in sweet sauce—met our expectations, save for its somewhat sloppy presentation; and the monkfish pad Thai provided a unique, enjoyable twist to what the palate expects from pad Thai, but didn´t deserve special attention.
Prepare to be a bit confused when the server asks you if you´ve ever dined at Buddha Bar before, and begins to explain that it´s a “family concept.” Although the menu offers three choices of dinners to be shared at the table, one of which is described as a “family style” dinner for a minimum of six people, and includes four appetizers, five main courses, chocolate sesame bars for dessert, and coffee, there is not really anything “family” about this restaurant. Of the other two shared dinner choices, we chose the bento curry dinner for 1480CZK. It started with a pleasing miso soup, and was followed by the main courses, compartmentalized in one dish: lamb, chicken, and shrimp curry, mango chutney, raita, and chilled mango soup. The portions are small, the contents a notch above mediocre. But because our experience with Buddha Bar´s sushi was so fantastic, I´d definitely opt for the shared bento sushi dinner on my next trip.
The server recommended we order from the “Buddha Bar Creations” section of the sushi menu, urging us to try anything labeled “new style sashimi.” That´s where I found the winner of the evening: The “new style” salmon tataki sashimi is a delicately prepared dish of thin slices of robust salmon draped in a cool peanut sauce, with the tiniest bits of crunch to pack a well-orchestrated diversity of flavors and textures into one bite. Bravo. The rest of our sushi sampling was also a success, with the unmasked, vigorous delights of the red snapper and tuna sashimi, and the orgasmic unagi experience. The maki rolls were the runners-up of the evening, the caterpillar roll having been uncharted territory that has now inspired me to try other offerings, such as the “pink lady” and the “red fire dragon.”
You´ll ask yourself how I managed dessert, and, aside from the fact that dishes like the warm chocolate cake with hazelnut chocolate sauce (hypnotic) and the list of fresh fruits and sorbets were calling my name, I will tell you that this experience was a long one. There are no after-dinner plans; Buddha Bar fills the evening. The serene, mystical atmosphere invites you to relax, stay awhile, sip slowly, get lost in the music, and indulge in an experience that isn´t just dining, but dining entertainment. (And at least the Prague location is absent of Bridge-and-Tunnel artificial nails or self-consciously fashionable look-at-me-but-don´t Parisians.) Surely the last verse of the Buddha Bar song will end with a bubbly “Oh My Dog!!” (you´ll see) in a cushy seat within the shadows of the cocktail lounge, camouflaging any runny mascara or red wine ring-around-the-rosy mouth.
Well snap out of it now! ‘Cause here´s the bill.
Jakubská 649/8, Prague 1
+420 221 776 400
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Disclaimer: All stars are relative to an establishment´s context.
Jessica Rose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org