Written by Chris Alice
The recently renovated and re-opened Café Imperial certainly could not be faulted for a lack of ambition. An informatory blurb on the café’s website breathlessly extols its many virtues, unabashedly describing its goal as becoming recognized as a virtually unparalleled dining experience in Prague. While this is to be expected from any restaurant’s website, Café Imperial goes to great lengths to make good on its promises, but nonetheless, does not quite succeed.
The menu proudly- if not quite seamlessly- blurs the line between café and restaurant, offering full entreés as well as standard brunch fare. Limited to familiar dishes such as rump steak and roasted chicken, these additions are hardly novel and seem incongruous with their surroundings. So-called “Czech Specials” include local favorites such as beef svíc(ková, but also dishes pilfered from Central European neighbors such as Slovakian Halušky and Weiner Schnitzel, by definition Viennese. The quality of these more atypical dishes varies widely; while the rabbit terrine with cranberry sauce is soft and sublime, the fish ‘n’ chips are bland and disappointing.
Morning meals are one of the café’s stronger suits. A selection of global breakfast combinations such as hearty English Breakfast, and the Europe-only “American Breakfast” open the list, but eggs can ordered cooked any which way, including a superlative Eggs Benedict with perfectly sour Hollandaise sauce and genuine Canadian bacon.
Of course, as in any true café breakfast can be ordered all day, which is fortunate as the lunch items are somewhat less spectacular. The sandwiches, served in cheap white toast with nasty iceberg lettuce (odd considering that excellent romaine is casually tossed on the side of many other dishes) are pedestrian and the mushroom quiche, utterly devoid of eggs and cream, is more like an overwhelming mushroom pie. Fortunately, the pastries are fresh and the drink menu is complete; every trendy caffeinated beverage is accounted for, and there is a full bar on location, but charging 67 crowns for a beer should never be considered acceptable, regardless of a restaurant’s grandeur.
And indeed, Café Imperial makes much of its elegant decor. The dining space is a very large L-shaped room; half-way up the walls carved wood paneling gives way to polished original white ceramic plates depicting what look like medieval scenes, all under a high, glossy tile ceiling. The setting certainly appears luxurious at a glance, but other details such as the Egyptian-esque columns and laughably cheap salt-and-pepper shakers create a confusing mixture all too reminiscent of the erratic food and service. Ultimately, none of this helps you escape the painful truth: that despite the surroundings of Café Imperial, you are in fact sitting in the Hotel Lobby Imperial.
But as three small dishes can be had for roughly 500 crowns, the right selection can provide both great eating and an excellent bargain. As it is still quite new (in this incarnation), Café Imperial still has time to work out some of the culinary kinks. In the meantime, however, Malá Strana’s Café Savoy still reigns supreme on a Sunday afternoon.
Prague Imperial Hotel
Na Poříčí 15, 110 00 Prague 1
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