Mussels from Brussels have landed in Prague. Well, sort of.
After the successful opening of Staropramen gastropub Vinohradský Parlament last fall, Jan Pípal, the former executive chef at Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary, decided to add a Belgium brasserie to his neighborhood portfolio. It would appear that Pípal has something of a golden touch. In just two months Bruxx, Pípal’s latest venture, has become a Vinohrady darling with the place routinely booking out on Friday and Saturday nights. (Needless to say, reservations are more than advisable, especially on weekends.)
Bruxx is situated right next door to Parlament in a beautifully restored Neo-Renaissance space on Náměstí Míru. In fact, the two restaurants share the same kitchen, if not exactly the same style.
Parlament is casual; where you’d head to chill after a long day at work, while Bruxx feels like more of an upmarket splurge. At Parlament, your Staropramen comes in frosted pint glasses, and at Bruxx you’re treated to a different presentation with each of the 30-plus lagers on offer. Parlament has a meat-and-potatoes vibe, while Bruxx is, of course, all about the shellfish, specifically Bretagne oysters and the mussels, which, according to the menu, are caught off Denmark’s Isefjord and imported to Prague three times a week.
The menu is down-to-earth. It ranges from salads, soups, and pastas to a generous meat selection, including the usual suspects like sirloin steak (389 CZK) and the prerequisite burger (195 CZK) garnished with Gouda cheese, sweet onions, and homemade chili mayonnaise. The burger, by the way, comes with a cone of lovely homemade Belgian pommes frites à la mayonnaise and is all kinds of awesome, but hey, Pípal, the plate looks a little empty – a side salad or even some coleslaw would be a friendly touch. Just a thought.
What has everyone talking, however, are the big black crocks that the wait staff deliver almost ceremoniously to the wood-paneled dining room on faux silver platters.
Placing the pot in the center of our bar table, my grinning waiters – there were two of them (!) – lifted the lid to reveal 800 grams of steaming mussels waiting to be shelled. Bruxx offers five variations of mussels with only a slight difference in price. As a big fan of garlic, white wine, and cream, I ordered the classic Mussels à la Marinière cream (229 CZK), pairing it with a classic Hoegaarden (75 CZK for half a liter), one of eight Belgium beers on tap here.
Mussels are one of those delightful food groups that always make me feel like I’m playing with dinner: They’re messy and fun, and inevitably something’s bound to land down the front of your shirt if you’re not careful. My Bruxx experience was no exception. One of my ever-present waiters, who must have asked half a dozen times within an hour if everything was to my liking, discreetly slipped a bowl of tepid lemon water to the side of the table, “just in case.”
It is hard to fault the dish. Overall, the mussels were quite enjoyable, though the seasoning was uneven, with most of the white wine broth and onions pooled at the bottom of the pot. The top shells, for the most part, were fairly dry.
I was surprised to learn that Bruxx considers its mussels starters for two. Looking around that Friday night, it seemed that most tables were splitting a crock and a few orders of fries (45 CZK if ordering with mussels and 95 CZK otherwise) between groups of two and four.
Returning for a light lunch the following Sunday, my party of three sampled a plate of French and Belgian cheeses (149 CZK) mixed with dates, grapes, and pear chutney. I asked the waiter to bring me his favorite draft beer, and he returned with a quarter liter of Augustijn Blonde (59 CZK), an abbey blend that was a bit too bitter for my taste. My pals opted for a bottled Duvel (79 CZK) and a ravishing homemade lemon iced tea (59 CZK) that left me slightly envious.
Our table also included a pot of mussels, as well as a less-exciting dish of spaghetti with poached mussels and prawns (175 CZK). I decided to be brave and ordered Bruxx’s much-touted baked snails (139 CZK for six pieces) and an onion soup (79 CZK) made with Gruyère cheese, potatoes, and Stella Artois, which sounded like a winning combination but turned out to be bland and mildly warm by the time it finally arrived. Service was painfully slow. The soup and mussels showed up about 30 minutes after the rest of the food and a passing comment was made about a “technical” problem. Uh-huh.
(On the upside, parents take note: Bruxx houses an extensive kid’s corner off the side of the main dining hall, with professional babysitting provided on weekends, that is ideal for weathering such unexpected delays!)
The snails helped to sate my own impatience. This was my first go at escargot, and visions of tentacles and slime raced through my head. It was nothing like that. Baked with garlic, butter, parsley, and shallots and rolled into exquisitely preserved white shells, this delicacy looked just like a painting … and tasted like wild mushrooms.
Despite the lovely display of Belgium chocolates and brownies, we decided to take a rain check on dessert.
Photos by Michael Heitmann / http://mheitmann.ch/
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