Noodle bars, one of Prague’s fastest growing minority groups, have a well-established and fiercely dedicated customer base. None of them have to try very hard to draw a crowd. All that’s really needed is a good location, reasonable prices, and a semblance of authenticity.
The latest addition, Kitchen, opened a few months ago along 28. října street, markets itself as the city’s first Japanese ramen bar, though technically there are just four ramen dishes – and a whole lot of other non-noodle-related items – on the menu. At least for now.
Truth be told, Kitchen is easy to miss. It shares the space with an upmarket accessories boutique, which has a more prominently displayed storefront. Two large chalkboards by the door claim there’s a ramen bar inside, but a glance down the dimly lit corridor at the empty dining tables lining the wall seems to contradict that statement.
The prices are definitely a bit over-the-top for the local mindset – especially for being “just a noodle bar”, as my dining companion opined – though it’s clear from the location that it’s not us locals Kitchen is targeting. (Methinks management may need to invest in better outside signage if it’s hoping to entice a bigger clientele.)
The restaurant is part of The Address Idea, a concept developed by Italian fashion designer and entrepreneur Eugenio Bramerini, whose denim, punk rock wares have reportedly been worn by the likes of Lady Gaga and her backup dancers. Along with his clothing store, Enter, Bramerini also runs Kafka Snob Food, a fancy Italian bistro in Josefov.
Compared with Kafka’s colorful wall tiles and polished interior, Kitchen, with its exposed brickwork, dark hues, checkered floor and open ceiling, is more in line with Bramerini’s penchant for all things grunge. It also sort of looks like a spaceship: The food is delivered via a small service elevator located behind the bar and small spotlights cast ominous shadows on the table settings. A spiral metal staircase leading down to the restrooms seems out of place, as does the whimsical mirror at the bottom.
On my first visit, I spent a long time examining the menu on the wall, perplexed as to why there didn’t seem to be any food items listed. It took a moment to realize that the crinkled yellow papers strewn on each table were not in fact the daily specials but the actual food menus. Mine was faded and hard to read.
The drink list, on the other hand, was in crisp condition. I considered my selection there first, skipping over the “Hard Working Men”, which was made up primarily of hard alcohol and dirty-sounding mixed beverages. I settled on a homemade lemonade (60 CZK). I was tempted, however, to ask the waiter where the “Hard Working Women” were, but he was already having trouble getting my order down, so I cut him some slack.
Sadly, when the lemonade arrived in a lovely sugar-trimmed goblet, it was flat and lacked the spark “homemade” usually guarantees. I was glad I didn’t order the half-liter, which would have set me back a whopping 150 CZK. Meanwhile, my lunch guest, the Coffee Fiend, deemed his cappuccino (70 CZK) disappointingly lukewarm given Bramerini’s country of origin.
The situation vastly improved, though, once the cook buzzed up the food – a Chanpon ramen dish (260 CZK) paired with a Chashu burger (185 CZK). The Chanpon came in a huge bowl and was packed with vegetables, seafood, including octopus and mussels, and an egg. Although some of the ingredients seemed liked an odd combination, the flavors mixed well and were quite filling.
Now, the Chashu was more like a sandwich than a burger. Filled with thinly sliced (and very slippery) pork between two slices of warm bread, this “burger” also featured veggies, ginger mayonnaise, a hint of mint and – ta-dah! – an egg. The pork was excessively fatty and the egg was a little unexpected, but overall the dish received one and a half thumbs up, especially the side portion of potato wedges. More of those, please!
We returned a few days later, determined to try a fresh juice blend (excellent) and the teriyaki salmon (a sizable portion, though too much teriyaki).
Bramerini, wearing a business suit instead of the overalls I’d seen him rocking in a few magazine spreads, was rushing about with a convoy of other men in suits. It looked like they were getting ready to host a party in the back room, which is equipped with two long tables capable of fitting a group of about 40.
I was hoping Bramerini’d stop by our table and say hello, seeing as we were the only diners at his establishment that evening, but all I got was a quizzical look when he caught me staring. Slightly embarrassed, I quickly turned back to my drink, Slash (90 CZK), a delightful mix of oranges, lemon and lime that was gone, like all the drinks here, way too soon.
Which Prague restaurants get ramen right?
Photos by Michael Heitmann / http://mheitmann.ch/
View Prague Restaurant Reviews in a larger map