Last Friday saw the opening of Spices Restaurant, the Mandarin Oriental’s new upmarket dining venture, housed in the former monastery once occupied by Essensia. In a bid to presumably pull in a local clientele, there is a separate entrance from the hotel on Nebovidská Street, opposite the U Modré Kachničky pub. The interior has been transformed from a stark white minimalist dining room to a welcoming art-splashed space with nothing but the vaulted ceilings left as a reminder of the former occupant.
The menu, too, has been transformed by executive chef Jiří Štift who has left behind the modern Czech and Asian fare that was at the heart of the Essensia menu in favor of an edible travelogue to three diverse culinary regions of the Far East.
The restaurant was practically empty when we were seated early Friday evening but quickly filled up with a lively mix of well heeled locals (present company excluded) and hotel guests having cocktails in the newly refurbished lounge. A clubby soundtrack and a tables kitted out with carved wood centerpieces and chopsticks gave it all the feel of Buddha Bar’s more laid-back sibling in both décor and atmosphere.
The meal started off with a complimentary platter of Southeast Asian prawn crackers and rather nondescript herbed bread rings with a dipping sauce that looked vaguely Tikka-inspired but tasted like marinara.
The arrival of our cocktails saved the day—anyone who was a fan of Essensia’s swanky Barego will appreciate Spices’ inventive long drinks. The heady Cilantro (195 CZK) made with gin, coconut syrup, ginger beer, and the namesake ingredient, and the spicy Tom Yum Yum (195 CZK) with vodka, lychee juice, lemon grass, and chili had nearly as much kick as the Bruce Lee Iced Tea (195 CZK), a concoction of gin, sake, and jasmine tea that is as much fun to drink as it is to say.
The menu packed almost as many flavorful punches. A bold representation of three geographic regions with a selection of creative curries, dim sum, and sushi—it’s organized by provenance in columns and presented on a single menu card. Ambitious perhaps, but the tastes of ten countries hang together nicely and mixing and matching is encouraged.
Our starters spanned South-East by North-East: Thai Beef Salad (315 CZK), strips of velvety seared beef fillet with a nest of greens, herbs, and sprouts and Peking Duck and Foie Gras Spring Rolls (315 CZK), perfectly crisped rolls packed with earthy duck, creamy fois gras, cucumber, and scallion with a tangy plum sauce.
Chicken was substituted for the shrimp in the Pad Thai (395 CZK) a hotly spiced—by request—and generous portion of perfectly excecuted noodles and all the colorful trimmings. Korean Pork Bulgogi (395 CZK) was a bit overwhelmed in its sticky sauce, though the well-made bowl of kimchi on the side was a fun twist on the picnic-pairing of BBQ and coleslaw.
The 2013 Mandarin Oriental Cuvée (190 CZK/15 dcl) from the Reisten region of Moravia and the 2013 Riesling (225 CZK/15 dcl) recommended by our waiter were just right for dishes with a lot of heat. It should be mentioned here that the service is, in the Czech manner, awkwardly efficient, almost to a fault. Napkins are whisked onto and off of laps, wayward hand bags given their own little stools.
But it’s nearly impossible to find fault with a friendly waitstaff that gleefully delivers blissful desserts like Pistachio and Coconut Tiramisu (215 CZK) and Carmelised Banana Cake (215 CZK) with tonka bean ice cream, lemon grass, and chocolate mousse.
In another grab for the local clientele, the prices seem to be lower than that of Essensia, and the decent sized portions and family style service make the menu ideal for sharing. Spices is a prime pick for starting off the evening with appetizers and drinks or, with a bar kitchen that’s open late and serves a shorter version of the dining room menu that includes a burger, ending one.
233 088 888
For a list of great internationals restaurants in Prague, click here.