Review: Lehka Hlava

Jessica Rose dines at the Old Town standby: "I Forgot it was Vegetarian!"

I´m excited to write about this place. Not just because it has become one of my top three favorite restaurants in Prague (the other two spots are still open). And not just because it´s fresh, healthy, innovative, and jaw-droppingly inexpensive, but also because there are all kinds of “extras” to mention, interesting and rather amusing things about it. OK, OK. I´ll offer a couple of random examples right off the bat, just for fun:

The menu notes, “Monks, ordained clergy and enlightened persons eat free of charge.” Go ahead, let your mind frolic with the “enlightened persons” portion; it really opens up a whole verbal playground, so if you can´t come up with a joke… well, you must be an accountant.

 
Expats.cz Rating
Atmosphere
Food
Service
Overall
From our plate
80 CZK Hummus
90 CZK Eggplant tartar
105 CZK Grilled goat cheese
135 CZK Tofu Salad
125 CZK Arugula Salad
105 CZK Tabbouleh Salad
145 CZK Goat Cheese Salad
130 CZK Spinach Quesadilla
135 CZK  Eggplant Quesadilla
160 CZK Oriental Stir-fry with smoked tofu

135 CZK

Bulgur Risotto
135 CZK Couscous patties
165 CZK Grilled goat cheese Main Dish
80 CZK Cheesecake
70 CZK Carrot Cake

Also, when making reservations—an absolute must for this place regardless of the day or time—they ask how long you plan on staying. Chop chop! Answer the question! The staff is in a hurry! Be prepared for this question. (No, I´ve never been asked this either.)

It has real cheesecake. REAL cheesecake, and if you´re a cheesecake lover like I am, you know what I mean.

Anyway. On with the review.

“Wow, I forgot all about the fact that it´s a vegetarian place—and that really says something.”

That´s what my dining companion said about Lehka Hlava, aka Clear Head, as we took care of our bill and left smiling. I felt exactly the same way.

Why does it “really say something” for us? What does it say?

Green concerns, compassion for animals, spiritual something-or-other, and, arguably, health are some of the reasons people are vegetarians, including a good chunk of my friends and acquaintances that span the stickler spectrum from strict vegans to the shrugging sometimes-I-eat-fish dieters. We all know that the number one reason is that it´s trendy. Just kidding (mostly). Personally, it seems too rigorous a commitment for me, an anemic that turns into Casper and shakes like a chilly Chihuahua after a day without meat. I have no proof but I´ve always suspected that vegetarians discreetly squirm about what they´re missing, like monks and you-get-my-point.

It´s one thing to tell a vegetarian dining companion that he or she has options on the menu of a given destination. It´s quite another thing for a vegetarian to tell a carnivorous tongue that the destination´s menu is bereft of meat or fish. That´s because we meat-eaters are openly antsy about missing out on something. Say “vegetarian” and suddenly we feel limited. Our crystal balls reveal large salads in our future, and the thought “leaves” us hungry. We devise a secret plan to pick up a gyro on the way home.

And then–turn around bright eyes–there´s Lehka Hlava. I have a whole different take on vegetarianism now. This place doesn´t just alleviate the meat-eaters´ anxiety, but has an amazing menu spilling over with mouthwatering dishes, and innovative combos sure to seduce your taste-buds.

One of the things that makes it so amazing is that they do it all without lies. There is nothing listed that promises a meat-mimic, no “sausages,” club sandwiches built with “tofurkey,” or list of veggie burgers. Come on, just like that imitation Dior bag, it falls apart, is crap on the inside, and, like her fake boobs over there, everybody knows.

Lehka Hlava doesn´t need to fake anything. They´ve taken the loveliest of the vegetarian forest and rearranged it creatively, deliciously. (Note there are options for vegans.)  Also, sitting in the cozy, 500+ year-old space in Prague 1, colored by orginal art and laden with plants and some aquatic life, feels the perfect escape from this melancholy winter sky. This is a great place to take out-of-town guests, too, vegetarian or not.

The vegetarianism part is effortless!

For starters, the hummus is unforgettable, a creamy taupe spread topped with pine nuts and served with nachos or oven-toasted tortilla chips. It´s a plentiful portion both as the individual starter, as well as its inclusion in the “small clear head” platter of cold starters, a generous dish that also includes tabbouleh, marinated feta cheese, olives, eggplant tartar, and a salad. It´s a hefty plate for just 140CZK. The eggplant tartar was a delightful surprise, in that I was least interested in it initially and it turned out to be something I couldn´t tear away from until the last bit sadly disappeared.

Do not expect the same old sides of chopped cucumber and tomatoes, nor iceberg lettuce. This restaurant serves top-notch produce from some kind of magic garden its keeping secret from the rest of Prague. From whole salad dishes to side salads, expect leafy and vivacious lettuce that livens the table with bright purple and green hues, and the freshest arugula and spinach. No ingredient “hides” in a dish, and there is no “skimp” on anything. Each component is absolutely distinct in its color and flavor, and each has an immediately detectable star quality. Every dish is proudly lavish with greens (not as a tactic to appear abundant), and every dish appears camera-ready. Oh yeah—even the multigrain and rye bread is recognizably fresh and tasty, marked with the superior Lehka Hlava quality.

Aside from unbeatable freshness, the restaurant also has its own clever twist on some basics. The salsa, featured in the quesadilla dishes—the scrumptious favorite of my dining companion—and with some salads and sides, is a sun-dried tomato rendition that´s impressively accomplished an improvement without sacrificing its traditional likeability.  A few dishes, ssuch as the bulgur risotto and the arugula salad, feature a “peanut pesto,” an original combination that appeals as much to curiosity as it does to the taste buds.

Yes, there came large salads, as expected. But guess what? These salads aren´t just filling (they come in huge bowls!), but exciting. The tofu salad, marked on the menu as a favorite, is an Asian-style leafy salad with generous chunks of tofu, seaweed, cherry tomatoes, fresh coriander and a sweet tofu dressing. The tabbouleh salad definitely has a memorable “zing,” and the arugula salad is largely satisfying because of that salsa and peanut pesto combo.

But it´s the goat cheese that really does it for me. Both with the starter, which features grilled goat cheese with cranberries and walnuts served over mixed greens, as well as the goat cheese salad, which comes with fresh guacamole, walnuts, and a lemon-honey dressing, I was mesmerized.  There is also a dish that serves grilled goat cheese with walnuts over potatoes au gratin and steamed spinach leaves. I´m going back to try it this week.

The menu, like the experience, is entertaining. This is what it says about the still water they serve: “purified and activated still water that eliminates toxins, increases immunity and promotes self-healing processes of the body with original Japanese technology.”  You can also order aloe vera and birch sap drinks, which apparently offer some effective mind and body benefits. There is a list of guarana cocktails, too. “Guarana is a Brazilian plant which bears fruit containing three times as much caffeine as regular coffee beans. Naturally energizing, guarana improves memory and mood.”

There was nothing I ordered that wasn´t pleasurable and largely satisfying, at least after the soups. If I squeeze my critical nature with all my critical muscles, I can maybe come up with something tiny, like how the lentil soup, though earthy, lacked thickness and could have used more lentils. That´s the most I can say outside of this rave food review. In regards to service, however…

Because of a power outage the first time, which occurred right in the middle of dinner, I conducted this review in two parts, once for dinner and once for lunch. The food redeemed the first server´s attitude, which was so absurdly snotty—though I must say she was always prompt, as were the orders—I thought there was a hidden camera somewhere. I was certain she got up on the wrong side of the bed, and by the looks of her hair, that must have happened just moments before we got to the restaurant—hip places have I´m-too-hip attitudes (think hipster, Fleet Foxes concert). For the second time, however, the server was friendly and warm. 

As for becoming a vegetarian, I still haven´t the virtue or the strength to resist temptation, so I´m not ready to relinquish my English bacon. However, after Lehka Hlava´s Masala chai tea, I´ve quit coffee and become a tea drinker, and that´s no lie. I actually walked out of this place feeling healthier, inspired to go sign up for a 6am Monday through Friday bikram yoga class. I didn´t do that, but I will. Someday. Next year´s new year´s resolution, I swear.

Lehka Hlava
Boršov 280/2, Prague 1
+420 222 220 665


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Disclaimer: All stars are relative to an establishment´s context.

Jessica Rose can be reached at jessica@expats.cz


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