Written by Chris Alice
It’s no secret that Prague is home to an admirable collection of exquisite culinary establishments run by respected international proprietors. Even so, a figure as prolific as globally acclaimed chef, best-selling, author, and infamous anti-vegetarian Gordon Ramsay entering the scene is bound to cause a stir. And such is the case with Maze, the Scottish chef’s most recent exploit. Rarely has an restaurant here been as hyped as Mr. Ramsay’s Maze, the second incarnation of his original London concept.
But entering Maze, located in the former Hotel Renaissance (now the Hilton Old Town Prague), via the generic, dated lobby is highly anticlimactic, and unfortunately, once inside the restaurant proper the setting does little to redeem this. Contrary to its name, Maze is a large, open rectangular room meant to emulate the feel of the London original which, it is to be hoped (I have never had the pleasure of visiting) was better executed, while combining elements of Prague’s unique architecture. The muddled result is a bizarre and incongruous mixture of high-class elegance and a gritty black-and-white art deco diner, complete with some very booth-like seating for a large number of customers. A backlit faux-marble ceiling framed by a garish metal grate is the greatest offender, while details like the horribly smudged pillar mirrors detract from what should be a peerless experience, and hardly seem consistent with Mr. Ramsay’s notorious reputation for perfectionism. And while much was made of the bar in promotional materials, I found it embarrassingly under stocked and devoid of patrons; presumably this is due to Maze just opening and will be rectified shortly.
It is amazing, however, how rapidly these concerns vanish when the food arrives. The menu on a given night may be lacking in outright quantity, with no soups and- of course- no salads the evening I visited, but the quality of what’s on offer is, as to be expected, virtually peerless and frequently borders on the revolutionary. I started with the foie gras with poached chicken, which despite being somewhat unappealingly presented as a plain, oily slab on a clear glass plate, was, when combined with the toasted brioche bread and fig marmalade, quite delectable, if a bit predictable.
No matter; the main dishes at Maze truly shined. The tender glazed pork belly with spicy lentils and apple is difficult to describe without resorting to cliché; though if one must phrases such as “life-affirming” spring to mind, and the small cup of simple, über-buttery mashed potatoes served on the side were, I can say without hyperbole, the best I have ever tasted. Even less bourgeois foods such as cod are given the royal treatment, and although the servings are small, the main courses are delightfully presented. Thankfully, this leaves room for the fantastic desserts, but there won’t be any space afterwards- dishes such as the chocolate fondant topped with honey milk cream are so rich you’ll wish you could legitimately order milk in a restaurant; the lighter pineapple carpaccio with coconut sorbet and lime syrup is a better (and more interesting) alternative for those of a weaker disposition. Maze also offers the “Classic Menu”, a seven-course succession of small dishes such as roasted quail with celeriac remoulade, wild halibut, shellfish risotto, and crab bisque that would surely impress.
Naturally, meals can come accompanied by prestigious, astronomically priced wines, both international and domestic, and a generous by-the-glass menu is provided for those on a relative- and I stress relative- budget. For Maze is not cheap, nor would one expect it to be, but to say that it’s worth it would be a gross understatement. Fortunately, Maze is blessed with an omnipresent service staff who were all exceedingly polite- some truly in excess, over-delicately placing my silverware in front of me like plutonium rods. Still, the clientele was evenly divided between wealthy local connoisseurs and young hotel guests on the eve of a stag party, and despite looking like the latter, we were treated like the former. Together with the superb cuisine, this element serves to nearly cancel out the unattractive surroundings and helps Maze establish its rightful place among Prague’s greatest and brightest dining destinations.