Written by Laura Baranik
A Hotel’s Heroic Pursuit: Michelin Star Days at the Prague Hilton
To local culinary enthusiasts, the visit of Michelin-starred chef Thierry Baudour to the kitchen of the Hiltonď¿½s CzecHouse restaurant will be seen as something of a rescue mission. After months ď¿½ or, in some cases, years – of overcooked fettucine, undercooked burgers, and gross oversalting at even the most lauded restaurants of Prague, the demanding eaterď¿½s long-whimpered ď¿½S.O.S.ď¿½ has finally been heard.
The famed Michelin restaurant rating system denotes the crď¿½me de la crď¿½me of European (and as of 2006, New York) restaurants. Either one, two, or three stars are awarded to those restaurants meeting Michelinď¿½s rather vague standards, and while the carrying of a single star is a feat in itself, the fear of dropping from three to two stars or from two to one has led many a chef to madness and at least one to suicide. The Michelinď¿½s origins are humble ď¿½ the rating system was begun by the French tire manufacturer in 1900 as a motoristď¿½s handbook to decent food, lodging, and other services ď¿½ but the official guide is now considered the pre-eminent authority on European fine dining.
According to this authority, then, the Czech Republicď¿½s restaurants are sorely lacking in fineness. France has a total of 620 Michelin-starred restaurants; the United Kingdom has 230. The Czech Republic has none (though Prague does have three restaurants with the less-prestigious ď¿½Bib Michelinď¿½ rating), so Mr. Baudourď¿½s two-week break from his usual post at Hilton Brusselsď¿½s single-starred Maison du boeuf is not to be missed. And if French ratings systems and suicidal chefs donď¿½t impress you, Iď¿½m about to offer a bit more proof as to why you should make a reservation while you still can.
I sampled Mr. Baudourď¿½s delicacies at a journalistď¿½s degustation dinner last week. After a short introduction by the chef himself ď¿½ who informed us that he had taken away our menus so that we could analyze the flavors for ourselves ď¿½ the six-course expedition began. The initial dish was a Maison du boeuf specialty: steak tartare topped with a generous portion of caviar. Tender almost to the point of creaminess, the beef was well-complemented by a dash of fresh chives and the black caviarď¿½s pleasant pop. A glass of Ruinardď¿½s slightly fruity rosď¿½ brut rounded out the flavors nicely.
The second course, a marbled terrine de foie gras, was like a cashmere sweater for the tongue. The foie grasď¿½s warm, velvety, almost buttery texture was enlivened by a cool layer of mulberry gelatin that dissolved into sweet water just before swallowing. Left to imprint on our minds the memory of these heavenly combinations ď¿½ and to wonder why Prague is obviously so very wanting in culinary standards ď¿½ we were a bit distracted by the time our next dish was set before us.
But we didnď¿½t stay diverted for long. A single mouthful of the chestnut cream soup was enough to focus our attentions entirely on the richly flavored delicacy at hand. Thick and silky without being overly creamy, the pureed chestnuts were offset nicely by a few feathery slices of smoked duck breast and the subtle spice of fresh ginger.
Our main courses consisted of a thyme-flavored sea bass and a roasted fillet of veal, both of which were exceptional. Particularly outstanding was the veal, served with a light chanterelle sauce and lima bean and snowpea accompaniment. Perhaps the most satisfying element of this dish, however, was the paper-thin potato pancake, which brought to mind the standard Czech pub snack bramborď¿½k, albeit substantially more refined and with an oily, potato chip-like crunch.
Many of us were now too sated to imagine dessert, but once it arrived, it was difficult for even the most chock-full stomachs to resist. The temptress was a soft chocolate cake with an impossibly fine sorbet, explained on the menu as ď¿½violet iced water.ď¿½ Soft and crumbly on the outside, the cakeď¿½s inside was a small, creamy pond of hot dark chocolate. After this final leg of our Michelin journey was over, we leaned back in our seats, completely satisfied and nearly paralyzed with pleasure.
And while this measure of bliss comes with what appears to be a painful price tag, a cursory glance at some of Pragueď¿½s more elite restaurant menus reveals that youď¿½ll end up paying less for Mr. Baudourď¿½s masterpieces than for the usual local ď¿½fine diningď¿½ fare. I neednď¿½t tell you, of course, that whatď¿½s on offer at the Hilton is infinitely, incomparably, undeniably better, regardless of the Michelin star snob factor. Try it, but act swiftly: you only have until the end of this week to tell all your friends that youď¿½ve just experienced the best meal Prague has ever known.
Michelin Star Days at the Prague Hilton
12 ď¿½ 21 October,
CzecHouse Grill & Rotisserie
Pobreď¿½nď¿½ 1, Prague 8
Open: Weekday lunch, 12:00 ď¿½ 15:00
Daily dinner, 18:00 ď¿½ 23:00
Reservations: 224 842 700
Full menu can be download at www.hiltonprague.cz