Restaurant Review: Café Wow

Not so Wow - or is it? Laura Baranik dines at the new Café on Kozí­

Expats.cz

Written by Expats.cz
Published on 14.02.2007 11:39 (updated on 14.02.2007)

Written by Laura Baranik
for Expats.cz

Against my better journalistic instincts, I’m going be honest with you right now: I can’t make up my mind about a restaurant. Actually it’s not even a restaurant; it’s a café. And its name is Wow.

Hearing the establishment’s name, the lazy critic in me hoped that I could write a review based on one of two simple premises – that Café Wow either lives up to its title (“Wow! Great café!”) or it doesn’t (“Wow… I can’t believe how much it blows.”) Nice and easy.

But instead, after three separate visits, I’m left with more of a pensive “Hmmm.” There’s a lot about this place I really like: the friendly service, the funky interior, the fried shrimp. But then – to my great frustration and chagrin – there are the salads.

Expats.cz Rating
Atmosphere
Food
Service
Overall
From our plate
99 CZK Black pepper cream soup
159 CZK Fried shrimp
59 CZK / 95 CZK Green salad with French dressing
99 CZK / 165 CZK Goat cheese salad
195 CZK Marinated chicken kebab
269 CZK Viennese veal schnitzel with potato salad
79 CZK Hennessy cake
39 CZK Espresso
59 CZK Fresh mint tea
35 CZK Mattoni
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If you’ve read my review of Albio, you’ll know that I am not on good terms with iceberg lettuce. It’s tasteless and nutrition-free and doesn’t belong in any self-respecting chef’s kitchen. After reading up on the previous credits of Wow’s head chef Petr Bednář, which include positions at upscale restaurants in both London and Prague, I would never have pegged him for an iceberg kind of guy. The arrival of my supposed “large green salad with French dressing” at Café Wow proved me wrong – turns out Bednář’s kitchen has conjured up more of a “small bowl of iceberg with bland creamy white sauce.” A couple of carrots and cucumbers and a handful of what looks like baby romaine can do little to enliven what is pretty much a lost cause. It’s a similar story with the goat cheese salad, whose sharp balsamic dressing and sprinkle of walnuts are doomed to iceberg-inflicted dullness.

So that seems pretty clear: the salads are worthy of a second-rate hospoda. But why, then, is so much effort made with some of Wow’s other dishes? The afore-mentioned shrimp are of excellent quality, and each is individually wrapped in a clever spring-roll-like skin. They’re served creatively, too, in a narrow semi-tube about half a meter long, with the shrimp lined up on one end and the accompanying sweet chili sauce on the other. A black pepper cream soup also hints at the presence of a skilful kitchen staff, boasting a light pepperiness and rich texture offset by the smoky crunch of a bacon garnish and a few aromatic slivers of black truffle.

Unfortunately, a whiff of blandness manages to reemerge in the entrées. The marinated chicken kebab is just right – lightly blackened on the outside and tender in the middle. But the side dishes of rice and steamed vegetables are without any discernable flavor and, in the case of the broccoli, woefully overcooked. A veal schnitzel, while not bad on its own, is let down by an unremarkable Viennese potato salad.

If the energy of the milieu could make up for some of the food’s sluggishness, Wow would certainly have it won. Magenta-colored walls, black-and-white leopard print chairs, and a counter upholstered in white leather vibrate under the thumping beat of loud house music. Two projectors splash enormous images of crackling fireplaces and winter landscapes on opposite walls. Rhinestone-encrusted forty-something blondes puff down pack after pack of Marlboro Lights. In short, it’s a trendy-kitsch extravaganza.

I can’t help but think that Café Wow might work better if it really was just a café with limited menu options, instead of attempting to function as an all-out restaurant. Its coffee and cakes are excellent – the Hennessy cake, which is a classier version of the classic Czech větrní­k, is superb, as is the range of coffee drinks and specialty teas.

But Wow’s menu is simply too wide in scope, offering everything from omelettes to pasta to salmon steak, plus the delicacies of a strange little section entitled “Deep-Fried Classics”. It’s a likable place, but, like me, it just can’t seem to make up its mind. If only the people in charge would buy some decent lettuce, trim down the menu, and pay equal attention to all the dishes, Café Wow would be wow indeed. Until then, it’ll be stuck in limbo.

Café Wow
www.cafewow.cz
Kozí 5, Prague 1 – Old Town
Tel: 222 313 091
Hours: Mon – Thurs 8:00 – 24:00
Fri 8:00 – 02:00
Sat 10:00 – 02:00
Sun 10:00 – 24:00