Review by Naomi Boxall
Ultramarin, tucked down Ostrovní by the Národní třída tram stop, is a combination bar, restaurant and club. The menu on the wall outside showed enough promise to drag us in by the tastebuds, but we didn´t stay for the electronica played downstairs in the small and smokey club afterwards. The upstairs area is divided into three spaces: the bar, the kitchen and a ‘general seating area´. A ‘reserved´ table was made ‘un´-reserved (without reservation) when we asked if they could seat us.
The food available in Ultramarin reads deliciously; ranging from soups, through dips, fusion starters, grilled goodies (including lamb chops, turkey and swordfish amongst the more usual suspects), burgers and quesadillas, salads and a variety of sides. Perhaps more unusual are the specialities: predominantly Thai food, some delivered with a twist (for instance: yellow red curry noodles with goat´s cheese and tomatoes – stir fried). Salads without meat, vegetable and/or tofu curry´s, the quesadilla, spring rolls, zucchini pancakes, the dips and at least one soup provide a good variety suitable for vegetarians.
Our drinks were served while we deliberated the overwhelming options. For the first time since I arrived in Prague, our water was served ice in the glass, without request. Decisions made, the starters were brought soon thereafter, and commandeered the entire table. The platters were huge: more than enough pita bread was provided for the mezze of 3 dips. The baba ganoush/mutabel served here is my favourite in Prague, hitting the right notes of roasted eggplant, garlic and sesame without too much cumin. The hummus and feta cheese dip are good, if not particularly remarkable. The two large folded zucchini crepes were topped with a ripe brie, superbly matched with a sweet balsamic reduction and garnished with cherry and sun-dried tomatoes. A plate of 12 reasonably spicy Buffalo wings came with a garlic rohlik (not the baguette as stated) but more importantly, the accompanying thick, creamy blue cheese dip stayed on the table long after the others had been removed.
The starters were definitely big enough to satisfy a medium (lunch?) sized appetite. Hoping that the waiting staff had noticed us taking our time and had put a ‘hold´ on the mains, we were quite dismayed when our mains were brought to us while we were still only halfway through our starters. The waitress did not particularly understand our plight – she merely shrugged when we suggested that they wait to serve the mains until we´d finished our starters and murmured that the kitchen had already cooked them.
But don´t blame the food: the mains were not a disappointment at all, presented beautifully as they were. The grilled duck breast was a little chewy, its flavour thankfully not overpowered by the heavily peppercorn-laden green pepper sauce. The green bean accompaniment was served in two bundles, each wrapped in slivers of bacon. The duck in the red curry was much more tender, easily ‘cut´ using the takeaway chopsticks provided, though challenging to find underneath the mountain of jasmine rice served on top of the curry. The lychees were fresh, juicy and sweet – I hope that they have frozen enough to not be forced into dropping this dish from the menu as the season dwindles. The third dish was a ‘blue light´ steak – cooked to a ‘melt in the mouth medium´ – encrusted adventurously with coffee and pepper. The coffee added a surprising taste to the steak, without adding a gritty texture to the outside, the grounds used must have been exceedingly fine. The blue cheese butter melted atop the steak was insufficient – but that´s where the blue cheese dip from the buffalo wings came in handy. Be warned that the ‘country potatoes with garlic sauce´, and ‘Ultramarin American potatoes´ are the same thing – wedges – only one dish is topped with a drizzle of garlic aioli. The potatoes and sugar-sweet corn-on-the-cob sides were definitely unecessary, as both the duck breast and the steak were accompanied by a large couscous salad, cucumbers and tomatoes. Even without the sides, the curry proved too large, and came home with us in a polystyrene container: still tasty reheated the next day.
We did look at the dessert menu, but it was definitely a ‘cursory glance´, as nothing could have persuaded me to pass another morsel past my lips, not even the ‘home made carrot cake´ listed on the specials menu. Perhaps the most enticing ‘dessert´ can be found listed amongst the salads: dried fig salami and honey walnuts served with blue cheese, brie, salad and a glass of red wine. However, even if they´d exchanged the red wine for port, I had one doggy bag already: two would have seemed gluttonous.
The wooden floor, seats and tables in Ultramarin fit well with the yellow/brown streaked walls and curved ceilings, creating an intimate yet unintimidating atmosphere – though perhaps that´s the U2 on the stereo, being piped out at a volume just above the conversations. The photographs adorning the walls are, oddly, of more walls; just in black and white. The bar is well stocked; a variety of whiskeys and liqueurs present should you fancy, and the bar staff mixed drinks with competence not undermined by flair. Perhaps during the day it´s more suitable for business associates, but what with the décor, the tempting cocktail list, and the lack of child sized portions on the menu, (not to mention the dishes possibly too spicy for young palettes), Ultramarin looks like more of a ‘date´ or ‘mates´ restaurant, so it might be better to get a babysitter should you need.
Apart from the mishap where our starters and mains shared the same table space for a while, Ultramarin impressed. The food was excellent, presented with care, and extremely good value (considering the serving sizes). When I return, I will choose my starters more wisely – or go with hungrier friends.