Monday, February 19, 2007

Nebeský Mlýn - Brno

Plans to try a new, highly touted restaurant often begin with a sweet mix of hope and expectation. If you are lucky, there is that happy feeling of discovery when the establishment lives up to the hype. There are times, however, when the whole thing ends in bitterness and recrimination.

This was one of those times.

V had heard from friends, family, and no less than the Czech version of Elle magazine that Nebeský Mlýn (Heaven's Mill) was one of the best places to eat in the city of Brno. Maminka had wanted to go there for a long time, and it was her birthday, so off we went. We pulled into the industrial-looking parking lot behind an ugly steel gate, and it didn't look too heavenly.

The inside of the restaurant was much more inviting, with rustic wood beams, a working fireplace, and an actual mill wheel. The wheel had a small trickle of water going over it and was turned by an electric motor.
There were only a few other tables there for lunch, but the service was hellishly slow. It took 15 minutes to get our drinks, more than 30 minutes for the appetizers to come, and the main courses took more than one hour. The whole lunch took more than two hours. For the most part, they were not pleasureable hours.

Then, another bad sign. Nebeský Mlýn had the biggest pepper mill I have ever seen in my life. It looked like it was about one meter tall. My father's friend was a restaurant critic in the New York area and had a theory that the quality of a restaurant is inversely proportional to the size of its pepper mill. Under this formula, I dared not imagine how bad things could get. Aunt L cracked that it looked like a cow inseminator. Nice way to start off the meal.

We ordered a bottle of white wine, Valtické zámecké Rulandské šedé (290 CZK), which was simple, relatively cheap, and good for the price. They also have Pilsner Urquell on tap.

The English-language menu had its share of amusing dish titles: "Drunk old woman" (pork, mushroom, bacon, beer, ketchup) and "chicken meat under a wimple" (chicken, anchovies, tomato, liver). Some wimple.

Before placing our food orders, the waiter brought around two platters. One platter was covered with various uncooked steaks, including a filet from Uruguay, pork tenderloin, veal, and ostrich. The other was covered with very fresh-looking seafood, including a dorade, tuna steak, salmon steak, and fair-sized octopus.

We asked the waiter if the tuna salad on the menu came with raw tuna or cooked.


There was a miscommunication here.

Based on all the fresh fish, there was an expectation of raw, sushi-quality tuna with the salad. Instead, it was a very boring salad, topped with tuna from a can. Uncooked, of course.

These things happen. More than once, it would turn out.

V got escargot, which she said was good, but not hot enough. M got cabbage (sauerkraut) soup, with slices of klobasa. She liked it. I thought it was the sweetest version I had ever tasted. I did not like it, and I love sweet dishes.

I had a half a duck with red and white cabbage, which was very good for 385 CZK. The skin was excellent, very crispy, not too fatty, and the meat was very moist. It came with dumplings and a fried potato stick.

The steaks were expensive, even by Prague standards. There was a T-bone steak for 580 CZK. M got the Uruguayan filet steak (Svíčková) for 582 CZK. It was her birthday, after all. It was very tender and tasty, with a pepper cream sauce. But 582 CZK?

Cousin P got the ostrich steak (368 CZK), which he generally liked, except for the fact that he was not asked how we wanted it cooked. It came medium rare and he wished it was cooked more.

V got the octopus. It was offered as an appetizer, but she asked for it as a main course. When it came, it was a very full, large plate.

"Wow, this is pretty big for an appetizer," she said.

"I don't think that's an appetizer portion," I said. "I think we'll get charged double for that."
This is the octopus after most of it had been eaten.

There was another miscommunication here, and it was much more painful than the first. We weren't paying enough attention, there was a birthday lunch going on. We didn't notice that not all the seafood that was on the platter had prices on the menu. It did not say "market price" or "price per 100g." But the tuna steak, for example, did list a price on the menu of 485 CZK.

After more than two hours, when the bill for the five of us arrived, it came to 3957 CZK. The highlight: V's 800 grams of octopus at 120 CZK per 100 grams. At 960 CZK, it was probably the most expensive single dish she has ever ordered in the Czech Republic.

Some of the food was OK, but nothing too special. The service was just terribly slow. V asked if it normally took this long to get food.

"Oh yes," she was told. The waiter seemed unbothered by the question, as if it demonstrated the kitchen's attention to detail.

It is possible to eat decently here and not break the bank. We felt we ate pretty well, when we finally got our food. But we also felt like our bank had been broken.

So, my questions are these: Did the restaurant take advantage of us or is it our own fault for not paying attention? What do you think?

Whatever the answer is, it is not going to make me feel any better. And because of that, we are never going back to Nebeský Mlýn.

Nebeský Mlýn
Palackého tř.91
Brno - Královo Pole
Tel.: 541 210 221


Anonymous said...

Another foreigner chumped by the Czechs!

Czechs - 3957
Chumped cizince - 0

Brewsta said...

The sad part is, they would have made so much more money off of us if they had won us over as regular visitors. As it is, we will never return. And perhaps a some others will not visit if they read this. I doubt they get a lot of tourists there, so it is pretty short-sighted.

Anonymous said...

...yet oh so typical.

Brewsta said...

Anonymous, I think the cizince (foreigners) number should be higher. Still, as a long-term Czech resident, it is always extra bitter when you get rooked. I considered not writing about it to spare myself from the embarassment. But then I thought, that's why I started this -- to share information like this. If I were by myself, I would have had words with them, but it was a special birthday lunch and my Czech wasn't up to it without getting others involved. And, well, it did look like 800 grams worth...

Anonymous said...

582 Kc for a steak?? That's more than anywhere I know in Prague...

Maybe worth doing a piece on the "best" steakhouse in Prague? Budvarka near Dejvice is one of my favs, around 250 Kc for a superb cut of tender meat.

Then again, if you've ever been to Argentina then steaks elsewhere pale into insignificance :-)

Anonymous said...

"it is always extra bitter when you get rooked"

Tell me about it. I always get a sense of dread when I venture outside of my known places. That is why I am reluctant to be adventurous as 9 times out of 10 rude waiters and sub standard cooking await.

Keep writing I am enjoying your blog

Brewsta said...

Casa Argentina on Dlouha has by far the best steak in Prague -- better than Sahara Cafe, Ambiente, La Bodeguita, and a few Czech places -- the names I can't recall. The steaks are less than 500 CZK. But the service is a pain -- everyone I know has waited forever for the check.

The Nebesky Mlyn steak was very good, but most definitey not worth 582 CZK.

Anonymous said...

You say you are a "long-time Czech resident" but yet you are unable to use the simple word cizinec/cizinci properly (despite you must hear it every day, I guess) nor you are able to talk to restaurant staff in Czech... Unbelievable...

Brewsta said...

Thanks for reading, sugar. Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

Good blog! I really enjoy your writing style. It's conversational and real. It sounds as if -- and I believe this -- you are trying to be as genuine as possible.

Sorry you got ripped off in Brno. It hasn't happened to me in a while, but I imagine it must happen all the time. Makes you really sorry for the unsuspecting tourists. I can only imagine the shenanigans that must go on.

I enjoyed your article on the Prague Post, but I think you came down too hard on Evan and maybe tread just a little too lightly on David. Evan's writing, love it or hate it, was highly entertaining, and even if you didn't quite know where he was going with some of those metaphors, at least he was trying to pave new thought markers in your brain. I have no problem with David's reviews normally, but I hate it when he wastes half a page of the PP on a restaurant that gets only one star for "food". I wrote him an email once and said "please don't tell me about mediocre restaurants, I already know a ton of those." He answered by saying "thanks for the suggestion" and then proceeded to review a dozen more crappy places.

About future blog posts, can I suggest one? What about this: The best "Czech Food" in Prague. Like everyone else I get a stream of out-of-town visitors whose only wish it seems is to eat "real Czech food." I have nothing against Czech food, I just can't find anything good in Prague (that isn't too touristy, overrated, or overpriced). Maybe a "top 5" or "top 10" Czech places would be a good reader service.

One last thing .. just ignore the "why don't you speak Czech?" spam you get from time to time. This springs from some dark, deep expat self-loathing and has nothing to do with Czech language or anything else. The guys sending you these are the ones sitting around in their Pankrac panelaks smoking Petras and thinking they are having an "authentic Czech experience ..." If they weren't interested in what you have to say, they wouldn't be reading your blog!

Best wishes and keep it going!

Brewsta said...

Thanks for your comments.

I just can't agree about Evan Rail. I thought he wasted so much space with his ego-driven efforts. His writing fairly well shouted "Look at me! I am not merely reviewing this food. I am an auteur. You may kiss the ring."

Perhaps, I am too easy on Dave Faries. But as I said, the bar was set pretty low and I want to give him a chance. And supress my harsher side.

Anonymous said...

Hope he's not insulted I called him "David" here ... just goes to show I don't pay as much attention to the column these days as I used to.

What about this aspect of the PP: they are now dating their reviews in the weekly restaurant listings, and many of those reviews are from '02 and '03 ... Restaurants in Prague are not consistent from week to week. How can a review that's 5 years old in some cases have anything remotely to do with how that place is now. Honestly, I don't think a review that's more than a year old should still be sitting there (judging by the fact that this is a weekly newspaper). Just my two cents. I would write to Dave again to say something, but I think he would just think I'm an endless kvetcher.

Brewsta said...

You're right, of course. But it's also a Catch-22. No easy solution there.

Anonymous said...

U Kastelana, Kotlarska 51, Brno. It could cheer you up.

Brewsta said...

Much appreciated

Anonymous said...

U Kastalana can definitely cheer you up if you love quality and don't mind paying for it. Note, I said quality, not quantity. I'll ditto your evaluation of "Nebeský Mlýn." And if you REALLY want to experience indifference by their waiters, lets hope your not there when a larger dining party arrives that looks like they might be flush with koruna. :(
In addition to U Kastalana, I've had great experience with a remote restaurant in Vranov u Brne. It's the Restaurace/Penzion GALLUS.

Brewsta said...

Thanks for the info. My long-time favorite in Brno has been Brabander. They've also opened a second location, which I haven't tried yet.

Robin said...

A few years ago a group of Eramus exchange students had dinner in Nebesky Mlyn. They were right royally stiffed on the bill, which often happens here. They had been drinking bottles of wine that they believe were from the bottom end of the price scale. In fact the waiters had changed the wine halfway through the meal - without checking with the diners.

When they challenged the waiters, claiming that they had been drinking the 290Kc wine and not the 800Kc wine - the waiters accused them of lying. the altercation carried on for a while and the group were the last of the diners to leave. - they would not back down on their conviction that they had not drunk the more expensive wine. - at this point the waiters brought the rubbish bins into the restaurant and proceded to empty the bins in front of the diners to prove that they had drunk the more expensive wine!!!1

Anonymous said...

I went there once. That was four years ago. A drink came fairly quickly but then I waited over 20 minutes to have my order taken. When the waiter did deign to ask me if I wanted to order, i just asked for the bill and left. I will never ever go there again. I do live in Brno, so they certainly lost a potential customer.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Mlyn used to be decent but has gone so far downhill that I know not a single person that appreciates it. Raw lamb and sweetened soup with ketchup is unforgivably poor cooking. The cook has gotten even fatter and seems not to care about his preperation. Fail.