Monday, September 3, 2007

Hanil

Let's face facts. Prague is not a big sushi town.

Sure, there are plenty of sushi places. But, for one reason or another, top quality fish and top talent chefs are lacking. And, no, being far from the sea is not an excuse.

Still, internationalized palates demand a sushi fix. So, we search for the best available options.

I can't say I've got an encyclopedic knowledge of Prague sushi restaurants. I've only been to about seven: Miyabi, Yami, Millhouse Kaitan, Hanil, The Sushi Bar, Myslbek's Sushi Point, and Mashhana. There was one on Nerudova, but I didn't love it and forgot the name.

There have been things I liked about many of them. For example, Miyabi's sushi is OK, but their barbecued eel is what I go back for. Or Sushi Point's all-you-can-eat brunch.

But, when I consider value for money, service, atmosphere, location, and other dishes beside sushi, my regular favorite is Hanil.

The restaurant does both Japanese and Korean dishes. It has a modern, clean-design dining room with blond woods and a sushi bar right by the door. I've seen quite a few Japanese diners eating here.

A meal at Hanil always starts off with a complimentary green salad. I love it. Sure, it looks pretty basic: Iceberg lettuce, cucumber, carrot, radish, and bean sprouts.

But what is really special about it for me is the soy-vinegar dressing. There is something about the sweet and sour balance. I can't get enough of it. I have to confess, I took a sip from the bowl after I finished the salad.

Yeah, I know. Say what you will, but it's just that good.

I asked our waiter how it is made. He made a big deal out of the fact that it is a secret. Then, he told us the secret. It's pretty simple, really, with one ingredient I wouldn't have guessed. If you want to know, you'll have to ask yourself.

We both agreed our waiter, a Czech man with a goatee, is one of the best we've ever had in Prague. His name is Tomáš.

The guy is always there when you need him, but almost always unobtrusive. If your paper napkin gets a little soy sauce on it, he'll slide a new one next to your arm as he walks by. If you decide to share a dish with your date, he's there with an extra clean plate. He's always friendly, but not unnaturally so. He speaks excellent English.

On a recent visit, we didn't go too wild with the sushi. V got a mix nigiri set for 240 CZK. These pieces are not so pretty to look at. They can do better. But it they tasted fine. I will say that the tuna is not always the freshest, though.When tuna is excessively bright and pink, it means it has been treated with carbon monoxide, which is harmless to eat, but preserves the color. And it can hide the fact that the fish (and other meat) is past its prime.

I hate that producers do this, and it has become a common practice. Natural-colored tuna has become the exception. At the fish shop, I'll only buy tuna that has a normal, ruby red color.

I'm a big raw salmon fan, so I got the sake 7+3 set for 365 CZK. It is seven pieces of salmon nigiri and three salmon maki rolls.This looks a little better, and it one of the better bargains for sushi. The salmon was fresh and buttery.

For main course, we went to the Korean section of the menu. V got the champong for 310 CZK. It is a spicy, seafood and noodle soup.There are plenty of mussels and some shrimp in there. V thought it was OK, but I quite liked it and helped her finish it.

I got my usual dish, the ojingo bokum, spicy stir-fried squid for 365 CZK. Every time I order this, Tomáš warns me that it is very spicy. And I always assure him that I know what I am getting into. It is hot, but it won't make you cry.It's served on an iron plate, but it does not come out sizzling, as with fajitas. The squid is cut into long, thin strips, rather than rings. The sauce is on the sweet side, but not cloying. I must say, I do tend to like sweet sauces. However, it did benefit from a shot of soy sauce for balance. I wouldn't mind more of a sour kick.Fried onions are a dominant feature of the dish. They are mixed with green pepper, and zucchini. The rice comes on the side. I have found it is a little awkward to put the rice on the iron plate or put the squid on the rice in the bowl. Maybe I'll ask for an extra plate next time.

V drank white wine, Veltlínské zelené, which was 60 CZK for a .2 liter glass. I drank only Mattoni sparkling mineral water at 30 CZK for a .33 liter bottle.

At the end of every meal, complimentary slice apples with little plastic forks are delivered to the table. I always find it an enjoyable ending to a meal at Hanil.

I've certainly followed a number of Internet debates about what is the best sushi spot in Prague. Some people say it is Nagoya. Some say it is Samurai. The Prague Post just gave a good review to Gozen. I'd like to try Planet Sushi.

What I can say for sure is that, after all the discussion, there is no consensus. And I still don't think any place meets the standard of a sushi restaurant in a major Western capital.

A convenient location is certainly a big part of the equation, but when I have to pick one place to go to, Hanil works best for me.

I know there is a wide variety of opinion here, so feel free to say what's best for you.

Restaurace Hanil
Slavíkova 24
Prague 3
Tel. (+420) 222 715 867

9 comments:

Julia said...

I vote for Hanil's too - for the exceptional service, depth of the menu and atmosphere.

Kat1 said...

Hi, great blog. Love to come back and read new installments.

I wonder if Hanil is Korean owned as it sounds like a Korean name. I don't know what it means but it's definitely not a Japanese word. Are their main cuisine Japanese or Korean?

How many pieces do you get for 240 czk mix nigiri set? I'm trying to figure out the how (in-)expensive sushi is in Prague. Perhaps I should find out myself next time I'm in town. That will be from tomorrow for a long weekend.

Funny, champong in Japan is a noodle soup but with non-spicy sauce. It is a speciality from Nagasaki area in the south of Japan that is facing Korea/China across Japan Sea, so it's possible the origin of Nagasaki Champong is Korean. Good to know, thanks!

kat1 said...

Oh, you label it as Korean. Sushi too but not Japanese so the place may be more Korean although the interieur looks more like a Japanese restaurant on the photo.

For my Japanese style salad dressing, I use, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, Dashi (japanese soup stock from fish and sea weeds) in light brown powder form, sometimes a bit of fresh ginger.

Nomes said...

Hey B,

Any idea why there's such a 'korean and japanese' thing going on in Prague? Is this normal? It's certainly not normal in NZ where Japanese cuisine is either sushi or teppenyaki (mostly different restaurants) and Korean is served elsewhere.

Just wondering if you had any theories.

N

Anonymous said...

never been to made in japan ? on rytirska street ?

we have FRESH tuna.. not the frozen colored one.. im a sushi chef by the way... and that salmon roll you got, it's filled with rice and a tiny bit of fish..
come visit.. ask for Roberto
cheers

Anonymous said...

> Any idea why there's such a 'korean and japanese' thing going on in Prague? Is this normal?

This happens, for example, when the chef/owner is a Korean-Japanese and opens a restaurant outside Japan (I have never seen such in Japan though - That doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Only according to my experience.) Of course he doesn't have to be K/J, maybe the chef knows both cuisines. And it can be practical for cusotmers to be able to taste both Korean and Japanese at one restaurant.

Kat1 said...

Last comment was by Kat1

Kat1

Brewsta said...

Thanks Kat1, I had no idea myself.

Re: Made in Japan, I've walked by many times but the location so close to the tourist trail gave me pause. But you have tempted me with the fresh tuna and qaulity roll talk.

Anonymous said...

Korean-Japanese / Chinese-Japanese / Vietnamese-Japanese restaurants are created because shrewd Korean/Chinese businessmen know Westerners love sushi and can't distinguish nationalities amongst Asians well.