NOTE: Kogo name has been removed from the signs on this restaurant. It is now just called Duplex (April 2011)
"I don't want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member." Groucho MarxNine years ago, Kogo in Slovanský dům was one of my favorite restaurants in Prague.I took some heat for it, but I loved the open kitchen, their seafood risotto, the leafy courtyard in summer, and even the prices back then. I was a regular.
But that all changed years ago.
The prices went up, the quality was inconsistent, and the regular clientele of tourists, business people, and nouveau riche Czechs got on my nerves. I haven't been there in a long time.
But when Kogo opened a new location in the Duplex night club at the top of a building on Wenceslas Square, I was curious.I had my doubts, but I wanted to see if I could taste a little of that old Kogo style.
The entrance to the restaurant, which also leads to Duplex, might not be obvious to those not in the know.Mr. Big and I entered one of the two elevators at street level.
It let us out near the coat check for the club. It's an area done up in black and white, with some funky decorative touches.The whole place had a theme of ghostly faces, either on the wall paper or projected on the walls.There were about four or five tables filled in the dining room.Hardwood floors, painted black, were annoyingly noise and creaky to walk across.
What I liked most was the terraces. One looked out over Wenceslas Square.The other had a view down Jindřišská street to the 15th century tower on the other end.It was still too cold to sit out there, but it looked like a cool place to hang out in the summer.
I felt like starting out with a beer. I was surprised that they only had .33 liter Pilsner Urquell bottles for a rather steep price of 69 CZK.The odd thing is the menu said they also offered a .33 liter glass of Pilsner Urquell on draft for 59 CZK. The waiter said it was unavailable.
It's beyond me why they'd offer just those two options of the same beer. Who would order a more expensive bottle instead of a draft if was available? I can only speculate that it's often not available.
We received some bread.It was on the edge of dryness and nothing special. The olive oil on the table was good, though.
For starters, I had the rucola salad with Gorgonzola and pear (210 CZK).The leaves were nicely and lightly dressed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The small chunks of cheese were creamy and smooth. And they were a nice contrast to the sweet, stewed pear slices, which had a vanilla-like flavor.
It was good, but small for the price. For this type of salad, I much prefer Osteria da Clara's scamorza, Parma ham, fresh pear, walnuts, rucola, and radicchio. And what a contrasting bargain at just 115 CZK.
Mr. Big had the mix of Italian meats and cheeses (180 CZK).This included Parma ham, mortadella, copa, Parmesan, and Taleggio. It was a simple but satisfying appetizer. He was happy with it.
We decided to switch to wine and got a bottle of Vranac from Plantaže in Montenegro (545 CZK).We'd had this wine before, and it was as good as I remembered. A great wine for the price. Speaking of which, I only noticed while writing this that it did not turn up on the bill.
For a main course, I wanted the ravioli filled with seafood (230 CZK). But it was not available. Instead, I got the ravioli with spinach and ricotta (210 CZK).It's listed on the menu with a butter-sage sauce, but I had them make it with the tomato-basil sauce instead.
I thought it was great. Inside the al dente pasta pouches was fresh, still leafy spinach with just a light amount of cheese. On top, the sauce was rich with the flavor of fresh tomato and basil. There was fresh mozzarella on top. It was one of the best raviolis I've had in a long time.
Mr. Big had the tagliatelle with shrimp, zucchini, and fresh tomato (230 CZK).The flavors here were more restrained, but the properly cooked pasta did have the essence of the crustaceans mixed throughout. We liked it, but it didn't evoke nearly as much enjoyment as my ravioli.
I'm a chocoholic, so I ordered what the waiter called a "chocolate fondant." (80 CZK).These are most often a cake that is baked to order, with a liquid center. However, this dessert came out startlingly fast.
It had a very uniform shape that looked a lot like the frozen kind I buy at Marks & Spencer. Which are reasonably good, but not what I'd expect at a restaurant like this. And unlike the M&S cakes, this one, though warm, had no chocolate melting out of it. The fresh cream on top was a nice touch, though.
I went back for a second visit by myself, arriving at 7:15pm on a Saturday. I was the only customer for the entire meal. For 30 minutes, three waiters circulated around me, wiping the spots off wine glasses with cloth napkins. I wondered why that couldn't be done earlier, but it did make me feel less alone.
I felt like sampling a cocktail, so I ordered a mojito (119 CZK).For a club, a lot of the drinks seemed reasonably priced. I thought the drink was quite good.
It was well-mixed with no sugar at the bottom. It was not too sweet and had a good amount of lime. I'd only say there could have been more mint, and it was a little too jam-packed with ice. The second round had more mint and less lime, so they could work on consistency.
I wanted to order a grilled octopus starter, but it wasn't available. Instead, I got the tuna tartare (210 CZK).There was a generous amount of chopped fish, mixed with a few capers and olive oil.
My initial impression was that it smelled a little too fishy. It was also too salty, perhaps to cover its less than pristine character. I drenched it in lemon juice, and that rendered it much more acceptable.
For my main course, I got my old Kogo favorite, the risotto frutti di mare (250 CZK).It was a little confusing because the menu called it "seafood risotto with white wine sauce." But the waiter assured me it was done in the tomato-based style I was familiar with.
There was a good haul of seafood in there. Some of the many mussels were excellent, but a couple were slightly off. The whole, baby calamari were very fresh. There were some microscopic shrimp, but they did taste fine. The big tiger shrimp on top was the best -- cooked just right, with great flavor.
The rice itself had fresh parsley, but I wished for more. I also thought it could use a heavier shot of wine. The over all flavor was flatter and less complex than the best versions I've had of this dish. Still, I'd get it again.
Interestingly, I was served fresh, grated Parmesan cheese with the risotto.Cheese with seafood is considered by many to be a big no-no in Italian cooking. But I'm not dogmatic. It needed something so I threw some in. More lemon would have helped, too.
The bill for this visit was 708 CZK, with the cocktails accounting for 238 CZK of that.
As I was leaving, three customers entered. There was a man with hair gel, white pants, tinted glasses, and a light, white cotton hoodie. With him were two women in heavy make-up, spandex, and clunky high-heels that made Chinese foot-binding look like a walk in the park.
And it got me thinking about the interplay of food and ambience. The cooking at Kogo Duplex was pretty close to the other Kogos, and at least 20 percent cheaper in some cases.
On that level, I generally liked it. But the atmosphere was a different matter.
It felt cold and empty, even when dining at 10:30 p.m. And while the terrace looked inviting while empty, I had to consider the possibility of sharing it with the interesting assortment of humanity that night clubs tend to attract.
That's all well and good if you feel comfortable in that type of crowd. Just speaking for myself, I don't think it's my kind of club.
Wenceslas Square 21
Tel: (+420) 732 221 111