"Don't interfere with something that ain't bothering you none." Cowboy ProverbYears ago, just after it opened, I went to Cowboys a couple of times for steak and cocktails. The Kampa Group restaurant, on Nerudova below Prague Castle, left me unimpressed.I thought the food was just OK, the service was weak, and the prices were high. The negatives were somewhat offset by the great terrace.
In other words, not terrible, but not value for money.
I never went back until last week. My soon-to-be-departed friend, Flash, invited me to join him there for dinner. Though dubious, I didn't question his choice. He's been a good friend, illuminating my world on everything from African authors to how to communicate with women.
The reason for his choice? He had a 500 CZK coupon.
We walked in through the street-level passage to the reception desk.Despite the threatening weather, we wanted to go to the roof terrace. We told the greeter girl that we knew the way.
It was only 6:30 p.m., but the main restaurant was empty.It's a nice looking space, a little dark, but atmospheric, with vaulted brick ceilings and cowhide seating.It was also empty there when we left, but perhaps that could be ascribed to the deluge of rain that poured down later.
The terrace is one of the nicer ones in the city, with a view that includes Malá Strana's St. Nicholas church (just out of frame).Many of the tables have canopy-like umbrellas to ward off the rain. But there is also a stylish, two-level wooden structure for greater shelter and warmth.Flash ordered a .3 liter glass of Pilsner Urquell (55 CZK). I had a Mojito (165 CZK).Both glasses were small for the price. His beer was fine. The cocktail was both intensely sour and sweet, but still drinkable.
Homemade focaccia style bread was chewy and satisfying (but on a second visit, it was hard and stale).It was soaking in olive oil in the bowl. I would have preferred to pour it myself.
I got the grilled octopus starter (365 CZK). There was one long, meaty tentacle on top of eggplant "caviar" and underneath rucola.The octopus did not have much flavor from the grill, but was very tender and tasty. It had a tangy flavor from a marinade.
The pesto, with the strong essence of basil, was balanced well by the more neutral eggplant. I liked it, but I much prefer the more generous and much cheaper octopus at Giardino - enoteca con cucina.
For his dinner, Flash got the charbroiled Cowboys sirloin burger (345 CZK). It comes with good bacon, melted cheese, chopped pickles, tomato slices, and mixed, leafy lettuce.Flash pronounced it a "damn good burger" and complimented the large American-style bun. The salty meat had a good texture, it wasn't over-seasoned and had the right charbroiled flavor.
It came with excellent, crispy, homemade French fries.We liked just about everything about this burger and fries except the price. But with his coupon, Flash wasn't too bothered.
I went for the 250 gram rib eye (375 CZK). Everything with the steak was extra. I also had the mashed potatoes with spring onions (45 CZK) and the red wine sauce (25 CZK).On the plus side, it had a wonderful flavor from the flame grill. However, the meat itself did not make for easy cutting.
The menu says the cut is "the most marbled for more flavor." But marbled meat should also be tender. This one wasn't, and there was also a vein of very tough gristle though the middle. The beef was cooked medium-rare, as requested.It didn't say where this meat was sourced from, but it was not nearly as good as the North or South American cuts I've tried elsewhere in Prague.
The chunky mashed potatoes reminded me of the potato hash you sometimes get with breakfast at a New York diner. They just needed more salt. The sauce on the side was sweet, and tasted like red wine barbecue sauce, and I'd understand if that doesn't sound appealing, but I loved it.
If you didn't do the math, the whole plate, with sauce and potatoes cost 445 CZK.
I couldn't resist ordering a chocolate fondant for dessert (215 CZK). It was baked to order and came straight from the oven to the table.I'd rate this one as average. There was too much sugar, which gave the exterior a sticky, crunchy texture. The chocolate was good, but more cocoa intensity would be better. Vanilla ice cream around Prague almost always falls short for me, and this one was no exception.
The meal for two costs 1755 CZK before tip.
I felt the need to return one more time, so I came back the next evening. The downstairs restaurant was empty again.The buildings on the terrace had about 12 tables occupied, upstairs and downstairs, mostly by couples.It seemed like date night and, indeed, the room had a romantic feel.
I ordered a Sea Breeze (165 CZK).It was heavy on the grapefruit and very sour. It needed more cranberry juice.
On this visit, I started with the goat cheese salad (245 CZK). I'd say this is one of the best versions I've had in a long time.The cheese itself was a perfect thickness, heated all the way through, but maintaining a light, ethereal quality. I thought that putting it on top of a piece of date bread was a masterful idea. The sweet, cake-like bread and the salty-tangy cheese went so naturally together.
The rucola was heavily dressed with balsamic vinegar, but I thought that worked well in the mix. There was also what I believe were roasted pumpkin seeds (though not mentioned on the menu description). The strawberry was a good addition, but there was just one, sliced into five pieces. One more berry would have sufficed.
Finally, I got my main course, the pork ribs (285 CZK). This seemed like the biggest bargain on the menu. It came with corn on the cob, and a baked potato with sour cream.The menu said it was supposed to come with barbecue sauce, but I got a serving of tomato salsa. I asked the waiter for the right sauce and received it quickly.
But that wasn't the only thing wrong with dish. Some of the ribs, which had very little sauce on the exterior, were very fatty. Overall, they were just boring and ordinary. I pulled off pieces pork and dipped them in the bottled, hickory-flavored sauce. That was OK, but I expected something more exceptional. I didn't finish them.
The side items were disasters. The corn had a char on it from the grill. But I took one bite and found them watery, mushy, and tasteless. The potato had decent flavor, except that it was served at room temperature. There was no heat in it at all.
In my long ago visits, I had problems with the service, and I've seen some complaints about it online. That said, the service on both my visits was top notch. It was efficient, friendly, and occasionally charming.
On my second visit, a tall, young, and good-looking waiter was so nice and helpful to a couple of attractive Danish girls sitting near me, they invited him to go clubbing (he politely declined, citing the need to finish his shift).
So, after all these years, has Cowboys or my opinion of it changed? The answer is yes, but not much.
There were some bright spots. I liked the food a little more. It's not the worst choice a visitor could make while being herded down the tourist trail.The people dining with me on the great terrace seemed to be enjoying themselves, the atmosphere, and the view. I wouldn't want to interfere with that.
But my biggest issue with Cowboys is the same as it ever was. Great location and view aside, if you really care about value for money, I wouldn't bother.
Prague 1 - Malá Strana
Tel. (+420) 296 826 107