Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Café Imperial

"It is better to be beautiful than to be good."
-Oscar Wilde
The artistic landmark that is Prague's Café Imperial has reopened after its makeover.

So, when some friends and colleagues said they were meeting there for drinks, I had just a little extra incentive to join in.

First, I should say that I never went to the old Café Imperial. I have no basis for comparison. Second, I got there after everyone finished their meals, so I don't have too much to say about the food.

But who cares?

This is one of the most unique cafés you will ever see. It is a rather dramatic space.

The tall walls and high ceilings are completely covered with Art Nouveau ceramic tiles and mosaics dating back to the Imperial Hotel's construction in 1914.The exterior of the hotel, which houses the café, is Art Deco. I took a picture of it, but it was too dark to post.

The ceramics contain a wide variety of scenes in relief, like little angels, animals, or hunters. Some of the walls also have intricate wood carvings.The tile-clad columns in the middle of the room are particularly impressive.I was hungry, so I did order a club sandwich for 180 CZK. It comes with decent fries. It's nothing too special. The sandwich has the standard bacon, lettuce, and tomatoes. There is a touch of mayo.What is non-standard from my point of view are the cucumbers and sliced, boiled egg. They use a whole piece of chicken breast that is a bit dry and also unwieldy to eat. I'd much prefer thinly-sliced chicken or turkey.

I took a brief survey of what others at the table had before I arrived. I was told:

The mushroom quiche was good, but a rather small portion for 150 CZK. The hamburger was big and good, but had to be sent back because it was seriously undercooked. It was very enjoyable after recooking, and cost 210 CZK. The tuna sandwich for 180 CZK did not look good or taste good.

I saw other people receiving fancier meals than what we ordered. The menu offers dishes like Irish beef cheeks (295 CZK), pork fillet with beer sauce (225 CZK), loin of tuna (290 CZK), and fillet of John Dory (395 CZK).

Some of it looked pretty good as it went by, but you never know. The more expensive plates are brought out with a flourish by the kitchen staff, dressed in their uniforms. They made quite a production of bringing out two apple turnovers with vanilla ice cream. Club sandwiches apparently get ordinary waitress delivery.

And, of course, they also serve breakfast. The English Breakfast is toast , fried eggs, bacon, beans, sausage, marmalade, bread, butter, and coffee or tea for 190 CZK. For the same price, you can get the American Breakfast of two eggs any style, bacon, tomato, sausage, hash brown potatoes, butter, bread, and filtered coffee. They also do omelets with ham, cheese, or veggies.

But the main focus of our visit was the alcoholic beverages. They do have a cocktail menu.

I started with a dry, gin martini, what they call a "martini cocktail" for 105 CZK. If you don't say anything in advance, it comes out with two ice cubes in it, and a rather small pimento-stuffed olive with no toothpick. The poor little thing got caught under a cube. Getting it out without fingers or utensils was a bit tricky.

I decided that this was a little too much effort, so I switched to Jack Daniels with a little ice. Except I was informed that they didn't have Jack. So, instead, I joined my English buddy in ordering a Jameson with ice for 78 CZK.

The Divine Ms. C was drinking Cosmopolitans for 105 CZK a pop. A .15 liter glass of Pinot Noir (label unknown) was 98 CZK, and a .15 liter glass of Czech Riesling (label unknown) was 85 CZK.

You can't really tell from flash photos in a big room, but the lighting was too bright for most of the evening.I can understand why they want to keep the place well illuminated, but it does hurt the atmosphere. Toward the end of the evening, someone got on the dimmer switch and brought the lighting down.

There is something else you must know. Every time something is written about Café Imperial, the following must be mentioned:

Believe it or not, there used to be a tradition of doughnut throwing at Café Imperial. Anyone willing to pay 2000 CZK could hurl stale doughnuts at any other customer. However, the thrower would have to bear the brunt of the adverse reactions of those targeted.

One story from last year said the practice was discontinued. A more recent story said it will be revived.

I really can't say whether you should go to Café Imperial for the food. I can't say I tasted or even saw enough to say whether it is good. But, it's not the primary attraction for most people, anyway.

What I can say is that I'm pretty sure Oscar Wilde would have recommended it.

Café Imperial
Na Poříčí 15
110 00 Praha 1

Tel. (+420) 246 011 440


Anonymous said...

Great fun - going there soon.
Thanks for the info.
Take a look at this - would you like to join in?

Anonymous said...

The Imperial Cafe is certainly a spectacular place & worth visiting. But do you think the Divine Ms C would hurl herself at my doughnuts?

Brewsta said...

It would depend on how many Cosmos she's had.

Joanna said...

It looks amazing ... one to remember


Anonymous said...

Looks beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I've been here for breakfast for the last two days straight and it has been delicous on both occassions! The soups on the daily menu are highly recommended especiallya at 38czk each.

Overall amazing place with great atmosphere.

Good_Will said...

I sampled their food at the Prague Food Festival this last weekend, along with a couple of experienced chefs.

Maybe the review doesn't take account of the fact that they have a new chef, who is probably training his sous-chefs as I type, and maybe they just chose their best dishes to serve at the Food Fest, but everything we tasted was delicious, from the Gnocchi with truffles to the entrecote.

I'll be checking it out since it's pricey but not ludicrously so.

Cheers, Will

Brewsta said...

This post really isn't so fair as a food review in that I only had a sandwich and the rest was hearsay. I'd like to try it again some time and focus on the food instead of the drink and decor.