Monday, October 29, 2007

U malé velryby (Little Whale)

"Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana."
-Groucho Marx
Speaking of time, another birthday has passed. That's not a surprise.

But my party was.

V organized a special dinner and invited a bunch of friends to U malé velryby (Little Whale), a new restaurant at Maltézské náměstí in Malá Strana. It opened just a few months ago.

This is a very small, cool place. So small, in fact, that we took over the whole restaurant for the evening. There are only about eight tables.Because of the location, the restaurant often pulls in tourists and people working at nearby embassies. I think the often-high quality and reasonable prices will keep its few seats full for the foreseeable future.

It has an "open" kitchen. This is not an über-cool, modern design concept. This is just a very small space for a restaurant, and the kitchen opens right into the dining room.

It gives Little Whale a homey, intimate feeling -- like you are eating next to the kitchen at a friend's house.

And the Irish chef and owner, Jason, is quite a friendly guy. He's often hard at work, but he'll also be out and about, talking to diners, describing and explaining the food.

For the party, V had pre-ordered some tapas and starters from the restaurant's short menu. As friends arrived, they had something to chew on as they began talking by the bar.

The calamari ceviche was my favorite (45 CZK). It was marinated with chili, ginger, and lime. The slices of squid were served warm.

I also liked the creamy duck rillette with onion jam (45 CZK), the very sour marinated white anchovies (35 CZK), and the roasted red peppers with pesto on fried polenta (35 CZK).There were plenty of other choices.

We had black olive tapenade (35 CZK), which I didn't get a picture of, but it had big chunks of mushrooms mixed in.

Inhouse toasted almonds come with black olives (35 CZK). The nuts had a very nice flavor, but were a little on the oily side.

And there was cold, rare roast beef wrapped around green beans with sesame (45 CZK) and a special appetizer of salmon pate on bread with a sweet pickle.

V is a big lamb fan, so she ordered one portion of the seared lamb fillet with green beans, feta cheese, and pesto (115 CZK).

I had half of this dish and it really was outstanding. V agreed. She knows she will have this again.

We finally sat down for dinner pretty late. I order a special, the venison with roasted butternut squash and mixed herbs.

The meat was very rare, very tender, and not gamey. In fact, it did not have a strong venison flavor at all. The meat could have been mistaken for beef if you weren't paying attention. But I very much enjoyed it.The butternut squash was served fairly plain, with basically its slight, natural sweetness. The mixed herbs on the plate were very salty. I opted for dabbing the meat with some really nice, spicy and sweet red chili sauce that I found on the table.

V absolutely loved her crab papperdelle (295 CZK). This dish was made with real king crab meat, fresh pasta, lemon, and crushed pepper.The amount of pasta was not very large and, generally, main courses are not full meals by themselves. The final bill can climb when you add sides and starters, but I thought the prices were more than fair.

Anyway, it was an real extra pleasure to eat the generous portion of real crab meat, after so often seeing imitation "krab" in so many so-called crab dishes in Prague.

On an earlier visit, I enjoyed the char-grilled sirloin steak with onion tarte tatin with cherry and red wine sauce (315 CZK). I was wishing for more of the sauce on the side.The tart was a nice touch and quite good, but the plate looked a little empty as it was. I'd recommend ordering another side dish, perhaps grilled vegetable or some potatoes.

There were a number of other main course that I saw pass by, but I didn't get a chance to try.

There was a char-grilled salmon steak with a lemon-herb crust and panzanella (tomato, cucumber, olive, and fresh basil). That was 265 CZK.

The Englishman ordered the Little Whale Seafood Pie for 265 CZK. I wish I had tried it.

Someone else got the crispy roast duck with potato-herb stuffing and apricot sauce for 285 CZK. This is another one I didn't taste, but sounded quite good.

I thought apricot would be a good combination with the duck. A fork got into it before I could get a pristine photo.On an earlier visit, V had the creamy seafood chowder with homemade brown bread (90 CZK). It was a fine soup, and left me wanting more. We'd order it again.For dessert at the end of our first visit, we had the apple tarte tatin with vanilla ice cream (85 CZK). It was not a classic version and just a few bites, but a nice little treat at the end of a meal.For the end of the birthday dinner, there was only once choice: A birthday cake. And V, knowing me, knew that it would have to be chocolate.

This is not on the menu and the chef made it just for this special evening.

It should be on the menu -- it was great.I didn't ask exactly what kind of cake it was, but the chocolate was intense, and it was very light and moist, covered with roasted nuts. It was served with a little whipped cream and fruit on the side.

Little Whale has reasonably priced wines to choose from. But all evening, I was drinking half liters of Pilsner Urquell (40 CZK).

I did have a digestive at the little bar at Jason's suggestion -- Fassbind La Vielle Poire -- a brandy with a very intense pear flavor. I can recommend it.

I'd also recommend reservations if you want to be sure to eat at U malé velryby.

Yes, in part, because it is so small.

But when you add in the decent prices for some good cooking in Malá Strana, it also means that on some nights, you could have a whale-sized problem getting a table.

I'm not talking about a little whale.

U malé velryby (Little Whale)
Maltézské náměstí 15
Prague 1

Tel. (+420) 257 214 703


ernest said...

I am definatly going eat there soon, quite a mouth watering post... looks like nice value, creative not boring food.
Thanks for the tip

Anonymous said...

Have to say that we took friends from London there for lunch a couple of weeks back and it was slightly embarrassing. My duck was obviously reheated (very dry, one section of it to the point of being inedible) and my partner's salmon was raw in the centre (not just lightly cooked, as it should be, but raw). Our friends were polite but I'm not sure I'd ever want to repeat the experience. Did we get the kitchen at a bad time or has the quality gone downhill since this review? It's a shame, as this is fairly local to us and would be a good place (the intentions seem right) if they could sort out the consistency of the cooking.

Brewsta said...

I'm so sorry to hear that. Consistency is key to a restaurant's success.

We had a a nice evening, but I haven't been back since the party so I can't really say what's going on.

Sometime one bad experience can turn me off a place where I had been a regular. Seems like not enough restaurants understand that most fundamental issue.