11 Johnston Street
Collingwood VIC 3066
+61 3 9417 3797
When I told my colleague, Sean, that I was going to a Czech-slash-Slovak restaurant for dinner, he told me to 1) ‘Czech Yo Self Before You Wreck Yo Self’ and to 2) drink plenty of Czech beer. I
‘m not too familiar with know nothing about Central European cuisine except that it was probably very similar to the cuisines of Germany. And Hungary. And Poland. And *proceeds to list the countries that made up the Austria-Hungary Empire* Well, there was only one way to find out, I thought as Shirley and I walked down the deserted end of Johnson St, away from the bright lights and blaring beats emancipating from the Spanish restaurants on the other end.
Walking into the restaurant, we were somewhat surprised to see that it was emptier than the street we had just walked down. Is this the real life, is this just fantasy? I thought to myself as we were led to a table by the window. Okay, not really but I was wondering why it was so quiet. Plus, I wanted to insert a Bohemian Rhapsody reference in here somewhere (har har). The waitress, looking like a Czech version of Fleur Delacour, promptly brought us our drinks and took our orders, helpfully telling us that the mains were massive and that a bowl of chips on the side was not necessary.
My Budìjovický Budvar ($6.90), not to be confused with the less inferior beer by Anheuser-Busch. My beer snob friends (Hello Aaron! Hello Justin!) may roll their eyes at me for drinking lager but dammit, I don’t mind a lager every now and then and let’s be honest, Czech lagers are certainly better than some of the supposedly toffy locally brewed ales on the market. And even though the head sank as quickly and as unexpectedly as Gregor Samsa’s metamorphosis, the beer itself was lovely – a rich, creamy, slightly biscuity flavour that somehow managed to be crispy, flirty and clean at the same time.
We shared an entree of topinky s èesnekem a kapií, traditional style fried garlic bread with marinated capsicum ($6.90). Bismillah! This was amazing! The garlic spread was pretty much like garlic bread butter… but without the actual butter and the bread was pan-fried to a crisp, with slices of marinated capsicum draped lazily on each slice. Something you could easily make at home, yes, but we would not have thought of it had we not ordered it. Thank YOU, Koliba.
Vepøo knedlo zelo, Czech national dish ($21.90). This was the Czech’s answer to our meat pie. Or spag bol. Or roast lamb. Or whatever the heck Australia’s national dish was. A more than generous amount of sauerkraut was spooned onto the plate, which would have been good… had we enjoyed it. I’m no fan of sauerkraut (unless we’re talking about the sauerkraut that is served with the amazing bratwursts at Queen Vic Market) and it was a struggle to eat the sour cabbage on its own without wincing. Thankfully the tender slices of roast pork were beautifully cooked. As for the four slices of what looks like bread in the background? They are knedliky, Czech bread dumplings that are texturally similar to the Chinese mantou but not as sweet.
Tradièní hovìzí guláš s houskovým knedlíkem, traditional beef goulash with bread dumplings ($19.90). This was the best dish of the night, partly because my anti-sauerkraut stance made the roast pork dish lose by default… but mostly because it was just that damn good. I was surprised to see the goulash being more gravy than soup but whatever, it was so tasty that Shirley and I were consistently scooping up the dregs of goulash and mixing it in with our sauerkraut so that we could say that we ate all the cabbage (hah!). That is, if we weren’t greedily mopping up the goulash with the knedliky. The tender pieces of gelatinous beef shanks were not only delicious but also assisted in giving the stew a lovely, rich texture.
Yes, I know. Exposure fail.
We were glad that we were warned about the massive sizes of our mains – we literally could not move after finishing our meals and had to sit around for a while. We both agreed that while Czech food (well okay, the two out of many Czech dishes in existence) looked plain and were not as sexy as say, French or Italian food, their simplicity and their heartiness makes for a winning combination. Although the dishes we had would have been winning Winter dishes, there is no reason why you can’t eat these during the warmer months (we did). The food that we ate may have induced a severe case of Unbearable Lightness of Bloating but nevertheless, we both promised that we’d come back here for more goulash awesomeness, more not-very-inferior Czech lager and the apparently-OMG-WOW pork knuckle dish.