Brasserie M

Despite a Michelin Bib Gourmand, this French eatery's food rarely justifies its higher-than-average prices

This article was originally posted on the Czech Please weblog.

"Prague, the Left Bank of the '90s"

- Alan Levy, 1991

A very nice woman asked me to dinner. It was the kind of offer that doesn't come along very often. The kind that's hard to refuse.

So I didn't. If you were in my position, you'd do the same.

I needed to pick a place not too far from Wenceslas Square so we could catch some music at Lucerna later in the evening.

I decided on Brasserie M.

Something French seemed appropriate. I thought the lady might be impressed. This restaurant was one of only three in Prague that won Michelin's Bib Gourmand. That doesn't mean it earned one of Michelin's coveted stars. Just that it has "good food at moderate prices."

Moderate is a relative term, I suppose. Brasserie M can get expensive pretty fast if you don't order carefully.

The restaurant is in the center of Prague, but off the beaten track. It is not the kind of place you stumble upon. You have to know where it is.

It is on Vladislavova. If you walk past the Národní metro station, go through the outdoor food market behind Tesco, and turn right, you'll hit that street. The other end of it is near the Lazarská tram stop.

The last few times I've been there, the large dining area has been nearly empty during prime evening hours. I have heard they do good business during the day. The restaurant does offer a 149 CZK lunch special.

The dining room is designed to give it a real brasserie feel. It is not overly fancy, but it is obvious that a lot of money went into it. There are custom-made Brasserie M tables and plates, and lots of brass. There is a big mural on one wall that I don't particularly love.

Brasserie M has a modern, open kitchen. I enjoy sitting at a table nearby and watching the kitchen staff do their work.

The Chef de Cuisine is Jean-Paul Manzac, who adds his "M" to the brasserie. I saw him the first couple of times I was there, but I haven't seen him on the last two visits. He's the one with the French flag on his collar and often walks around and talks to guests.

The lady and I were seated and began discussing the food.

"What do you want to eat, Ma?"

"Something light. I think I'll just have a soup and an appetizer."

She ordered the hearty vegetable soup for 85 CZK. I'm not exactly sure what vegetables are in it, since they are all blended together. Mom thought it had turnips.

I thought it needed salt, but she liked it as it was.

I started with the "grilled calamari with fresh rosemary and lemon served with garlic and parsley pesto on a bed of iceberg lettuce with lime dressing" for 225 CZK. Not a cheap starter, but Mom was paying.

The calamari were the long, thin, tubular type. They were swimming in olive oil and a serious amount of garlic. Good thing I wasn't on a date. The lemon and olive oil formed a warm dressing for the lettuce beneath. The squid were OK. I'd call it a generous portion. A few were very tender, but most were a little on the chewy side.

For the second course, Mom got the "grilled eggplant with zucchini mousse, flavored with basil and concassée tomato" for 155 CZK.

The dish looks small, but it is fairly filling. There are three layers of grilled eggplant with the mousse sandwiched between the layers. It was also surrounded by a large amount of olive oil, which gave it a heavier feel. Some might say it was too much, but I enjoyed the power of the olive flavor.

I decided to go for the classic brasserie dish, le steak frite, for 295 CZK. The menu describes it as a rump steak served with homemade fries and a mixed green salad.

This was a pretty thin piece of meat. It was also tough and chewy. They did a decent job cooking it to medium, which can't be easy given its lack of thickness. But it was bland. It would need a serious amount of salt if eaten by itself.

Fortunately, there is a choice of sauces to go with it: Pepper, Béarnaise, Roquefort, Mustard, Bordelaise, Mushroom. Unfortunately, they cost an extra 35 CZK each.

I got the Bordelaise. It had a very intense, red wine flavor. I liked it. A lot. Much more than flavor of the meat. I soaked each bite thoroughly in the sauce, and I was happy.

The frites are excellent. Hot, crunchy, and well-salted.

I've had the restaurant's grilled flank steak in the past, and it is better, but it was also not very big, which is disappointing when it costs 395 CZK.

The draft beer is Staropramen at 49 CZK for a half liter or Stella Artois at 65 CZK for a half-liter.

I've never tried the desserts, but at least one person says they are very good.

Brasserie M has a large seating area that can accommodate large parties. There is a non-smoking area. There is also an outdoor seating area in the back that could be pleasant in the summer. The restaurant does a buffet brunch on Sundays for 695 CZK a person.

I've been thinking about why the restaurant always seems to be empty. The obscure location may be a factor. The cooking can be pretty good sometimes, but not great.

Above all, it just seems to me that occasionally above-average food in a brasserie setting doesn't go well with the much higher than average prices.

Take a look at the menu. A lot of the meat dishes are 300-450 CZK. House specialties climb quickly from 400 CZK all the way up to 1,000 CZK. They all sound very French and authentic, but I've never felt like spending the kind of money required to try them and find out for myself.

I don't even want to think about what a good wine would do to the final total on a check here.

Still, there's something about the place, a certain je ne sais quoi, perhaps a need for something different, that draws me back. Not regularly, but every once in a while.

In the 1990s, the late writer and newspaper editor, Alan Levy, inspired many to compare Prague to the Paris of an earlier era. In the 2000s, Prague is not as connected with the spirit of the Left Bank as it used to be.

Brasserie M illustrates that point. If you want to eat at this shiny eatery, you'll need to make a stop at the right bank.

Brasserie M

Vladislavova 17

Prague 1

Open: 12 noon -10:30pm (Sunday: 12 noon - 4:30pm)

Tel.: (+420) 224 054 070


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