Sofia Smith's latest venture, an Old Town restaurant serving modern pan-Asian cuisine, has many virtues
"I feel that there is an angel inside me whom I am constantly shocking."We came to the door of the restaurant, Angel, with lofty expectations.
The chef, Sofia Smith, has worked in a variety of different places and positions around Prague over the years. And it says something that she's developed something of a following in the expat community.
Although she did occasionally cook at Atelier in Vršovice, and we used to be regulars there before an ownership change, we had never tried her food. So, we were curious.
When we walked into Angel, we got a warm welcome from the smiling young waiter. He used to work at Atelier and remembered us.
At Angel, you can see a lot of thought went into the design of the dining room. They did a beautiful job. You would never know that, a short time ago, it used to be a cocktail bar called Ocean Drive.
Lighting was low and on the romantic side. The beige color scheme throughout adds to the intimate atmosphere. The music was at the right level.
I particularly liked the unique chandelier of delicate, woven gold.
It all works well together. Flash photography doesn't do it justice.
We came early and enjoyed having the restaurant to ourselves for the first part of the evening. The single dining room is not large and some tables were quite close together.
It did get a little noisy after four other parties came in. I'd think the rumble of conversation could be quite high on a busy night.
All the restaurant guests were speaking English except for two Czech men.
It took a while for the bread to come. The round little bread rolls were both nice to look at and nice to eat.
They were served perfectly warm. They were even mildly spicy with little nuggets of cheese, I believe, baked in.
I'm always impressed when a restaurant puts extra thought into the bread. That's a lesson that still needed to be learned at Maze by Gordon Ramsay when we were there last month.
For a starter, I had the hot and sour seared beef and pomelo salad served with green chili and garlic dressing and peanut praline (245 CZK). The appetizers were relatively small portions, but they offered up some big, eye-opening flavors.
The pomelo was broken into yellow diamonds in the rough that added little bursts of flavor. The meat was very rare and tender. Fresh mint also had a clear presence among various other leaves. There was a liberal amount of fish sauce in there.
The tiny candied nuggets of peanut were an interesting, unexpectedly sweet addition, though the taste of peanut did not come through clearly.
The same was true of the dressing. It was pleasantly acidic, but the green chili and garlic was subdued.
V had the lamb satay Madura with sweet soy and tamarind served with pickled vegetables in lime leaf dressing (230 CZK). The chopped meat, mixed with spices, was on two wooden skewers. A sweet dense dollop of a peanut satay sauce sat on the side.
The lamb was tasty, but I only wished it was as boldly seasoned as my salad. The meat and chopped peanuts went well together on the fork. We both really enjoyed the simple, finely sliced cold vegetables with the strong perfume of lime leaf.
For a main course, V had the pan-fried scallops with yonya coconut laksa served with pineapple sambal, crispy shallots, and Vietnamese mint (525 CZK). The big, delicate scallops were lightly seared with an expert touch. Each bite was a pleasure.
The rich and spicy coconut gravy was great. Again, there was the power of lime leaf, which is one of my favorite ingredients in Asian cooking. Honestly, I've never had Vietnamese mint so I had trouble discerning how it influenced the flavor, unless it tastes a lot like lime leaf.
There was plenty of pineapple, thoughtfully cut into very small, pieces that were easy to scoop up.
The dish comes with a mound of black pasta in the center. I only wish there was more. It was gone very quickly, and there was still a lot of sauce left. Not wanting to waste a drop, I soaked it all up with pieces from our second plate of bread.
I ordered the seared tuna with tamarind and chili, served with gingered sweet potato puree and crispy seaweed (490 CZK).
In many other restaurants, I've had trouble with this dish. Many chefs in Prague seem to fear rareness in a tuna and cook it all the way through.
I began to tell the waiter how rare I wanted it, and he told me not to worry. Of course, it would be done properly -- very rare.
And it did come out perfectly. There were two good-sized triangles of very fresh tuna with beautiful red interiors.
The tamarind and chili sauce was nicely sweet, but not very spicy. The bread may have even been spicier. The mashed sweet potatoes were good, but I was a little disappointed I couldn't taste the ginger.
Throughout the meal, I drank three bottles of Leffe Brune, a strong dark Belgian beer (75 CZK each). It was definitely a nice change after all the Czech beer I've been drinking lately (not that I don't love that stuff, too).
We wished Angel also had Leffe Blonde, which became one of our favorites after V spent some time in Brussels. V tried the Leffe, but had two glasses of Villa Wolf Riesling at 105 CZK each.
I decided we needed to sample at least one dessert. I'll almost always go for something chocolate, and in this case, I was sorely tempted by the flourless chocolate cake served with peppermint and cardamom ice cream (155 CZK).
But I decided to be different and try my first-ever sticky toffee pudding (155 CZK). It was served with preserved ginger and almond ice cream.
The pudding was a small, rich, intensely sweet cake with the very strong essence of orange peel. It was served warm, almost hot, and the cake had soaked up a large amount of the dark toffee. I have a big sweet tooth, so that wasn't a problem.
The ice cream was homemade and unlike any I'd had before. It didn't blow me away, but it was nice change of pace.
All the courses came out pretty slowly, and the meal did take a long time. That was more the fault of the kitchen than the service, as we were the first ones in the restaurant.
However, the waiter and waitress also did get a little overloaded when several parties came in at once. As a former waiter, I can be understanding when that happens.
Another small issue was that it was a little too warm in the dining room and it made us feel sleepy by the end of dinner.
To be fair, Angel had only been open a couple of weeks.
I'm not sure how everyone will feel about the Asian flavors that are fused on Angel's plates. For us, they were very familiar.
We actually cook many similar dishes at home. We use lots of the same ingredients -- lime leaf, ginger, coconut milk, red chili, chopped peanuts, tamarind, and fish sauce.
In fact, V found them almost too familiar. I don't think that will be the case for most people. She liked Angel, but was a little less impressed than I was. Even so, she told me to make sure to say she loved the scallops.
Along with the bill came some very nice sweets. We each got a ball of coconut cream in coconut flakes and also some very intense, cocoa-dusted dark chocolate.
The chocolate was bitter, with even a touch of sourness to it. It was too strong for V, so I finished hers, as well. I loved it. I had no coffee, but I actually had trouble sleeping later that evening.
Chocolate does not have caffeine, as many people believe, but it does contain a different, longer-lasting stimulant.
The dinner cost 2,080 CZK before tip -- not cheap and more than we usually spend for a nice meal. Still, it was half what we spent at Maze by Gordon Ramsay. That was the most expensive meal we've had in Prague.
Some might be shocked, but I'd say we found more value and enjoyment at Angel.
We left with a happy feeling inside.
V kolkovně 7
Tel.: (+420) 773 222 422
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