Miss K enjoys the cuisine, if not the contrivance, at this quest-themed Old Town restaurant
Kardamon Klub in the Old Town (sister restaurant to previously reviewed favourite Karavan Seraj) makes the rather presumptuous claim on their website to being "the only restaurant in Prague with a story."
The manifold other restaurant-owners in town would be better placed to comment on the veracity of this statement than I; however, Kardamon Klub is certainly the only place I know with a gimmick -- namely that of the dubious "legend" of the "Cardamom King".
Story here goes that Lebanese spice merchant Ha Sim ibn Labíb ben Busayrí, while drinking cardamom tea one day back in the ninth century, was randomly seized with the feverish desire -- apparently inspired by said mythical King -- to travel forth to all countries featured on the Kardamon Klub menu. Or something. The blurb on the menu puts it in rather flowerier -- and, at least to my decidedly no-nonsense, cynical tastes, more nauseating -- prose.
In practice, this means that on each visit to the Kardamon Klub, the diner is presented with one of a series of menus in order of Mr. ben Busayrí's purported route through Asia and the Middle East, starting with Lebanon, then on to Iran, Yemen and Zanzibar, before finally completing the Cardamom King culinary quest in Southern India with visit number six. According to their website, at the end of this gastronomic journey you will supposedly meet with an Indian magician who will ask you three philosophical questions, which, if answered correctly, will admit you as permanent members of the Kardamon Klub, at which point you can presumably order á la carte without having to sit through the clearly embarrassed waitresses' belabored enquiries as to what stage of the quest you're currently at and what therefore you are, according to the legend, permitted to eat.
Knowing how busy Karavan Seraj often gets, I'd booked a table for Mr. K and myself for Kardamon Klub earlier in the day, only to find just two other tables occupied at 8:30pm on a Saturday night. Either the side-street location wasn't attracting enough visitors in the way of passing trade, or potential customers were as put off by the blatant over-thematization here as I was.
As it happened, we were both in the mood for Lebanese, so, on this occasion, were happy to go with set menu number one at 795 CZK for the two of us. Had we not been, we'd have asked for the four other menus to browse through instead -- though with at least five separate menus on the table this would probably have proven a little on the laborious side.
Quantity, quality and variety in terms of food were all very similar to Karavan Seraj here, as was the unfortunate tendency to bring out all the dishes from starter to main at pretty much the same time, rather than spreading the meal out at a more leisurely pace.
Within minutes, it seemed, we had a plate of hummus and pita bread brought to our table (hummus good as ever, pita as at Karavan Seraj -- rather too brittle and dry for my taste);
some black olives and olive oil (a token bowl of cardamom seeds were already on the table when we arrived);
a glass of overly herby ayraneach (which both of us felt would have been better served as a sauce than a drink);
plates of tasty lamb-stuffed sambousek lahme and spinach-stuffed fatayer;
a bowl of fatoush (essentially just a normal salad topped with chunks of fried pita bread);
a couple of rounds of delicious falafel (great wrapped in pita with hummus);
some sojok, a hot dish of sliced Lebanese sausage (kind of like a cross between chorizo and frankfurter) in a thin tomato sauce;
and last (and also very much least) a bowl of sawda, which essentially consisted of chunks of chicken liver served in what both looked and tasted like dishwater sauce -- pretty unappealing at the best of times, but particularly so to Mr. K, he being of the generation that was force-fed offal-based Great British school dinners on practically a daily basis.
Apart from the sawda, we really enjoyed everything here -- favorites being the sambousek lahme, fatayer, falafel and hummus -- though between us we barely got through even half.
The waitress was quick to ask if we wanted our set coffee and dessert right away, but this time we insisted on a bit of break to enjoy another glass of wine (Frankovka for Mr. K, Chardonnay for me) and pace out the evening a bit.
Only a bit later did we get round to our dessert of katayef, i.e. sweet Lebanese pancakes stuffed with honey and nuts, and cardamom-laced coffee.
The coffee seriously packed a punch -- probably the unorthodox thing to do here, but I had to ask for some milk to tone it down a bit for my tastes.
Overall, we both really enjoyed the food here, and at just under 400 CZK per person (not including drinks) it was undeniably quite a feast. I'd be interested to come back again to sample some of their Persian kebabs, Yemeni omelets, southern Indian dhosas and Zanzibari curry -- only next time I'll be ordering what I like and when, and not according to what supposed stage I'm at on their silly quest. Going during the day for their lunch menu also seems another good way of bypassing the bull...
Great as I think the food and service here genuinely are, all in all I can't help but think that if Kardamon Klub would just focus on the cuisine rather than the contrivance, and consolidate their various menus into one standard document (as Karavan Seraj does in its own endearingly epic tome), then it would ultimately prove a much more authentic, appealing and deservedly popular place to be.
U Dobřenských 3
Phone: (+420) 222 222 141
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