Miss K turns not-quite-30 at the popular Old Town vegetarian restaurant
I remember with fond nostalgia simpler times, when birthdays were much-anticipated festive events involving nothing more profound than a boisterous children's party at McDonald's or a trip to Singapore Zoo. These days, however, these seemingly ever-more-accelerated anniversaries of existence serve for me (a neurotic at the best of times) more and more as occasions to panic and brood in the face of the unrelenting onslaught towards full-blown adulthood (i.e., 30) and ultimately the terrifying prospect of my own impending mortality -- the one major downside to my otherwise determinedly Dawkins-ist disposition.
On the upside, it is at least an excuse to organize a party.
And so to commiserate my latest not-quite-30-yet anniversary, I rounded up the girls and headed to Lehká hlava (or "Clear Head"), a well-known vegetarian restaurant in Prague 1, selected after much deliberation for the occasion due to its laidback vibe and established popularity among the group.
Located down a little side-street in Old Town, in the historic building formerly occupied by my much beloved Dobrá čajovna (just never quite the same since its sadly sanitizing move to Wenceslas Square), Lehká hlava is not exactly easy to initially locate. Nevertheless, the place is still packed out each and every lunchtime and evening with diners presumably also on the hunt for something a little different from the glut of mediocre, over-priced "Old Bohemia" tourist traps that otherwise populate the area.
The big pull of Lehká hlava -- apart from the novel menu and non-smoking policy -- is undoubtedly its atmospheric interior, which at various locations of the restaurant includes bamboo-covered corridors, glass-beaded table tops, and of course the unique "star room", with domed blue ceiling lit up by hundreds of little fairy lights. My photos didn't really do the place justice, so I nabbed some off the website. (Food ones are, as ever, still all my own, though.)
Lehká hlava's menu is made up of various salads, dips, pastas, and other tofu-, bean- or dairy-based vegetarian main courses (vegan options also available -- and no preachy Supreme Master in sight this time!), as well as a wide range of freshly blended fruit juices and loose-leaf teas.
On this occasion, most of us kicked off with either Italian Chardonnay (at 50 CZK, one of the few wines they have by the glass) or the wine of the day, which was a rosé of some description. (I was still a bit preoccupied opening presents at this stage of the evening -- thanks, ladies!) Both went down very well and, needless to say, a follow-up round was soon ordered.
Our one abstentious member of the group, L, went for a fresh ginger tea with honey (45 CZK), which came steaming hot with plentiful slices of fresh ginger added.
After much deliberation over the menu, we finally got round to ordering our food.
L and S both decided to go for the Thai red curry with tofu and rice (145 CZK). Sorry about the slight blur.
I had a bite and found this surprisingly good. The red curry sauce tasted more authentically Thai than I would have expected from a non-Asian restaurant, while the rice was cooked in such a way that, if not quite traditionally sticky in the Thai style, it was at least pleasantly halfway there. I for one was surprisingly impressed, and L and S both echoed the sentiment.
After much umming and ahhing, Prague Ginge opted for the bulgar wheat risotto with stir-fried tempeh, spring vegetables and sun-dried tomato and peanut pesto.
I've had this on previous occasions and not been the greatest fan. (Despite my decade of teenage vegetarianism, tofu or tempeh type dishes are still not really my culinary cup of tea.) Prague Ginge, on the other hand, raved about the smoky flavor of the tempeh and the tastiness of the pesto topping, so a definite hit here. Mind you, she was just about four sheets to the wind before she even turned up at the restaurant, so I wouldn’t take her word for it entirely here… :-)
M went for one of the lighter options with the couscous patties with feta cheese, sundried tomatoes and celery, served on a bed of lettuce with a spicy soy dip and bread at 135 CZK.
I didn't try these myself, but comments from her direction were positive, at least. I noticed the dip was the same as for the Thai curry sauce.
Our second L of the table ordered one of my own long-standing Lehká hlava faves in the grilled vegetable kebabs served with potatoes au gratin, tomato salsa and a small spring salad with lemon-honey dressing (145 CZK).
Simple but delicious, with perfectly done courgette (zucchini), aubergine (eggplant), red pepper and mushroom skewers accompanied by two generous hunks of lovely squidgy squishy potato gratin.
As for me, I went for my usual burrito with pinto beans, avocado salad with goat cheese, tomato salsa, sour cream and rice (210 CZK).
I preferred the significantly cheaper (150 CZK) black bean rendition I'd previously had at sister restaurant Maitrea (reviewed in a separate post here), which, as I recall, was much spicier, better presented, and came with more generously portioned condiments -- including, on that occasion, guacamole. On the other hand, I also liked the avocado salad with goat cheese accompaniment served at Lehká hlava, though felt it could have done with a stronger dressing or at least some kind of oil/balsamico extras on the side. In short -- okay, but not as good as I remembered from previous visits.
A couple of our party also went for desserts, with L's carrot cake made with millet, grated coconut and ginger, served with chocolate sauce and a physalis berry (70 CZK) arriving first to the table.
Opinion across the group was very much divided on this one, terms used here being "bitty" and "like birdseed" -- certainly it wasn't the spongy, icing-topped variety of carrot cake most of us would normally imagine. On the other hand, it was doused in copious amounts of hot dark chocolate, which is a great redeeming feature in pretty much any scenario. My thoughts here are that a bite or two was nice enough, but, the cake in question being quite this fibrous and dense, any more than that would probably have done very bad things to my digestive system.
More chocolate soon followed in the shape of Prague Ginge's chocolate fondue with a variety of fresh fruit (80 CZK), which, given the quantities involved here, she practically implored us to help her get through.
Needless to say, the rest of us were more than happy to assist...
So overall, yet another win here for Lehká hlava, in our collective view still justifiably popular on the basis of its atmospheric interiors, friendly service and varied range of simple-yet-tasty vegetarian fare at reasonable prices.
In fact, my only minor niggle with the place is that it is to some extent a victim of its own success. Spontaneous visits are practically an impossibility here, whilst on ringing to reserve, you are asked upfront how long you think your table will need and imperiously informed that your reservation will only be held for 15 minutes max. Groups of over seven people are similarly restricted to choosing only a few different items off the menu, so as not to "overload" the kitchen -- a seemingly somewhat overzealous limitation which I've never encountered in any other restaurant before.
We ourselves unwittingly fell foul of the Lehká hlava rules on this occasion, when we were (very politely of course) asked please to hurry up on the fondue as our allotted two hours were now up and another group was waiting for our table -- it can't be all that many restaurants in Prague that still boast full-house reservations even getting on for 10 o'clock at night...
As for us, after hurriedly scraping the last of the chocolate from the fondue dish, we diligently vacated the table and moved on to drinking pastures new for a further birthday round or two -- needless to say, by the end of that particular evening, not many people's heads were all that clear anymore...
Phone: (+420) 222 220 665
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