Zahrada v Opeře

Hidden behind the security barriers at the top of Wenceslas Square, the "Garden in the Opera" maintains its high standards and reasonable prices

This article was originally posted on the Czech Please weblog.

GROUCHO: It's all right. That's, that's in every contract. That's, that's what they call a sanity clause.

CHICO: Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! You can't fool me. There ain't no Sanity Clause!

- A Night at the Opera, (1935)

Ah, a night at the opera. Always good fun. But where to eat before a performance in Prague?

The best choice, as far as I am concerned, is Zahrada v Opeře (Garden in the Opera). I'd been there many times before, and always enjoyed it. After a year-long break, I went there for dinner. If anything, I like it even more. And I most definitely wouldn't limit visits to opera nights.

This restaurant has been going for years. I've always wondered about the secret to its long-term survival, given its location at the top of Wenceslas Square, hidden behind security barriers.

The somewhat obscure location may hurt business, but, ironically, the location must also be a big factor in its ongoing survival. It is right behind the State Opera, so it probably gets a steady stream of pre-performance customers.

Location is important, but there are other factors to consider. There is the modern and artistic design of the restaurant's interior. It's a bit wild. A lot of creative attention (and money) went into it. I like it. There's nothing else quite like it in Prague.

And then, of course, there's the food. I've had some of the same dishes over the course of a few years, and they have been consistently prepared and consistently good.

We started out with the salad bar. But this isn't any ordinary salad bar. It offers five different options of pre-prepared salads. There is couscous, grilled vegetables, cold penne and sun-dried tomato, grilled beef and endive, and marinated salmon salads.

The grilled beef salad was the best, with a wonderful smoky taste. I also really liked the salmon and the grilled vegetables. The other two options were fine, but a little bland. One of the most amazing things about this salad bar is the price.

You can fill a large plate with as much as you want for 150 CZK. It could be a meal in itself and, as far as I am concerned, it is a terrific bargain at that price. A small plate of the same salads can be filled for 80 CZK.

For main courses, V and I both got our favorite dish from the "Bestsellers" section of the menu: Nasi goreng (285 CZK).

It is Indonesian-style fried rice with chicken, calamari, a couple of plump tiger shrimp, garlic paste, and chopped red chilies on the side. The menu doesn't mention it, but the dish also has finely-minced lime leaves and the strong distinct flavor dominates the dish. Which is just fine with me because I absolutely love the flavor of lime leaf. I like mixing in all the red chilies. It still doesn't get too hot for my taste. One small issue -- it could come out warmer -- temperature-wise.

Mom was with us. She also got one of the "Bestsellers," the lamb fillets with garlic-shallot sauce, spinach, and roasted La Ratte potatoes (530 CZK). A whole head of roasted garlic is on the side.

I've had this before and like it very much. The lamb is tender. The spinach is fresh. The sauce is nice. I actually wish the lamb they used had more of a "lamby" flavor.

I haven't tried them myself, but many of the other main dishes seem reasonably priced. There are choices like Brazilian sirloin for 380 CZK, duck breast for 380 CZK, roasted chicken breast for 220 CZK, venison for 440 CZK, scampi for 395 CZK and yellowtail snapper for 380 CZK.

And this is not the full list. You can see the full menu online here.

They have a Pilsner Urquell on draft. A half-liter is 45 CZK. V had a small glass of Bohemia sekt sparkling wine for 60 CZK and a glass of domestic Moravian white wine for 45 CZK. A bottle of Mattoni mineral water was 40 CZK.

Czech wines are all reasonably priced, with many in the 400 CZK range. There is a selection of French, Spanish, Italian, Chilean, Australian, Californian, and South African wines. There's not much depth to the list, but the prices don't get too crazy either -- most are between 500 CZK and 1,000 CZK.

The total bill for the three salads, drinks, and three main courses was 1840 CZK. I thought the dinner was well worth the price.

We were all very full, so none of us tried the desserts. It's a shame, because they are not the usual fare. The dessert menu is as creative as the decor at Zahrada v opeře.

Some of the options sounded very tempting: Camembert with fresh figs, almonds and honey for 125 CZK, Greek yogurt with figs, strawberry, and honey for 95 CZK, and something called San Domingue. The menu says it is a 70-percent chocolate and honey mousse with rum-marinated apricots and cane sugar. It costs 125 CZK.

It was really hard to turn down a chance to try one of these creations. I'm crazy about desserts, and these sound insanely good.

So, it's a good thing there ain't no Sanity Clause.

Zahrada v Opeře

Legerova 75

Prague 1

Open: 11:30am –1am

Tel.: (+420) 224 239 685

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