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Lokál chain

Ambiente's second location sticks with a winning formula


Posted: January 6, 2011

By Claire Compton - Staff Writer | Comments (0) | Post comment

Lokál chain

Walter Novak

The new Lokál has the signature tank Pilsner both upstairs and in its cellar.

The Ambiente restaurant group has been on a major roll: The chain and franchise established in 1997 includes the popular Ambiente living restaurants, two Italian cafés, the lauded Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise and now a second location of its Lokál restaurant. The first, which opened in late 2009, takes up an entire block on Dlouhá and fills every table most nights with diners who come for homey Czech food, tank Pilsner and faux-communist era décor.

Upon hearing a second Lokál had opened, a friend asked jokingly if it was "on Charles Bridge," implying the restaurant's popularity had given it the sort of ubiquity and grandiose locations of Hard Rock Café.

In reality, though, that friend wasn't that far off. The new Lokál is in fact nearly under the bridge, on Míšeňská street in Malá Strana. While the first had a long, single room, the new restaurant is more segmented, with several rooms at street level and an expansive brick cellar below. While the upstairs replicates the faux graffiti of the first Lokál - scratched out scribbles that are backlit - the markings at the new Lokál have become decidedly more intricate and terribly kitsch, even featuring Rambo himself.

The service is incredibly kind, attentive and helpful, a blessing given there are no English menus and servers must be asked to translate occasionally. The Ambiente Group has clearly put a priority on staff training - walking into the restaurant, we were greeted by every member of staff we passed.

Lokál
Míšeňská 12, Prague 1-Malá Strana
Tel. 257 212 014
Open. Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m.-midnight, Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Smoking/nonsmoking

Food **
Service ****
Atmosphere **
Overall ***

From the menu

Hemenex
79 Kč
Salami "Gothaj" 65 Kč
Tripe soup 40 Kč
Párky 65 Kč
Goulash 125 Kč
"Talian" sausage 75 Kč
"Holandský" schnitzel 105 Kč
Steak and egg 192 Kč
Smažený sýr 129 Kč
0.5 L Pilsner 35 Kč

As with the first location, reservations are a must, even days in advance in some cases. A second trip was delayed after the restaurant was booked, not just for that night but for the next two weeknights as well.

The demand seems to be created by a combination of good food and good atmosphere, a whole package rather than the food alone. The menu is solid Czech comfort food, several types of sausages, cold cuts, soups, stews, lots of meat and schnitzels. If you're unsure of what to order or can't read the items, it's fine to order blindly, as the dishes are uniformly pleasing.

A combination of that order strategy and server translations was employed when two Czech-English dictionaries failed us on separate visits. The result on the first trip was tripe soup, rich and lightly seasoned, the strips of offal tender. A plate of three párky were akin to American hotdogs, a light and soft interior with a perfectly snappy skin, accompanied by fresh horseradish and mustard.

The tatarák, which I'd liked on my first visit to the original location a year ago, was not as good. The reason for this was an overabundance of seasonings and add-ins into the raw meat, which were mixed in the kitchen before serving. The meat was completely overwhelmed by ketchup and too much minced onion and pickle. Goulash was decent, the beef adequately tender and swimming in a sauce that was thankfully light on salt and absolutely fresh.

A second visit yielded slightly more exciting offerings. Hemenex, which is surely a cute Czenglish phrase, was in fact ham and eggs, albeit a delicious and generous version. The ham was griddled, nicely browned on the bottom with three sunny-side eggs, the yolks still runny.

A type of bologna - "Gothaj" - was improved with a mound of raw, minced onion and dressed lightly with vinegar. "Talian" sausage was in fact Italian-style and seasoned, wonderfully savory and the perfect portion.

Smažený sýr was lightly breaded, with its coating cooked to a perfect crisp, though the cheese itself was so salty it was hard to finish with an also-saline homemade tartar sauce. In another foray into the meat-and-eggs category, a 200-gram beefsteak was cooked perfectly to medium-rare but fell on the bland side without much marbling. A fried egg on top, however, nearly solved the problem as the yolk functioned as a nice sauce.

While Lokál always offers both pork and chicken schnitzel, a "Holandský" version caught our eye. As it turned out, that meant ground pork meat rather than pounded cutlets. The meat tasted fresh, and the coating was modest, but it could have used some sort of sauce to add another dimension.

Sides were done well but were typically unremarkable iterations of potatoes. Potato salad stood out, however, with a tangy dressing that tasted like house-made mayonnaise and bulked up with chopped hard-boiled eggs.

After eating Lokál's great food, it suddenly seems even tastier when the bill arrives: Of all our dishes sampled, only the steak and eggs got anywhere near 200 Kč, at 192 Kč. The beer isn't a terrible price, either, especially for the location, at 35 Kč for a 0.5 L of tank Pilsner.

It's not hard to understand Lokál's tremendous success; it is simply an easy way to guarantee a lively night with great food. Ambiente has understood and applied that seemingly simple concept to its restaurants with enormous success, to provide a consistent and quality dining and drinking experience.


Claire Compton can be reached at
ccompton@praguepost.com

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