Radisson Blu Alcron Hotel,
110 00 Praha 1, Czech Republic
Tel. +420 222 820 410
Food type: Modern European
There are two Michelin starred restaurants in Prague, both boasting 1 star. Alcron, located at the Radisson Blu Alcron Hotel is one of them. The restaurant website claims that they were the first Czech Restaurant to be awarded a Michelin star but my research shows that both Alcron and La Degustation were awarded a Michelin star in the same year (2012). Chef Roman Paulus trained in Austria, had a stint in England (at the Savoy Hotel) and working on board the Queen Elizabeth II ship before taking on several positions back in Prague. He took on the Head Chef post at Alcron in 2008.
Alcron restaurant is a dining institution in Prague, having opened its doors in 1932. After the Velvet revolution, the hotel was left in a pretty run down state but with financial backing was reconstructed in 1995. The dining room, as we know it today, itself received a makeover in 2000. It is still tiny, sitting a maximum of 24 guests at any one time. The walls are decorated with motifs of dancing couples. Waiters are dressed in morning suites. Alcron is to Prague what the Ritz is to London – a prestigious institution and reminder of older times.
The dinner menu here follows the same ‘design your own degustation menu’ format that we have encountered so far in Prague. You get to pick between 4 to 7 courses from an extensive selection of dishes and each diner can pick different options. For larger tables, a shortened menu is offered to guests. The restaurant has also introduced an interesting concept in that guests are able to order a few dishes first before deciding what they would like to eat next. For example, you may order a few starters and having eaten them decide that you are still very hungry and opt for richer sounding dishes. I like this idea very much as it allows you to tailor the menu based on your evolving palate and how full you feel.
The description of the dishes on the menu often hide the amount of work the kitchen puts into each dish. Take for example a starter of asparagus, egg yolk and ham – a few spears of green asparagus are carefully dressed with some egg yolk dotted around the plate, a hazelnut crumble, a non-descript foam (of what I can only assume is hazelnut foam) and finished at the table with some Prague ham which has been frozen with liquid nitrogen. While the dish did look amazing and there was a lot of technique on show, it just did not eat very well. For one, there was a lack of egg yolk on the plate which was the only wet element on the dish and hence would naturally take the role of the sauce for this dish. As such the first few mouthfuls were fine, but when you ran out of egg yolk, you were left with a very dry plate of food. My second issue with this dish is the frozen, powdered Prague ham. Maybe it is my age but I just don’t get how freezing ham with liquid nitrogen is better than placing some actual ham on the plate. The cold temperature for me diminishes the flavour of the ham and so what you get is a cold powder which tastes remotely of ham.
There were flashes of some very good cooking as well, often when the chefs have not chosen to go all out with all the new kitchen toys. A dish of Quail with rosehip and blackberries showed what the kitchen was truly capable of if they kept things simple. Don’t get me wrong, there was still a lot of work put into the dish but here modern technique was used only when necessary and the result was a dish that tasted delicious. The quail breast here were evidently cooked sous-vide before being browned off which made for some very juicy and tender meat. On the base of the plate was a very well made liver parfait and a sensible pairing with blackberries to give some acidity to complement its richness.
I was really looking forward to my main course of octopus with chorizo emulsion but sadly this dish failed to deliver. The octopus was slow cooked as it should be and was soft and tender. However what ruined the dish for me was the amount of salt going through the whole dish. I am not referring to over seasoning of a particular element as individually they tasted fine, but you had various elements which were naturally salty – chorizo emulsion, olive tapenade, capers – that collectively the octopus just got lost at sea.
We only tried one dessert between both of us as we both opted for the strawberries with black pepper ice cream. The combination of strawberries and black pepper is a classical one and it was this was good interpretation by the pastry team. The use of the black pepper was well judged to give the dish a nice perfume without overpowering the lovely strawberries. Again a lot of skill and technique has gone into the dish but all the elements came together nicely on the plate.
There is little to fault from a technical aspect of the cooking here as every element was executed correctly, but I found that many dishes were overcomplicated and often had one element more than was necessary. I get that the chef here is trying to take a modern approach to make his food stand out, but on many occasions, I felt that it was technique for the sake of ‘because we can and know how to’ rather than ‘because it make the dish better’. If you are a well-travelled foodie, you will have already seen a lot of the techniques and ideas used here (e.g. Heston’s parsley porridge, Alinea’s dessert painting). The better dishes were those that kept the technical wizardry to a minimum. Perhaps over time, the team here will have more confidence in their cooking and present more minimalistic dishes.