Now, feeling peckish? Not sure what to have for dinner tonight? How about duck foie gras "au torchon" on a quince compote and spice bread pan-fried escalope with cardamom and white polenta? Or maybe yellow fin tuna caramelized with ginger and tartar with sesame seeds, red onion and orange and sour tomato sorbet? Those are just some of the dishes on the menu at Prague’s Allegro restaurant, which has just become the first restaurant in the former Eastern bloc to receive the coveted Michelin star. Among those who’ve eaten at Allegro – located in the luxury Four Seasons Hotel – is restaurant critic Evan Rail.
“Having visited and reviewed a restaurant in Vienna that has one Michelin star, I can say we’d probably have ten restaurants in Prague that are at that level or higher. It’s just that the Michelin guide has never covered Prague or in fact anywhere in Eastern Europe, so it’s really not a question of the restaurant being good enough. It’s been good enough for several years, and we have many other restaurants that are probably just as good, or pretty close, but it’s just a question of timing.”
You’ve been there – did you think the restaurant was simply out of this world?
“I don’t know if I would say simply out of this world, because I tend to look at a visit to a restaurant as work and I’m pretty observant of any flaws or faults that might happen. But I would say Allegro is outstanding, it’s one of the best restaurants I’ve ever visited.”
The Michelin star, as you mentioned there it is a huge coup. What effect will putting that little star up on the window for Allegro?
“Well, it will probably mean the restaurant’s going to experience a lot more business! But I think it’s actually a coup for the whole region. There’s never been a Michelin star in any of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe, so this is a really big deal, not just for Prague, not just for the Czech Republic, but for what used to be the Eastern bloc. I do know that there are some chefs in Budapest right now who upon hearing this news are going to be very, very upset, because they were hoping to be the first to win the Michelin star in this region.”
So a bit of professional jealousy there.
“I think there’s going to be quite a bit of professional jealousy.”
I suppose at the end of the day it is just one guide isn’t it. Do you think it’s worth all the hype?
“You know the Michelin stars are the most important restaurant ratings that are published by a company whose primary business is making tyres. They’re not exactly the only measure of a restaurant’s success. There are other guides. There’s Gault Millau, which is very well known in France, there are other ratings systems around the world, and there’s been a lot of criticism of the Michelin guides over the years. And over the years there have been many, many chefs in France, in Germany, in the United States, and now in Japan, who have refused Michelin stars. They don’t want the attention. They don’t think it has any value. They don’t recognise the authority of the judges in saying this restaurant is good or bad. And for their own restaurants they’re just turning the stars away and saying no thank you.”