I must admit to not knowing much about Czech or Slovak food. My experiences with central European food have mainly been limited to fairly stodgy Polish dumplings and such. But I am normally game for trying something different and when Ms Counting her Calories organised a dinner at Koliba for us and a few Czech Mates I was there.
Trying something new or novel should always be a learning experience. After all, cuisines reflect some aspect of the area where they originate, whether geographically, culturally or spiritually. After our night out at Koliba I think Czech food reflects beer, as everything we tried (excluding the desserts) seemed to be food to be drunk with beer.
I'm not much of a beer drinker but Czech beer is reputedly amongst the best in the world and Koliba provides it on tap. The beer for the night was the Budvar, a classic Czech beer served at the right temperature (not as cold as Australian beers). This lead to some discussion about the morality of an unnamed American brewery naming their beer Budweiser (the name of Budvar in German) because the town was renowned for its beer, and then suing prevent the town using the name!
Anyway, apparently, the Czechs always nibble with their beer and so we shared a plate of the marinated sausage (utopenci) with onion, chilli and garlic served with caraway seed rye bread. The sausage was comparatively mild but that was OK. It felt like the base for the tangy onion and vinegar, and the spiced bread was very moreish.
It seemed to be a night for surprises when I chose the Chicken Chernohor, a chicken schnitzel wrapped in Bramborak (potato pancake) and served with mashed potato. I normally prefer lighter dishes (and would normally never touch a schnitzel or parma with a barge pole) but this schnitzel was good: moist, thick, tender and generous in size.
Big Fil chose the Czech national dish, roast pork with braised cabbage and homemade bread dumplings. This was a symphony in neutral colours but pleasant to eat, with the pork well cooked, the sauerkraut sweeter than usual and the dumplings like fluffy white bread. Apparently it normally comes with a lot more ‘gravy’ for soaking up with the dumplings, but may have been modified a bit for Australian tastes.
The pork schnitzel was also good, but serving it on top of the mashed potato didn’t go down so well with our resident Czechs, who felt that this caused it to go slightly ‘soggy’. Still, it looked nice on the plate and tasted much better than the overdone re-heated ‘parmas’ that too many places provide these days.
Ms Counting Her Calories went for the Slovak traditional dish Haloushki with cabbage. We were warned these dumplings were heavy and really filling, and that people often (usually?) can't finish the whole dish. This style of dumpling is are different to Asian dumplings or Polish pirogi, more solid little lumps of dough served in a mildly sour and vinegary sauce. Since I'm a fan of sour I liked it and I'd share this with someone next time but there's not a chance of me finishing it on my own.
Ms L (at 7) rivals Big Fil in her adventorous taste, and it was a toss up for her between the pork knuckle and lamb shanks. I'm used to shanks stewed with a gravy and vegetables and these appeared to be roasted. That didn't impact on how tender they were and Ms L showed her usual determination to clean her plate for someone so young.
We were all feeling pretty full by this stage but decided to give the dessert a go. Now central Europe has a good reputation for its strudels and such and so we had fairly high expectations. the apple and sultana strudel was the better of the two strudels, but I would have preferred it with the sauce on the side.
The walnut strudel resembled a savoury dish rather than a sweet dish. While I enjoyed the dense walnut taste, that's all their was to it and it could have been improved by introducing some spice.
I don't know if crepes are commonly available in Czechoslovakia but this was enjoyed by Ms Counting her Calories, who let down her hair.
A comfortable place to eat generous serves of good Czech and Slovak style food and beer. The service is apparently very good for a Czech restaurant (which leads me to believe Czech service must normally be quite bad) and prices reasonable for a night out.
Food - 7
Service - 7
Ambience - 6
Price - 7
11 Johnston Street
Collingwood VIC 3066
Tel: (03) 9417 3797