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Rewiev: Traja Mušketieri: Keeping musketeer theme in check

Many restaurants use a theme to attract clients, some of them more successfully than others. The key seems to be packaging a historical or cultural idiom that doesn't get in the way of actually eating or drinking the fare on offer.
Bratislava's newest restaurant, the Traja Mušketieri, is another entry in this long catalogue. It has wenches in low-cut bodices, flagons of beer and roughly-served meals, although no musketeers beyond the beardless youth at the bar. It serves hearty Slovak cuisine, and the nuisance element of the theme should not keep diners from a repeat performance.

Traja Mušketieri

Address: Sládkovičová 7
Open Hours: 11:00 to 23:30
Tel: 5443 0019
Foreign Menus: English now, Ger. and Fr. in 2 weeks
Reservations: Yes, also at www.trajamusketieri.sk
Credit Cards: Visa, Mastercard, AmEx
Rating: 8 out of 10

Many restaurants use a theme to attract clients, some of them more successfully than others. The key seems to be packaging a historical or cultural idiom that doesn't get in the way of actually eating or drinking the fare on offer.

Bratislava's newest restaurant, the Traja Mušketieri, is another entry in this long catalogue. It has wenches in low-cut bodices, flagons of beer and roughly-served meals, although no musketeers beyond the beardless youth at the bar. It serves hearty Slovak cuisine, and the nuisance element of the theme should not keep diners from a repeat performance.

Traja Mušketieri avoids many of the pitfalls that theme restaurants are susceptible to. To compare, here's novelist David Lodge's description of Ye Merrie Olde Rounde Table in England:

"They had a pair of entertainers, one dressed up as a king, the other as a jester... It was a rule that anyone wishing to leave the room was required to bow or curtsey to the king, and when anyone did so the jester blew into a horn that made a loud farting noise."

At Traja Mušketieri, all farting is done by the customers themselves, and given the superb ventilation in the restaurant, no one should be the least discomfited. Indeed, that ventilation makes this perhaps the least smoky restaurant in the capital, one of many reasons for giving it a try.

You can order either set meals or a la carte, with Slovak versions of pork, rabbit and chicken making up most of the menu. The foreign language menus, written in a curlicue script that musketeers thought so much of, make for entertaining reading. Soups, for example, are rendered as "Hot Fluid", while the description of a chicken and cucumber dish reads: "I engaged a fresh cucumber with cream, and hid them in breasts to remind you of summer." With so many wenches striding around in fetching costumes, the menu can become a morass of double entendres.

When the meal arrives - as it did for our table of six - it comes on a single wooden board. Meats of different varieties and preparations cover one person's rice order and another's fried potatoes, with vegetable garnishes peeking out in merrie disarray. If you ordered a sauce with your meal, it comes in a bowl, as does everyone else's, with no means of identification beyond the dipped, yellowed finger of your nearest musketeer. And if several of you order rabbit, as we did, you get an entire roast bunny perched on top of the other carnivorous treats, to be hacked apart as you will. Sacre bleu.

You can, thankfully, have your meal served on individual plates, but you have to ask the waitress as you order. We weren't told, and on top of the jumbled food, our cutlery came jammed into a beer flagon and had to be searched for in a kind of lucky dip spirit.

The communal serving style can be fun, but also a test of social graces if anyone is really hungry. When people have been served (in a style my father would call 'smash and grab'), the quicker eaters (or more timid smashers and grabbers) find themselves eyeing the smorgasbord uncertain whether they should grab more or wait for everyone else to eat their fill. It quite takes you back to childhood, when leftovers were eyed by covetous louts bent on snaring the lion's share without catching Dad's eye.

In the end - after the slivovica and dry domestic Frankovka wine, and the frankly enjoyable food - you're apt to sit back with your complimentary cheese-and-fruit plate and take a generous view of the fol-de-rol. After all, you ate well, and in the booths flanked by rough wooden benches had a pleasingly intimate evening. The candles flicker, and the smokers do their thing without troubling the generous non-smoking section.

But unless you ask for individual plates, you may find the evening rather trying. At roughly 1,000 crowns ($20) per couple, you spend half your time wondering what passes for manners when six hungry people are faced with a culinary free-for-all. I would have much preferred my own plate and food, and I left convinced that my fellow musketeers would have preferred I didn't have such access to their own comestibles. "All for one, and one for all" may have ruled chivalry, but it's a sore test for diners who want the meal, not the 'experience'.

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