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Review: Prašná Bašta: Old standby still a good bet

Whenever I stick my head into the Bratislava Old Town's Prašná Bašta, I am reminded of baseball great Yogi Berra's famous line about a former hangout - "Nobody goes there anymore - it's too crowded."
Hip and stylish without affectation, inexpensive while having one of Bratislava's best kitchens, Prašná Bašta, around since before the fall of Communism, used to be my favourite lunch place in the capital. But as more and more restaurants opened doors in the city centre, my friends and I lost patience with having to wait for a table.

Prašná Bašta

Where: Zámočnícka 11, Bratislava
Open: daily 11:00-23:00
English menu: yes
Reservations: yes
Telephone: 02/ 5443-4957
Rating: 10 out of 10

Whenever I stick my head into the Bratislava Old Town's Prašná Bašta, I am reminded of baseball great Yogi Berra's famous line about a former hangout - "Nobody goes there anymore - it's too crowded."

Hip and stylish without affectation, inexpensive while having one of Bratislava's best kitchens, Prašná Bašta, around since before the fall of Communism, used to be my favourite lunch place in the capital. But as more and more restaurants opened doors in the city centre, my friends and I lost patience with having to wait for a table.

On a recent weekday, I sneaked into Prašná Bašta at around 12, beating the lunch rush. I strolled through the dimly-lit interior, past old Bratislava photos and a statue of a caged troll, and emerged on a patio wedged between three historic buildings, with just the right mixture of trees, bushes, sunshine and shade. The impeccable food and service reminded me of why it has become so hard to find a seat in Prašná Bašta.

I was tempted by many of the menu's fine meat dishes - from the Chicken Jose, served in a sauce of white wine, cream, chilli pepper and mushrooms, to the Pork Dijon, in a wine, French mustard and sweet cream concoction - before choosing the Beefsteak with Chilli Beans, which was advertised as being spicy.

Before the main course arrived, I had an outstanding tangy, tomato-based onion soup, with globs of mozzarella cheese and fresh-made croutons, accompanied by a bowl of sliced French bread. The beefsteak, served on bread with cucumbers and tomato, was tender, juicy and much spicier than I had anticipated ('spicy' being an overstatement in most Slovak restaurants), served with a sauce of chilli and sliced peppers.

Breezy and keen, the restaurant's entire wait staff offered me service throughout the meal, without grumbling that I was someone else's customer. I was also impressed that my Vinea, a carbonated Slovak non-alcoholic beverage made from grapes, was served with ice without my asking, and that a fresh glass with fresh ice accompanied my second bottle.

Having filled up on bread I had no room for desert, although I had good memories of the walnut pancake with chocolate and whipped cream. The entire meal, with two drinks, cost around 300 crowns ($6), a bargain given that the restaurant doesn't torment its customers with loud techno music. I've heard Tom Waits, Louis Armstrong, Buena Vista Social Club and Herbie Hancock at Prašná Bašta, and never anything loud or grating enough to put me off the food.

Although Prašná Bašta is at its best in the summer, it is also at its most accessible, since many of its regular patrons are out of town on vacation. The best time to find a table during lunch is before noon or after 14:00. If you go, be sure to venture into the bathrooms, even if nature doesn't call, where you'll find the work of artist Mária Slováková crawling over the walls.

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