Where: Palisády 50
Open: Mon-Sat 11:00 to 01:00, Sun 11:00 to 23:00
English Menu: No
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
THERE'S a new French restaurant in town that, while not very French, is decidedly not Slovak in its approach to service.
Here's the low-down: Main courses are delicious, filling and tastefully presented; diners are served by an entire crew of wait staff, rather than left to the hassled care of a single waiter; and, best of all, you can even pay with your bank card.
Recently installed in the former premises of the exclusive Mária Terézia restaurant near the presidential palace on Palisády Street, Voulez Vous initially offers visitors two flights of stairs - one up, one down - with nothing to indicate where the restaurant is. Naturally, I got it wrong, climbing up a spiral staircase to a deserted room.
Once downstairs, you walk into a comfortable bar area with couch seating. The restaurant proper is through to the right, a bright, spotlit room with a black-and-white tiled floor. It's air-conditioned and non-smoking, with the kitchen through a push-door and a curious cook peering out every time new guests arrive.
It's here that you start to wonder about the nationality of the place. The smoking section, for instance, is a little cubbyhole set off the main room, the couch seating certainly comfortable but a solid cut below the elegance of the non-smoking salon. You would expect that the French and Slovaks between them would have arranged it the other way round, with a grudging acceptance of the need to accommodate non-smokers (ie only one ashtray on each non-smoking table).
But we were seated quickly and graciously by our waitress, a young girl so refreshingly new to her job that I felt like a guest in her house.
I would rather skip quickly to the main course, because that's what really made this experience, but I feel obliged to catalogue the few rough edges that appeared on the way.
We ordered a Slovak cabernet from an extensive wine list ranging up to almost Sk10,000 for French champagne. Our waitress brought it with a pouring basket and balloon glasses, but then seemed to lose the grace that had marked her other sorties.
First, she grasped the bottle and opener with earnest intent, if not great savoir de faire, rather like a banker wielding a broadsword. She screwed and yanked, screwed and yanked, until the battered cork emerged almost intact. This she sniffed and deposited on the table. Then she poured, but may not have had the wrist strength to twist the bottle and prevent drippage. Drip, drip, drip over to my wife's glass, drip, drip back to the basket, whereupon she removed the napkin that collared the bottle and wiped it off. Ahhh, so that's what the cloth is for - to keep the bottle dry.
But at this point I feel so ungracious I should stop. She was so charming and genuine that even the crummy shrimp starter and the over-salted cream of broccoli soup won a tolerant shrug from both of us.
Then the main courses arrived - salmon in bechamel sauce for my wife, filet steak with a helmet of blue cheese for me. An outstanding meal, frankly one of the best I have had in seven years in this country.
All through the evening, waiters who happened to be passing would change ashtrays, refill wine glasses, take plates. Not one of them pestered us for expressions of pleasure (that infuriating "everything alright here?" of North American servers). We barely noticed them, but at the end of the meal suddenly realised that not a single need had gone unanticipated or unmet.
Before arriving at the restaurant I had unsuccessfully tried to take money out of two faulty bank machines, and as my wife ordered coffee, I got up reluctantly to walk across the presidential square to a bank teller at one of the ugliest buildings in the city. On my way out I noticed some 'we accept' credit card signs on the restaurant door, and identified my own homely bank card brand. When I asked at the bar, it was true - you could pay not only with credit cards, but even with bank plastic.
Bravo, Voulez Vous. Who needs culinary authenticity when you can get great, honest fare. Who needs a seasoned wait staff when you can watch heart triumph over inexperience. And who needs money hassles when you can whip out your bank card.
20. May 2002 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson