"Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another." VoltaireI've been following the food and career of chef Sofia Smith for a long time.
More than a decade ago, I enjoyed the cakes and salads at her long-since-departed Angel Café.
Almost half a decade ago, I loved Smith's Asian fusion menu at the restaurant, Angel. I wished that eatery lasted longer than it did. Its location has been cursed for its many tenants.
I never actually met Smith until early 2011 when I got to know some of the staff at the much-lauded and very successful Asian-fusion restaurant, Sansho. When it opened, Smith was one of the cooks working under former Nobu London sous-chef, Paul Day.
Earlier this year, Smith got a kitchen of her own at Le Patio. It's the same location as Resto Cafe Patio, which I liked quite a lot. She's turned it into showcase for her own Asian fusion menu, though there are a number of similarities to Sansho's offerings.
The front dining room of Le Patio is basically unchanged. That's the smoking area.
I stopped in a couple of times for lunch. I started off with a beer. They have .33 liter bottles of Pilsner Urquell (60 CZK).
I ordered two dishes from the "small plates" section of the menu. First up was the sweet calamari (165 CZK).
What grabs your attention is the homemade, caramelized chili sauce. After you get past the sweetness (and not everyone will), you taste lime leaf along with black and white sesame praline mixed in. There's a slow-building but serious spiciness. I wished it was bigger, but I liked it.
The second plate was the hot and sour beef salad (185 CZK).
The meat was not very tender, but had great flavor. I detected fish sauce, coriander, and Thai basil. It also deserved to be in the "small" section.
Then there was dessert. It was what the menu called "love it or hate it" black rice pudding with vanilla and coconut semifreddo (95 CZK).
The tab for this lunch was 505 CZK. Service was OK.
I began the next lunch with the gado gado (175 CZK).
There was a growing heat with each bite, but I found it bland, especially the potatoes. Adding a generous amount of salt brought improvement. There's no single recipe for this, but all others I've had included boiled, sliced egg, which this one omitted.
The menu lists "Le Patio Prawns - 3 ways." At first I thought all three kinds came together, but you actually pick which of the three you want. I tried the Balchao prawns (185 CZK).
At a later dinner, I preferred the fiery black pepper prawns (185 CZK).
This lunch cost me 460 CZK. The kitchen moved slowly, and I waited a fair amount of time between the courses. The restaurant was not very busy, but it took too long to get my bill and pay.
The similarity between Le Patio and Sansho is they both have tasting menus. Le Patio's is eight dishes for 850 CZK. The ones I enjoyed at Sansho last year were seven courses for 750 CZK. Smith does dishes like jungle curry, soft shell crab, and sticky toffee pudding (which is a signature dish of hers) on her degustation. Those items, although done differently, are also on Sansho's list.
I tried Le Patio's tasting menu a few weeks after it opened. Overall, I didn't like it. A couple of dishes were far too salty. One was bland. A salad, which has since left the menu, was dull and underdressed.
One night not long afterward, I randomly ran into Smith at Zebra Asian Noodle Bar. She told me her kitchen was being reconstructed and a lot of staff was turning over. I decided to try the menu again in September.
I returned with several out of town visitors. Two of us had the tasting menu. The other three ordered a la carte. We were warned that the tasting would take at least two hours. This did create some awkard periods when the a la carte crowd had no food in front of them.
For simplicity's sake, I'll just cover the tasting menu. Although I was able to sneak into the lunches unnoticed, Sofia Smith was out in the dining room and spotted me right after we sat down for dinner.
We started with a bottle of La Baraquette No. 3, a Languedoc rosé. It was light and dry. Everyone liked it.
A basket arrived with homemade rolls. Years ago, I had these at Angel when they were fresh from the oven. These were cold and chewier.
Based on the ingredients our waiter described to us, we expected it to be sweet and spicy. However, it was more salty and fishy. The flavor took some getting used to. It grew on me, but not everyone liked it.
I was served a drink that I was told was a palate cleanser to sip between courses. This was iced white tea with lime, ginger and mint.
We also had papadums with a lemongrass, coriander tomato dipping sauce.
Course 1: Beef and Pineapple. This was dried shredded organic beef, fresh pineapple, rojak dressing, and snake beans.
Course 2: Wonton. It's a steamed Szechuan-style shrimp wonton with chili oil.
Course 3: Laksa. In basically a large, deep spoon, there's Malaysian coconut soup, a lemongrass and lime leaf chicken dumpling, and masago caviar.
Course 4: Butter Prawns. This is a picture from the first tasting. At the second, I received two. These are wok-fried with red chillies, curry leaves, garlic, rice wine, and rocket leaves.
Course 5: Crab. A soft-shell crab is deep-fried and lightly coated with a Singapore black pepper sauce with green chillies.
Course 6: Belly. This is twice-cooked organic pork belly, with tamarind plum sauce and a cucumber relish.
Course 7: Jungle Curry. The is a photo from the first visit. On the second, the black rice did not come in the banana leaf. This dish was also excellent both times.
Course 8: Sticky toffee pudding.
So I went from not liking this tasting menu to really enjoying it. Miss P felt the same. Will you? It's hard to say.
We all felt we received special treatment because I was recognized at the beginning of the meal. Our service was excellent. The sommelier was our waiter. Because of this, I'm not going to count this last visit as part of the service rating.
I want to know how guests are treated when they are not writing about the restaurant. I did get a taste of that on earlier visits.
Although I wasn't impressed with all my experiences there, Le Patio is capable of great things. I hope they do it for everyone.
Tel. (+420) 774 539 301 or 224 934 375