10: Prague Diary
The restaurant at the top of the hill is called Usemika, I think it may mean something to do with horses as the sign outside depicted a galloping horse. I had my stilettos on and despite asking him not to Russ guided me over the cobbles as though I was disabled. I just had to accept it and at least I know that he’ll look after me when I’m old and decrepit. It was beautiful and very grand. A meal here cost us far more than anywhere else in the city but three courses with drinks only came to about twenty five pounds. However opulent the décor nothing changed with the service which was deplorable. I strongly suspect that if we’d been of different nationality we’d have been treated very differently. As it was, I was reminded of a posher version of Faulty Towers and it only became worse as the evening wore on.
Because we were having a full meal I wanted something very light for a starter and the melon and Parma ham seemed the best bet. Russ went for a cheese and garlic soup. And we both had a Finlandia vodka and a bottle of coke between us. I don’t do wine, not even on special occasions.
The presentation of the food couldn’t be faulted, it looked absolutely delicious. The chef was fine dining and when it came to presentation, care was taken to present every dish perfectly. Russ’s soup was probably the nicest I’ve ever tasted and the texture of the half melted mozzarella made for an unusual combination when married with the garlic. He had a bread basket with several different buns to choose from.
My plate was so pretty, but sadly the content left a lot to be desired. I’d expected the melon to be light and refreshing. On the contrary, it was hard and just the wrong side of ripe. The ham was far too salty and brittle. I had only taken two bites and had put my knife and fork down to rest when the waiter swooped in and took my plate away from me. I’ve had most of my stomach removed and although I can eat well, I have to eat very slowly. Even in England people often take my plate before I’ve finished, and I’m too embarrassed to stop them. It has spoiled many a meal for me. I love eating out, but it’s the time when my condition causes the most problems. Oh well, I wasn’t enjoying it anyway.
Russ had steak with a pepper sauce for his main course. Again the presentation was perfect and couldn’t be faulted. The meat was succulent and cooked to perfection. He was given a generous portion and he was well pleased and satisfied with his meal.
I had a chicken fillet with rice and basil sauce. I expected something resembling pesto but it was nothing like one. The sauce was heavy and creamy rather than oil based and it was infused with blue cheese. It was the most fantastic sauce I’ve ever tasted. It far surpassed the meat on my plate which was also lovely. It was our ritual that as soon as my meal came I’d split it in two and pass two thirds of it straight over to Russ, At least he got to eat my meal. I say that the sauce was the best I’d ever tasted because taste it was all that I got to do. I don’t eat a lot of meat because it’s one of the foods that I struggle to digest so I have to eat it one bite at a time resting between mouthfuls. I’d literally taken one bite of my meal when the waiter came and, without a word, took my plate. Russ shouted him back but by this time he was halfway across the room with it. He turned around but didn’t come back to our table to speak to us. He was aggressive and rude, he shouted from across the room, ‘Wha` you not fini?’ Everybody turned to look at us. I’ve had eating disorders all of my life and one of my biggest problems is being able to eat in public. I’m more or less cured since I had all bar a 4mm pouch of my stomach removed but I still find any focus on me concerned with food embarrassing. I felt myself colouring. The waiter shouted again, ‘You want that I bring eet back?’ Russ said yes, but it had all become too much for me and I waved the waiter and my beautiful meal away. I could feel tears stinging my eyes. I’d had nothing to eat all day and was really looking forward to it, but apart from that, everybody was looking at us and making nasty comments. At least I wouldn’t feel sick after it so that was a bonus. Russ was furious, not with me, but he’d have had no qualms in telling the man that I hadn’t finished and getting my plate back. I just couldn’t.
We ordered more drinks. Russ’s came back just fine, but my vodka had miraculously turned into whiskey. We waited ten minutes to catch the waiter’s eye again; He was pointedly ignoring us. Finally he came over. ‘Excuse me,’ I began politely, ‘I asked for vodka and you’ve brought me whiskey.’ I held up the glass to show him.
‘Yes, vodka, yes.’
‘No. it’s not vodka, it’s whiskey.’
‘Is good, you try.’
‘But I don’t like whiskey.’
‘It’s yellow and it smells of scotch, its whiskey. I’d like vodka, please.’
He looked at me as though I was mad and couldn’t tell real vodka when I saw it, but reluctantly he got me another drink shaking his head the whole way.
‘You want desert?’ That’s not a spelling mistake; he asked us if we wanted deserts.
We fancied the pancakes but after seeing another diner with them we decide that they looked really heavy and that one would do between us. We explained this to the man and made sure he understood. ‘You wan` wan, jus` wan?’
‘Yes please,’ said Russ with one finger up and another one motioning between the two of us.
‘We deserts not cost lot.’
‘That’s fine thanks,’ said Russ. ‘We’re full and only want one,’ hardly true in my case after having two plates of food taken from me.
The man went off again shaking his head. Again it was just like Fawlty Towers because everybody in the restaurant heard him shouting about us in the kitchen. We were the only ones who couldn’t understand what was being said about us. He came back with not one but two plates of pancakes and virtually threw them on the table in front of us. He did this deliberately; he’d understood perfectly that we only wanted the one. This led us to believe that the error over the drinks was malicious too, though at the time we’d been happy to put it down to a language thing and thought that maybe they had a whiskey brand with a name that sounded like vodka. I even suspect that they’d purposefully given me unripe melon. We were not welcome in the restaurant and it couldn’t have been made any clearer. I couldn’t touch the pancakes, partly because of the floor show and the stares but also because I got it into my head that they might have spat in the batter. Russ didn’t care.
They looked delicious. They were heavy, made with a thick, stick to your ribs, batter and filled with fruit and ice cream then drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with whipped cream. Russ ate the lot. Old Tardis Belly had eaten a bowl of heavy soup and several buns, some ham and melon, an enormous steak, with fried potatoes and veg, half of my meal, and then six pancakes. For a skinny bloke he can’t half put it away. He asked me if I wanted coffee but I said that I didn’t think we ought to chance it and should probably quit before Manuel came at us with a meat cleaver. The bill came to us in a carved treasure chest. It was perhaps the strangest restaurant that I’ve ever eaten in because it was such a polar mix of high standards and sloppy and sullen service. But, yes we still played the game the British way and left a tip…though not a massive one. Russ didn’t want to but I insisted hoping that it would pave the way for the next Brits that walked through the door. We were well dressed, our manners impeccable, we’d only complained once, about the whiskey and we were treated like scum. I know I come across as paranoid but I haven’t exaggerated any of this, it really was that bad. I left there starving.