Sansho: Eat Here.

 

Sansho is an unassuming place about a 15 minute walk away from the historical old town tourist madness of Prague.  For lack of a better description I’d say it was in the Real Prague, a Prague into which a lot of tourists never venture.  Chef/owner Paul Day has created a deceptive restaurant: casual on the outside, relaxed, a neighborhood hang out, but then you see the food and realize this is one very serious effort.
You can order al a carte, but in order to get the full spectrum and depth of Paul’s cooking and as many flavors of his tasty Asian fusion food I’d say go with the tasting menu (6 courses 750 Kc – so about $40 USD).  The night I was there the waiter came up to me and said something like, “We’d like to make you something extra special tonight.  We have crabs so if you are interested for 900 Kc ($47.96) we could really do it up proper…”  Sure, why not?  I mean it’s just another 8 bucks, right?
Initially, I was seated in the hinter lands to the right of the entrance, but before I could even sit I was offered another seat at the end of a communal table right by the open kitchen.  Much better and this way I could watch the action.
This was suppose to have been a dinner for three, but my friend Keith was mugged outside his apartment just before I arrived in Berlin and the muggers managed to break his jaw.  Eight weeks of milk shakes, baby food and pureed soup for Keith!  So he and his boyfriend Harald decided not to be on the road.  But I decided to go to Prague anyway, in part because I always wanted to see it, but also because I was very intrigued by this restaurant.
The first dish was a citrus sesame oil Salmon Carpaccio.
Pretty, no?  Tasty too!  I would have liked maybe just a touch more citrus, but it didn’t stop me from inhaling it.  The Szechuan peppercorns added a nice crunch.
One of the main reasons I wanted to eat at Sansho so badly was because of Chef Paul Day’s pedigree. he had been the sous chef at Nobo in London and was now making funky Asian food in Prague.  It certainly turned everything everyone had ever said about the food in Prague (dumplings, more dumplings, goulash, cabbage, dumplings, and duck) on it’s head.
The most interesting thing about the evening I spent here, besides the wonderful food and relaxed vibe of the place, was Paul, himself, who early on in the evening would come out and chat with me, sometimes bringing my next course or just to check in.  It made the evening so much better then if I had just sat by myself an ate alone with my thoughts (which I have to say I am very tired of – so am always glad for distraction).
Here is the soft shelf crab slider with wasabi cream:

What I learned early on in the evening, something that I had somehow missed in my pre-trip reading, is that Paul had worked for David Thompson at one of my all time favorite restaurants in London, Nahm.  David has a gift for making Thai food and is obsessed with finding old traditional recipes to recreate.  Obviously Paul’s time spent at Nahm influenced his taste buds as the flavors of SE Asia showed up many times during my meal, in particular in this variation of Thai Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam):

…made with Heritage Czech pork that is seasoned with white pepper, giving it a lovely bite.

That’s Paul’s back in the kitchen.

Paul, at the heart of it, is a butcher with a passion for treating animals compassionately and raising them on farms not in factories.  The meat he uses at Sansho is meat he has a personal relationship with.  In his time in Prague he has been very involved with farmers and in partnering with them to raise heritage pork breeds that were near extinction and now are once again flourishing as well as pasture raised cows.

If you happen to live in Prague or are staying in a place with a kitchen you want to keep an eye out for Pauls’ new venture: A Butcher Shop.  It is opening up in the same neighborhood as Frank Gehry’s Dancing House which is an easy and quick subway ride from the center of town.

For more information on the sustainable meat movement in Prague check out The Real Meat Society.

Here is a dish made from rare Czech Prestik Pig Pork Belly and Watermelon in Hoisin Sauce:

Water at Sansho is best from the tap, served in a large jug with a long strip of cucumber and bunch of fresh mint.

Here is an experimental dish: deep fried quail with a gingery dipping sauce.

It was served with a finger bowl to wash your hands in: very interactive food, delicious, but as I look at this picture I think they should nix the paper doily.
So I forgot to tell you the story about the bottle of wine I ordered.  I was disappointed with my choice of a Reserva Chilean Merlot that was just plodding, heavy and fruity (though somehow I managed to drink it).  I think this food is best served with something lighter.  In retrospect I think a Rose might have been a better choice, or perhaps a Pinot.
Another soft shell crab dish (but I’m a little fuzzy on the details – other than it was delicious).
The big main course is served with still crunchy sauteed greens (bok choy?), jasmine rice and at the center of it all a big spoonful of Beef Rendang made from Czech, dry aged, grass fed, organic Aberdeen Angus Beef.  Scallions, chili jam and some house made roti finish off the picture.

For dessert I had passion fruit ice cream, which was creamy, tart and perfect. Pasion fruit sorbet would  have been great as well and maybe a bit lighter but at this point who cares about light, right?  The sticky toffee pudding sounded great, but I was too stuffed and probably should have forgone a sweet altogether, but hell…life is short and eating well is the best revenge.

By this point the kitchen has closed up and Paul joins me, after a few sips of my wine (I think he agreed with my assessment) he brought this one to the table:

It was brilliant! The entire time I was drinking I was wishing I had ordered it.   But it’s not yet on the menu so wasn’t an option, but will be soon, so if you go: order it!
All in all an truly memorable evening where I left feeling not only had a learned a lot about the local food scene, had a diverse and wonderful meal, but also got to spend time with a chef, butcher and environmentalist who is helping to change the food landscape of Prague.  As if you didn’t already have enough reason to visit this extraordinary city, now you have one more:  Great food at Sansho.

About urbanfoodguy

I'm a self taught cook with a dedication to buying and eating food that is as humanely and sustainably raised as possible. Which is why in addition to recipes you will see a lot of environmental/political reporting here. I started cooking when I was about 6, it's something I always loved to do. Watching Graham Kerr - aka "The Galloping Gourmet" - was what got me started and I have never really looked back. Over the years I've been a private chef, a caterer, and a food stylist for magazines such as Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, Real Simple, Oprah, Martha Stewart's Everyday Food and many more. I've also worked in the prep kitchen for the Food Network on the Bobby Flay and Paula Deen shows. Now I work at home in my kitchen sharing with you here recipes that I create or that other people have created that inspire me and I think you will like. I love my neighborhood (the Lower East Side of Manhattan) and I love to travel. Because NYC is such a big place I tend to focus mostly on my 'hood and the ones that are close by: The East Village, Bowery, Chinatown and Williamsburg. My love of travel has no limits really, I'm always ready to get on a plane. I was lucky enough to have a business for many years that allowed me to spend a lot of time in South East Asia. These days I've been spending time in Mexico, Germany, Canada and the West Coast of the U.S., but check back you never know where I might end up. I do consulting, cooking classes, and freelance lifestyle writing so if you are interested please send me a note: urbanfoodguy@gmail.com
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