One free Saturday a few weeks ago had us scratching our heads and peering at our crumbling A-Zs as we had absolutely nothing planned. The weather wasn’t looking great but the thought of sitting at home didn’t appeal (and yet it sometimes does – don’t you love being curled up in front of the telly with the rain beating hard on the windows?). With the overground available that day (seriously, when’s the Sunday work on the Richmond-Stratford line going to finally finish?!), we opted for Hampstead, West Hampstead to be specific, as I suddenly remembered a restaurant I’d been wanting to try for a while – the Czechoslovak Restaurant.
The restaurant is located in the Czechoslovak National House, which is quite literally what looks like an Edwardian house, and situated here since 1946; the club itself was created for Czechoslovakian legionaries who fought for the British army and was originally established in 1939. The dining room itself looks like it hasn’t changed since 1946 with its patterned carpet and dark wallpaper. There were already a few people in the room when we went for lunch: a couple of elderly Czech gentlemen, two elderly German women who were cooing over their food, and a few Japanese tourists (how do they find these gems?!). Somehow I had a feeling we were going to eat well.
They stock a good variety of drinks, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic, from the homeland. We opted for the nonalcoholic Kofola (a soda like Coca Cola but much less sweet and more herbal) and Vinea (very similar to the Austrian Almdudler). I loved them both – very refreshing and unique. It may sound odd but we didn’t feel like we were in London any longer!
We skipped appetisers when we saw how large portions were (we peeked at what the ladies were eating) but it took us a while to go through the eclectic menu. I went with the Beef Goulash, beef cooked with onion and spiced with red paprika, marjoram and dumplings (£8.00) while Blai opted for the Czech club pork schnitzel, with garlic, fresh onion, sprinkled with cheddar and topped with Czech club BBQ sauce, garnished with pickled vegetables and potato salad (£9.00). That’s a lot of stuff on that schnitzel!
My goulash was a most comforting thick, mild paprika-rich stew of chunks of extremely tender beef and I wiped every bit of sauce from my plate with the bread dumplings (so different from German bread dumplings!).
Blai’s schnitzel wasn’t breadcrumbed like a traditional schnitzel but instead was coated in a crispy, almost greaseless batter; it was excellent. The Czech club BBQ sauce was more like a gravy than bottled Heinz to my relief and surprisingly, all those toppings didn’t detract from the deliciousness of the schnitzel. The side of chips though needed improvement; I’d try the fried potatoes as a side next time.
As we were eating, I overheard one elderly gentleman ask about a pancake with chocolate for dessert, without referring to the menu; he was obviously a regular. I imparted this new knowledge of the dessert offerings to Blai who immediately decided he was going to have the same. I knew already that I wanted their apple strudel.
And here were our desserts. The Pancake with chocolate and whipped cream (£4.00) …
… and the Apple strudel with ice cream (served hot with cinnamon, icing sugar and whipped cream) (£3.50).
You can’t see it in the photo but the pancake (thicker than a crepe) was filled with a delightful chocolate cream. Apparently, I didn’t show “respect” to the pancake when I half mauled it with my fork – sheesh; it was obvious that Blai loved it. The strudel held tender slices of fruit, much nicer than thick uncooked chunks that lesser strudels always seem to contain. I need to return to try their apricot dumpling.
This place is quite the gem and also turned out to be a pleasant place to pass a few hours if there’s a downpour outside (as it was for us). If you’re looking for Czech beers, there’s also a bar within the building.
ETA: Cash only!
74 West End Lane
London NW6 2LX