Having only just recovered from my exertions in New York, I now find myself unexpectedly in the Czech Republic. An old producer pal of mine Vaclav Vavrinec (who I met through the actor Pavel Kříž) called me yesterday morning and asked if I’d like to take part in a food and wine programme on Vltava Radio in Prague. Never being one to miss an opportunity to broadcast to the masses, I quickly packed an overnight bag and jumped into a cab to London City airport, where I was obliged to pay a king’s ransom for the next KLM flight to Ruzyne International.
On arrival in Prague yesterday evening I secured a dull superior room in the executive wing of the Mövenpick Hotel, which is connected to the main hotel and restaurant by means of a cable car. God only knows why.
Dinner was awful. A small duck who had apparently been killed in a microwave, followed by something runny and brown on a large square plate. I washed it down with a bottle of Ryzlink – a Czech Riesling from Moravia which was crisp, citrusy and distinctly underwhelming.
This morning, after a breakfast of dry bread rolls and Bucks Fizz, I went for a brisk walk along the River Vltava. This is the city of a hundred spires. I began counting them in earnest, but soon became bored and retired after just twenty three. Charles IV Bridge is at the heart of the Old Town and crosses the Vltava river. It has been the location for many a romantic film scene.
The bridge is guarded by three ornate towers, and is considered to be one of the most beautiful gothic-style buildings in the world. It would truly be a lovely place, were it not for the street traders and scruffy artists who people its span. I was twice asked if I would like to sit for a caricature, and had to be quite forceful in my refusals. If I want to be drawn with a long pointed nose and twisted neck I shall invite Gerald Scarfe around for dinner.
While admiring the delicate baroque statues I was approached by a stylish young French couple who asked if I might take a picture of them together. Ten minutes later I had somehow managed to break their camera, and the girl stood sobbing while her partner comforted her with man-sized tissues and a can of Red Bull.
This afternoon we recorded the radio programme for Vltava.. The premise was that I was to be given three bottles of wine with the labels covered, and had to place them in order of price – from cheap to expensive. I considered this a rather vulgar idea, but was persuaded to continue by a very pert and forward young interpreter called Nadezda who massaged my shoulders, caressed my brow with a wet wipe, and assured me that she would translate my every word with integrity and intelligence.
After sampling each of the wines, I was horrified to discover that I had identified none of them correctly, and had actually placed them in reverse order in terms of price.
The first bottle was revealed to be Terroir ”Les Cailloutis” Corbiéres – a wine that I estimated to be the most expensive and which turned out to be a mere 430 koruny per bottle (around £15). The next was Baron de Ley Gran Reserva „Viña Imas“ a Tempranillo which I said I wouldn’t pay more than a fiver for, and which turned out to retail for around £25.
The final bottle was Beaune 1er Cru „Clos de l´Ecu“ Domaine Faiveley Hrozny – a fine Pinot Noir at around £50. It was a deep garnet colour, with a fruity, somehow leathery tone, and a red pepper aftertaste. Unfortunately I mistook it for Tesco Reka Valley Bulgarian, which retails for £3.36 per bottle, and which I purchased recently in Muswell Hill using 20 Clubcard Points.
On the way back to my hotel, Vaclav and I passed along Navratilova Street, which I assume was named after that pushy woman with the muscular arms and barber shop haircut. Half way up Navratilova we happened upon the “Moravian Wine Archive”, which soon revealed itself to be a restaurant in the best traditions of Czech hospitality.
We began by sampling a number of local wines, notably from the northern region of Bohemia. There were several grape varieties I hadn’t heard of including Müller-Thurgau, Gewürztraminer and Grüner Veltliner. My arm was also twisted into trying wines blended from Zweigeltrebe, Rulandské modré and Blauer Portugieser.
We then ordered some smoked meat with horse-radish, and followed that with garlic pancakes and roll-dough dumplings. Then Vaclav suggested I try some Becherovka – a traditional alcoholic beverage which contains water from Karlovy Vary, natural sugar, and a harmonic blend of herbs and spices. But it’s mostly alcohol. 38% proof to be precise.
According to Vaclav, no two bottles of Becherovka are absolutely identical – depending on “variables” it can vary slightly from day to day – strong rainfall or dry periods, different soil, time of harvesting and other factors causing fluctuations in the strength and taste.
As far as I remember, Vaclav and I drank about twenty shots of Becherovka, and I have to say that I noted no fluctuations in its taste. There were, however major fluctuations in our behavior, and when the waiters asked us to leave at around 11.40pm, we became mildly argumentative and aggressive.
On our return to the Mövenpick there were a number of high class prostitutes hovering by the lifts. I think Vaclav was tempted, but even in my severely inebriated state I could not bring myself to engage with an orifice that had so recently been filled by the engorged wurst of an overfed German businessman.