The Czechoslovak House, 74 West End Lane, West Hampstead, NW6 2LX
The Czechoslovak House has a proud history. Founded in 1939 for Czechoslovakian soldiers, it found its current home in West Hampstead in 1946 following a beer ban in Holborn. It continues to operate as a sort of club-hostel-restaurant-bar to this day.
A welcome desk serves as a reception for inquiries and takeaway orders, but we are ushered to the 80s-chic dining room: white table cloths and large laminated menus. Portraits of grandees and royalty, delivered with dubious skill but clear determination, line the walls.
The menu is extensive, with over sixty numbered dishes, plus variants, and the English language version contains a little history box for an educational edge. Feeling good, we decide to order big.
There is no Czech wine available, sadly, but since they’re famoous for their beer anyway we’re happy to order Zlaty Bažant and Dark Budvar, both of which have the rich, malty edge that we hoped for.
The starters all sound good, and we opt for Langoš, a fried dough spread with tatare and tomato sauces, sprinkled with cheddar: a sort of billowy pizza bread. We also try Bramborák, a plate-sized chunky fried potato pancake spiced with marjoram and caraway, topped with sour cream, cheese, and salad, and finally Halušky, potato gnocchi with sheep’s cheese and bacon which are very rich, very salty and very filling.
In fact we are now full enough for a little lie down, but this is no place for the faint-hearted, so we plough on.
For mains Sophie and Joe choose Segediner Gulash, pork cooked with sauerkraut and double cream, spiced with red paprika and served with steamed slices of what must have once been an enormous dumpling, that are like round slabs of thick, spongy white bread. It’s a very rich dish to take on following those starters.
Likewise Steve’s Svíčková, which is roast beef in cream and vegetable sauce, served with a few more slabs cut from the aforementioned mega-dumpling. Both main dishes are tasty, though not quite as interesting as the starters, swimming, as they do, in their respective sauces – and they’re just too damn big. Only one plate is cleared.
Sweating heavily and loosening top buttons, we take on dessert. We’re all keen on the various versions of Meruňkovỳ kynutỳ (apricot dumplings), but sadly they’re unavailable, so it’s Jablkový Štrůdl (apple strudel) all round instead. It is served with squirty cream, ice cream, dusted with icing sugar and spiced with cinnamon, but is still just apple strudel, and a bit of a tame end to an otherwise interesting meal.
You get the sense some people eat heartily at the Czechoslovak House every night, watched over by glorious forefathers, and accompanied by glorious beers. And why not? It’s an odd, welcoming place, and it’s worth a visit.