Stepping through Darling Street Balmain’s heritage-listed Working Men’s Institute, we entered a European oasis. Tastefully decorated and exuding old-world charm, subdued lighting from the wrought-iron chandeliers and candles at La Boheme’s tables set a scene as equally suited to romantic dining (visit mid-week) as dining with a group of friends or family.
Tucked under the stairs of the split-level Czech/European restaurant, La Boheme’s bar serves an extensive range of wines, liqueurs and of course European beers. My dining partner heartily recommended the Czech Krusovice lager, commenting enthusiastically, ‘Czech beers are better than Belgian!’. The good news for beer connoisseurs is that La Boheme now has a new licence which allows them to serve alcohol without food. Not that you’d only want to drink, with the range of delicious cuisine they have on offer!
Our friendly and knowledgeable waiter, Jan, suggested my dining partner try the crunchy button mushrooms with his Krusovice lager, and he wasn’t wrong. Piping hot, the crumbed mushrooms dipped in the accompanying cheese sauce disappeared in the blink of an eye – although admittedly I think I ate most of them, along with my own entrée of perfectly pan-fried chilli and garlic king prawns.
Onto the mains. My dining partner couldn’t go past the golden roasted duck. Based on an old Czech recipe, it was generously accompanied by red cabbage, sauerkraut, potato dumplings and speck dumplings. Part way through he was heard to moan, ‘I must finish it, in respect to the duck! I can’t! I must!’. Finding it too magnificent to ignore, in the end the duck was suitably respected.
However, all attention was on my dish, the pork knuckle. The neighbouring table looked on with a laugh as my eyes bulged at its arrival. A huge mound of meat sat on a wooden board, with a knife embedded in the flesh. So much for discarding my gothic past. As it sat in front of me, daring me to start, a thought tore through my mind: how the hell will I attack this while retaining my dignity? But the mouth-watering aroma of the pork dismissed the thought as quickly as it came. And I’m glad it did. Never before had I understood pork being referred to as ‘sweet’ until now. Serving each mouthful with either mustard or a hot horseradish sauce, my only regret was that I was unable to finish what I’d started.
While we waited for dessert, we chatted with another delightful waitperson, Lucie. She too (like the owners Pavel, Romana, Edita and Andre) is Czech and studies business when not working at La Boheme. I asked about holding functions at La Boheme and discovered they cater for up to 120 guests for either personal or corporate functions, breakfast lunch or dinner. Mondays to Thursdays are even BYO. Not only that, Tuesdays and Thursdays are their ‘schnitzel nights’, while Friday has live Czech music with Andras Racz. As if that wasn’t enough, from 9am to 6pm weekdays and 8am to 6pm weekends, La Boheme Café is open, serving Allpress 100% organic coffee, all day breakfast, and lunch specials. I knew I’d have to return.
Before long our dessert arrived. As we couldn’t decide we chose to go for all of them – on the dessert tasting plate.
The berry dumpling started it off, and would be perfect for those who prefer a less sweet dessert. Next was the crepe Suzette, and I could feel my knees weaken. I had to try the chocolate mousse when I discovered it was laced with coffee and amaretto, and again I was not disappointed. But the highlight among highlights was the classic apple strudel. Stuffed with fresh sliced apple and encased in melt-in-your-mouth pastry, this was the one for me. Oh yes, I would be back.
To round it all off, we ended the night on a shot of Barenjager, a honey liqueur. The initial fire of the liqueur was quickly extinguished by the burnt golden honey flavour. Clearly there was nothing to do but order another. As we finally rolled ourselves homeward we came up with one last tip. Turn up hungry.