“ Hip cafe-bar-restaurant in Brno, Czech Republic serving vegetarian Middle Eastern cuisine. „
It's not easy being a vegetarian in Brno - it's hard enough being in a relationship with one and finding decent places to go for a bite to eat. Around here you still get the sense that the older generations don't really know what a vegetarian is, and even some modern restaurants will think nothing of listing fish, or even chicken, in their "Bezmasa" section.
So going out for a meal with my hardcore vegetarian girlfriend can be a real ordeal, and I suffer with her. She made the moral choice to come off the flesh when she was about ten years old, and I respect her willpower - she is so strict with herself and how her food is prepared, but is not some tofu totalitarian. She has never once tried pushing me to change, and would never dream of trying to convert a carnivore to the ways of the cauliflower.
The options usually available to her tend to be fried cheese, fried cauliflower, fried broccoli, or sometimes just fries. It's not fun trying to have a nice meal with your loved one while she's poking around in her risotto to make sure there's no rogue sausages lurking around in there. And if she does find a stray piece of meat, then that's it, you're spending the rest of the meal on your own while she's out back purging herself.
So thanks to the heavens for Kupe, a sweet little cellar bar-restaurant on Veveri, which opened in the spring of 2011 and gave Saladheads and their familiars a place of refuge. There are other veggie restaurants in Brno, but they tend either to be the spartan, threadbare, Hare Krishna HQ-style joints serving up meager platters of Indian inspired fodder; or else expensive, belligerently healthy, buffet-style canteens like Rebio, which always smell like the inside of a pet shop.
There are no such problems with Kupe - they specialise in serving up super fresh, meat-free interpretations of classics from the Middle East and Turkey, and the smell of herbs and tasty cooking wafting up the stairs to greet you beckons you down into a warm, chatty cellar space below.
It's a small restaurant, with the non-smoking section occupying the front part of the cellar by the bar, while the smoking area occupies a lounge at the rear. The lounge area is more relaxed, decked out with mismatched retro furniture, with comfy armchairs to slump in. There is space on the walls for contemporary art by local artists (available to purchase), and mellow tunes on the stereo, creating a warm and intimate atmosphere, inviting you to take your time perusing the generous selection on offer in their plush, hard bound menus.
The menu is in Czech, and you can't help but get the feeling you're missing out on something, because their descriptions of the dishes are quite detailed. However, rudimentary Pub Czech should see you through the basic ingredients, and if not, the pictures tastefully and accurately depict what's going to be on your plate.
It's good fun in Kupe to just order a bunch of dishes between you and share, and they do have an option to order mixed platters of the starters, which include favourites such as hummus, baba ghanoush, stuffed vine leaves and falafel. The falafel is actually the most disappointing thing on the menu, served in rather hard, dry little pucks covered in sesame seeds.
Far more enjoyable is the chunky baba ghanoush, served with fresh homemade arabic bread, although sometimes the chef gets a little excited with the lime juice; creamy tarator, topped with walnuts; or crispy Sambousek, cute little pastries filled with spinach and feta cheese. For daredevils, there is a ridiculously hot muhammara dip - if you can finish it off, you get to choose something for free off the menu.
A selection of starters to share are usually ample for a light bite, so it's very rare I delve into the Mains - but there you will find shish kebabs of marinated and grilled vegetables, couscous dishes, kashmiri rice with cashews and raisins, moussaka, and my favourite, Kushari - a popular Egyptian dish of lentils, rice, chickpeas and macaroni, doused with a spicy tomato sauce and topped with fried onions.
There is also a section of lunch salads, and some excellent Turkish pizzas to chose from - served on a board, these narrow, footlong pizzas come with toppings such as bell pepper and feta cheese; spinach and sheep's cheese; protein based salami substitute (not as horrible as it sounds); and a spicy option with muhummara, olives, red onion and cherry tomatoes.
It's all very tasty and filling, and you can take away any left overs with you for a nominal charge.
Almost everything is freshly prepared, fragrant with herbs, and may take some time to reach you - the service at Kupe is pretty laid back anyway, but during busy periods it can take up to an hour to receive your food. The menu helpfully specifies dishes that will take a while to prepare, but Kupe is perhaps not the best option if you're in a rush, or if you're starving.
The menu also highlights dishes that are suitable for vegans, and gluten-free meals. A chilli pepper symbol denotes how hot certain dishes will be, but be warned - their assessment of what's hot and what's not tends towards the higher end of the scale. I can handle pretty spicy food, but their muhummara topped pizza, rated only a three on their chilli scale, scalded the roof of my mouth and almost burnt my lips off!
Drinks on offer range from Cerna Hora beer and wine through to ginger ale, fruit juices, coffees and leaf tea. Prices are extremely reasonable - for a light bite, a couple of starters to share and a couple of drinks each, expect to pay around 300kc (Approximately ten pounds).
Brno is gradually improving in terms of food on offer, although so many pubs and restaurants in this town offer the same old variants of the same Czech menu. It's hard to find other cuisine of any quality as an alternative, so Kupe is one of the brightest things to happen to the city's food scene in the three years I've lived here. It's a meat free restaurant, but in terms of quality, flavour, choice, atmosphere, and service, it also provides a happy alternative for all us carnivores, too.
Other Info: English Spoken
Stravenky (Lunch Vouchers) - Accepted
Website: www.kupeorient.cz - (not finished yet)
Facebook - Links to daily lunch specials
Tram: 3, 11, 12, & 13 - Zastavka (Stop) - Grohova
(This review originally posted on Ciao! as Midwinter)