Lunch files: Soul Bistro

This is the start of a new segment. I never paid much attention to lunch menus. Most restaurants make feel like I’m feeding from a trough. It seems like the goal is to provide the most food for the cheapest price. Not really my idea of a culinary experience. Fortunately there are some great lunch menus around. I will start with the center and branch out from there.

Soul Bistro

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And the best place to start is my favorite; Soul Bistro. Soul burst onto the scene a couple of months ago and became an instant hotspot. Just walking by as they were renovating the place gave me great vibes. The place is bright, airy and has a nice bohemian vibe (at least the American interpretation of a bohemian vibe). Very clean and relaxed ambiance.

Everything else about Soul lives up to the hype the decor and ambiance create. As a bistro focused on lunch, the menu changes day to day. The only constant I see is their fish and chips. They are crisp and flavorful, served in the traditional wax paper (wouldn’t want to lose any of the oil, right?). The tartar sauce is a typical condiment, but their caramelized onions (served cold) add a unique, sweet layer to this dish.

While the menu is light, modern and international, you can see the Central European roots in many of the dishes. I’d never expect to see a roasted pork ragu in a place like this, much less enjoy it. Yet it was surprisingly fresh and enjoyable. This is also the only place in Brno I would order a salad and expect it to be interesting and satisfying.

At Soul Bistro, soup is not just an afterthought. I have yet to come across a bland or boring bowl at Soul. A spoon of their tomato soup will transport you to Tuscany and their vichyssoise soup tastes like its from Julia Child’s kitchen. Daring flavor combinations (potato soup served cold) and unconventional bases (eggplant soup) stand in stark contrast to your chicken broth with liver balls.

The waitstaff is friendly and attentive (and most of them speak English). I have lunched at Soul quite often since it opened. While every establishment strives for perfection (well, hopefully they do), no one is perfect. I have only had one bad experience with the food there. The communication between the front of house and the kitchen seemed to be off. Both my soup and my main were brought to the table cold.

 The reason I am relating this incident is not because I was disappointed. Everyone has an off day. The way they dealt with it was eye-opening. The waitress was apologetic and made every effort to make things right. I wasn’t overly upset, yet the manager (it may have been the owner) also came out to apologize. They refused to let me pay for anything. And, more importantly, it never happened again.
I guess I’ve been away from America too long. While this sounds routine for any restaurant in the USA, I have never experienced anything like that before in Brno. I had a similar incident at Kabaret Špaček, only to have the waiter say “well it was fine when it left the kitchen, so it must be something you did to the food”, as if I brought a fan to cool it down.
Do I have anything bad to say about Soul? From a food perspective, the desserts are a bit of a letdown. They are good, but they don’t match the heights of their savory menu. For example, the cheesecake pales in comparison to offerings at Jedna báseň or V Melounovém cukru.
Another issue is price. Main dishes run around 100 CZK. Many of the dishes are higher than that. If you add a soup and a drink, you will likely top 200 CZK. Personally I hate the 79 CZK lunch culture (it fosters mediocrity), but being double the price seems to be a stretch for most people. It would be nice if they offered the soup as a 10 CZK add-on to the main course.
Bottom line, Soul Bistro is a winner. They would hold their own if they opened up shop in Park Slope or Greenwich Village.


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