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Govinda Hare Krishna (Bratislava, Slovakia)

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Address: Obchodna 30, Bratislava, 81106

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      11.08.2012 08:47
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      A useful but uninspiring dining option for veggies in central Bratislava

      During the 2000 US presidential campaign George Bush Jnr famously (at least to people in the two countries involved) confused Slovenia and Slovakia. I wonder whether, when he did that, his confusion came about because both countries have a vegetarian Indian restaurant called "Govinda" in their respective capital cities, Ljubljana and Bratislava. Having been to the one in Ljubljana only a few months back, Himself and I decided to commit a selfless act in the name of research and check out its Slovakian counterpart in June 2012. The restaurants are unrelated in terms of ownership but connected in that they are both essentially Hare Krishna kitchens offering meat free dishes with a tenuous Indian theme. Until recently I just assumed that there was nothing more to this than being meat free and being vaguely eastern but then I learned that there are some quite strict rules attached to Hare Krishna cooking including the prohibition of the use of onions, garlic and peppers and any very spicy or pungent ingredients. Now I know this I feel inclined to be a little less scathing about the food served in these restaurants; onions and garlic are so frequently the starting point for a lot of cuisines so the lack of them in Hare Krishna cooking might explain why I usually find the food has something missing. Govinda Bratislava is centrally located, occupying a basement premises on Obchodna, which is the main shopping street in the New Town, but is still only a stone's throw from the Old Town. It's signposted from the street and the entrance is accessed down a passageway under that sign. There are some stairs leading down to the restaurant but only a few and they aren't steep (of course if you can't manage the stairs at all then this is obviously a problem). The restaurant is by no means vast but they've managed to squeeze in quite a few tables and Govinda seems to have no problem drawing in a steady stream of diners. The interior has been done very nicely to give an idea of eastern-ness without becoming too cheesy. It's colourful without being gaudy and it's comfortable and scrupulously clean. I loved the framed pictures of Indian gods and goddesses. As the restaurant is in the basement the lower, partially vaulted ceiling lends a cosy ambience. Hare Krishna chants play at a discreet level. Opposite the food service counter there's a selection of 'eastern' knick knacks, incense sticks, books and CDs. The food service area is up another three steps and the food is served canteen style by which I mean it's prepared in the kitchen and brought into the serving area where it's put onto the plate for you. There are various options in terms of portion size and these are clearly listed on the wall with the various prices. All dishes are meat free and all dinners come with a small bowl of soup and some main course items. The price increases if you ask for a larger portion of the basic meal, or start adding things like samosas or bhajis, or a dessert. None of the dishes are labelled so unless you can speak Slovakian you'll have to rely on guess work based on how the food looks. I had to find a member of staff who spoke German to check that there were no nuts in the food; with Indian vegetarian food I thought there was a good chance that the food could contain nuts. Fortunately none of the savoury food does, but the desserts looked to be a no go area with several sprinkled with nuts, and others looking like they could very well contain them. I can't be certain, but it looked like some of the desserts could well be vegan, probably some kind of cheesecake-like confection using tofu. We ordered small plates which comprised a little bowl of vegetable soup, a couple of salads, rice, a ladleful of vegetable curry and a dollop of rather sticky rice; we were offered a spoonful of hot sauce and gladly accepted. The food is only vaguely Indian and I suspect that it has been prepared in such a way as to appeal to Slovakians who don't usually eat spicy food. I think it's the fact that the food is meat free that draws most of the customers because I can't see any curry fan coming here to satisfy a craving (and, besides, there is an enormous - and fairly swanky looking for Bratislava - Indian restaurant on the same street). The soup was pretty bland and contained my nemesis, namely marrowfat peas; still I was brave and forced myself to eat them. Although the bowls looked to be small, they were deceptive and I felt like it was taking me forever to eat my soup while the rest of the food went cold. Himself had finished his soup with gusto and re-assured me that that since there were several salads and the rice was virtually cold anyway, only the cauliflower curry was going cold. The two salads were both well dressed which is something I suppose, I've found increasingly recently (and in the UK as well as abroad) a lot of restaurants forget to dress a salad or at least to provide the means of dressing it yourself). One was a coleslaw type of concoction, the dressing of which was too watery and insipid, while the other was a salad of mainly Chinese cabbage leaves and shredded carrot with a slightly sweet dressing. The cauliflower and pea curry was the best thing on the plate and the only thing that really had any real flavours going on. It was certainly well cooked so the cauliflower still had some bite to it, while the sauce was full of flavour in spite of its rather mild looking appearance. If only the rice had been cooked as well as the curry; I can only hope its mushiness was down it to being part of a buffet rather and not cooked fresh. Our chappatis had obviously been made much earlier and had been kept warm which had caused them to have a texture close to cardboard but we mopped up the remains of our curry anyway. The hot sauce was not really hot, only in comparison with everything else on the plate, but it did provide a bit of liveliness on an otherwise fairly dull plate. Some soft drinks were available but we made do like most people with the free jug of very cold water on every table. These were replaced every time a table was cleared rather than being brought when the table became occupied but there was such a frequent turnover that the water had no time to get lose its refreshing coolness. Slovakia is a very 'meaty' country and if you are vegetarian I can imagine you are going to become bored if you stay more than a couple of days. If you don't mind the food being a bit bland and just want a meat free feast for not many Euro then Govinda is a good bet. The problem for me is that they use a lot of Indian imagery which gives the impression that you'll get something kind of curry-ish and as we both like something with a bit of heat behind it, we've found the food at both Govindas disappointing. Personally I wouldn't go back, but I would recommend Govinda to vegans and vegetarians. If you do feel inclined to visit, you'll find Govinda open between 11.00am and 8.00pm Monday to Friday, and from 12 noon until 5.00pm on Saturdays. The restaurant is closed on Sundays. The cheapest lunch will set you back about Euro4

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