Sveiks, Šveik!... The kind of play with rhymes that would make even a kindergartener blush. Reminds me of when we were kids, me and my cousins were making up jokes with rhymes. Our favorite was ”I'm gonna take a shit, said Said Aouita.” I promise, in Swedish it rhymes and is hilarious. Or was. When we were 8, had had way too much sugar, and should have gone to bed hours ago.
Uhm, yeah... This introduction tells you I'm having trouble kicking off this review? Man, if you only knew... So, what's going on? The only restaurants I'm having trouble finding inspiration to write about are the ”meh” ones. And Sveiks, Šveik! is not meh, so what's the problem? Or... is it? Bear with me, I'm gonna try to make some sense out of this.
”if you bring your own booze, you'll be fined €30”
Sveiks, Šveik! is one of the few Czech restaurants in Riga (or possibly the only one, but I might be wrong). Located on Stabu iela, it's out-of-the-way enough and unassuming enough to be a very affordable place to go. However, especially the stone cellar (of which you will find lots of photos on their horrid website, by the way), with its charming centuries-old look, creates an atmosphere which is easy to fall for. That is, with the exception of the flat screen TV on the wall which is fighting vigorously to kill off as much atmosphere as it can. Suggestion: lose the TV, dim the lights and put candles/torches on the walls. That would make the place almost fantastic looking.
Ploughing through the menu will take quite a while, because it sure is lengthy. You'll find all sorts of starters, snacks, small dishes, soups, main courses, desserts. My favorite page, though, is the last one where you're informed that if you bring your own booze, you'll be fined €30. This happens a lot, Sveiks, Šveik!?
The menu is also where we find the problem with Sveiks, Šveik!. It's not really a menu as much as a map of peaks and valleys. Problem is, you won't know which is which until your choice lands on the table. For example, the starter called ”unrefined roasted shrimps with garlic” (€4,20) sounded great. However, the mirage disappeared when I was served regular unpeeled shrimp in regular Thai sweet chili sauce with chopped garlic. Unless you're an octopus with suction cups on your fingers, this dish is impossible to eat. After peeling a few shrimp, my hands was covered in sweet chili sauce and I just couldn't get any grip. Also, the bland taste was nowhere near being worth the effort.
Equally boring were the battered squid rings with chili sauce (€4). Also, this is a Czech restaurant, so what's the deal with these Thai dishes? Especially since it's a very plain one which you could make at home in about 1 minute. However, the garlic potato pancakes (€5,60) make a rather nice starter. I'd recommend that you share them with a friend as part of a multi-course meal, though, otherwise you might grow tired of their one-layered taste before your plate is empty.
”this really is something i could eat every day”
For the main courses, we go back to the ”difficult to eat” section: the quails prepared in ”the old Czech method” (€8,50) (whatever that means) come wrapped in a foil package of sauce and grease, and lots of green beans to accommodate them. Now, I liked the taste, but this is another dish you have to eat with your hands, since the meat is still on the bones. Maybe you're a fan of gnawing flesh off tiny bird bones, but I'm not. Especially since there are just a few grams of meat on each bird, you will not be full from this dish.
Ok, so far I've probably given the impression that you would do best to stay away from this place. But as I said in the beginning, Sveiks, Šveik! is not ”meh”. So you've saved the best for last, o Foreigner? Oh yes, I have. The ”Czech in Russia” (€8) is an absolutely delicious dish. A huge piece of really tender, juicy pork meat in a delicious mushroom sauce with potato balls. This really is something I could eat every day. Nearly as good I found the ”pork chops for Prague lord” (€5,80), which at first glance looked like whatever dull Latvian standard dish, but proved quite a treat for tongue and belly. Also, if you're into sausages, I'm sure you'll be happy with the selection they have (around €6,50).
Overall, Sveiks, Šveik! is a rather atmospheric and pleasant place to spend an hour or two. Service is perhaps not memorable, but fast and hassle-free. In the summer they also have a small outdoors section by the street (prepare for car noise). If you decide to give it a try, remember this: when sifting through the menu, be prepared to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince.