Article by David Creighton and originally published in the December-April 2017-2018 edition of the Atmosphere magazine. Read the latest edition here.
A world-famous DJ swaps beats for the restaurant biz in Prague
It’s not every day that the person preparing your lunch has connections to Björk, David Bowie and Seal. But this cook has worked with them all.
On a chilly November Monday, I’m lunching at his new venture, Prague’s Brixton Balls, which specializes in homemade meatballs. As regulars le into the unassuming bistro with exposed brick walls, I grab a window seat and dig into the signature Brixton Boat: meatballs smothered in tomato cream, paired with red cabbage coleslaw and rice. The meal creator is former dance musician and producer Tim Simenon, better known to his fans as Bomb the Bass. “He gave up a glamorous life of music, parties and touring with bands for getting up early to prepare meatballs all day,” cheekily declares his restaurant’s website.
“Yes, it’s a huge change, but I’m glad I made it,” says the amiable Brit behind the counter.
The golden-brown spheres, which he and co-owner Luděk Netušil produce daily, soon warm me up. Cheddar cheese in the meat mixture adds a creamy subtlety to the flavour. And my lunch bursts with colour, welcome on this grey day, and texture: crunchy cabbage, succulent beef and velvety-smooth sauce.
“HE GAVE UP A GLAMOROUS LIFE OF MUSIC, PARTIES AND TOURING WITH BANDS FOR GETTING UP EARLY TO PREPARE MEATBALLS ALL DAY,” CHEEKILY DECLARES HIS RESTAURANT’S WEBSITE.
But when he began, in the late ’80s, meatball menus were the last thing on Simenon’s mind. While studying sound engineering, he shot to fame at the age of 21 with “Beat Dis,” a chart hit everywhere. Simenon developed groundbreaking electronic music and produced for renowned artists like Depeche Mode. That partnership would change his life.
As a DJ, he supported their 1998 world tour, which included Prague. Little did Simenon know that “Czech music fans of a certain age worship Depeche Mode.” He fell in love with the city, thrilled by its openness and its atmosphere of encouraging artists.
The Czech capital kept drawing him back after a 2012 move to Vienna, where he continued with music. At Divinis, one of Simenon’s favourite Prague eateries, he met Netušil, then the manager. But change was afoot. “I didn’t want to be behind the decks at 60,” says Simenon. “I was ready for something new. In 2015, Luděk and I hit on the idea of a new type of restaurant in Prague, which would also allow me to stay here.”
His plan surprised family and friends—and elicited a few chuckles. “But overall, they’ve been hugely positive,” he says. And as a keen cook, Simenon had long dreamt about his own eatery.
“I chose meatballs because I wanted to show that there’s much more to them than just IKEA canteens,” he says, laughing. “Besides, I wanted to experiment, using my favourite avours, like Italian. I’ve no family recipes to draw on, but I created my own, inspired by other dishes.”
Brixton Balls launched in early 2016, in the cosmopolitan Vinohrady neighbourhood, and is popular with locals and internationals alike. Diners can choose their own meatball types and accompaniments, say, a cheese meatball and curry combo. That’s what makes this bistro so special.
Rapid success has prompted recent menu additions, including vegan meatballs. Simenon believes that these veggie options re ect the exciting food scene in Prague, evidenced by the surge in veganism in the carnivore stronghold.
“Restaurants also focus much more on quality ingredients, encouraged by trail-blazing chefs like Paul Day, who has revived a forgotten pig breed,” says Simenon. “Dining is much more diverse too, you can even get poutine in Prague!”
He considers Brixton Balls very much part of these trends. “New burger joints are popping up everywhere, but we’re the only meatball restaurant in town. There’s a freedom about Prague.
I don’t think I would’ve had this opportunity somewhere with a longer-established foodie scene.”
As he reflects on his career change, Simenon believes that music and meatballs share much in common. “It takes time to get the meatball flavours just right. It’s a creative process, just like producing,” he tells me, before continuing with a grin. “Whether you’re mixing minced beef or music, it’s all about, forgive the fine tuning.”
Cover photo credits: Air Transat