Anywhere in the world (except perhaps Japan), restaurants whose staff is in period or folkloric costume are automatically seen as suspect, at least by us cosmopolitan sophisticates. If the signage outside is in multiple languages and welcomes big group bookings, suspicion heightens and the phrase "tourist trap" starts to appear in the thought balloon.
I'm glad I hadn't seen all those indicators before deciding that the Sophienkeller was a viable option for a late supper after the opera in Dresden, because if I had I'd probably have searched for someplace else that mightn't have been as good. Yes, the website was a trifle over the top, but the place was open late, the menu was interesting - full of local Saxon specialties - and the location was perfect: a two-minute walk from the opera house and a zero-minute walk back to our hotel (it is in the basement of the excellent Taschenbergpalais Kempinski). And however eager Sophienkeller is to accommodate group tours in its numerous dining rooms, it is by no means a trap.
Okay, the waitresses wear dirndls, but that's not so unusual in German restaurants, and on the way to the toilet I passed a man, presumably an employee, in eighteenth-century livery, white wig, tricorn hat and all - which was a trifle unexpected. Yet the vaulted cellar décor in our dining room was genuine and the welcome warm. (Unless you are a tour group, ask to be seated in one of the smaller, vaulted rooms.) The thoroughly professional woman who looked after us spoke English and knew her stuff, on both the food and the wine. You need to take care when ordering because the menu contains a number of too-elaborate dishes whose roots in the local cooking are shallow, but we could order honest, delicious sauerbraten, potato soup and quark-potato pancakes (which I've since been making at home). And while waiting for our food we could drink nice wine from the region and eat house-baked bread with unctuous, vividly seasoned pork-and-liver spread.
If the opera had been shorter and we'd arrived a little earlier, we would have had access to a more complete menu of hard-core Dresden favorites: blood- and liver-sausage with potatoes and leeks; cold pork in jelly; fried herring with onions; and braised beef roulade stuffed with onions, mustard, bacon and pickled gherkins. But the kitchen that sees to such dishes closes earlier than the restaurant itself and a curtailed menu is offered late at night, which we didn't know when we made our reservation. But now, you do, so act accordingly when you're in Dresden.
Sophienkeller im Taschenbergpalais. Taschenberg 3, 01067 Dresden; +49 (0) 351 497 260; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.sophienkeller-dresden.de. A substantial three-course dinner will cost about €25 per person. Wine from the region, less than €30 a bottle; draft beer, less than €5 for half a liter.