As Christmas approaches, street vendors start selling live carps in big barrels of water on every other corner. (To explain: the main Xmas dish here is carp schnitzel with potato salad, and Czechs generally eat fish on Christmas Eve.) There’s literally blood on the streets of Prague, as some buyers want to have them killed right away. (We saw the whole scene once on our Prague Foodie Tour, and it has left quite an impression on our guests.) But some take live carps and put them in the bath tub, making them a part of the family for a few days. And then, as the kids create an emotional bond to the poor, Christmas Eve arrives, and au revoir in the next life, carp! True story. Teaches the kids a lesson, we guess: take nothing for granted.
But you don’t have to do any of that. While some ten, fifteen years ago, dining out on Christmas Eve in Prague meant eating a sorry baguette and drinking beer from a can at an empty gas station, thinking about your ex, contemplating your life and where it probably took the wrong turn, Prague now offers lots of opportunities to eat out on Christmas Eve. This is not your rural Germany on Sunday - you don’t have to stay hungry until Monday.
Now, a confession. We do have a bit of experience with eating out on Christmas Eve. We have started our tradition a few years ago after a disastrous Christmas Eve dinner at home. Going into details is still painful, so let’s just say the moms did not appreciate the dinner Zuzi slaved hours for and were quite vocal about it, and as a result, Zuzi vowed not to go through that ever again. Ever. Holidays of peace, anyone? So we do care and know about Christmas dining in Prague, and here’s our rundown for Prague Christmas dining 2018.
Eating Czech on Christmas.
So first let’s assume you want to eat Czech on Christmas Eve. And we don’t blame you: just like in most countries, the Czech Christmas Eve dinner is a very traditional meal with staples and rules. The best place for that? The Eatery, a newcomer opened by Chef Bycek of the former Michelin-starred Alcron glory, will offer a classic Czech menu, served as a buffet. All the classics (think carp with potato salad, “Kuba”, a mushroom barley risotto, and many others) will be served. The Eatery, located in the residential Holesovice district, offers minimalist interiors, but with a Christmas tree lit up, this may be just perfect.
If you’d like to dine with a more classic view, the two restaurants by Mr Pohlreich, a TV celebrity chef (he ran the Czech version of Kitchen Nightmares and has other shows), will do. Both Café Imperial and Next Door offer specific Christmas menus. Café Imperial offers a fantastic view of an old Art Deco room tiled from floor to bottom (Jan calls this dining experience “eating in a sauna”), while Next Door, which is located… ahem… next door to the Imperial, is slightly more modern, although the remodeling has been kind to the original building that was opened as an insurance office for food industry staff. They are both hotel restaurants, so make sure you book your table now. Another great place for a Czech meal on Christmas Eve is Café Lounge, which is open until 4pm and serves some of the best food in town with Chef Cerny at the helm. (That said, it will close on Dec 25.)
Just like every year, the restaurants of the ubiquitous Ambiente group, is shut down on Christmas Eve, so good-bye, Lokál, good-bye, La Degustation, good-bye Kantýna… see you on Christmas Day! (Or even later in case of Lokál Hamburk.) That said, Aureole, a swanky, jet-setting place sitting on top of a high rise building in the Pankrác district, is open to business and offers a few Christmas Even menus, some of them very Czech. Another place for a Czech Christmas experience… is the Belgian Bruxx brasserie, which will serve escargots, a classic Czech Christmas treat, throughout the entire Christmas time. Our very own Karolína swears they have the best kids corner (with a dedicated Big Brother-style app that connects to the corner’s CC cameras), so there’s an idea. Vinohradský Parlament next door will also be open on Christmas Eve and will serve escargots in a broth from smoked pork knuckles, an old Czech recipe.
And if you want to finish - or start - your Czech experience on a sweet note, Cukrár Skála will be serving traditional Christmas cookies on Christmas Eve, too. Because it ain’t Christmas in our book unless you end your meal in a food coma, watching fairytales on TV on the sofa, one hand stuffing your face with Christmas cookies, other hand under your belt, Al Bundy-style… [cue Czech anthem]. Remember: our Christmas cookie rule is… the smaller the better, but whatever they serve, vanilla crescents are a must.
Not eating Czech on Christmas. Drinking on Christmas.
How about other restaurants that may not necessarily serve Czech cuisine? Well, our favorite have always been the modern Italian restaurants run by Riccardo Lucque’s La Collezione group. Starting from the top, Aromi, an Italian classic in the Vinohrady district, has a beautiful, fish-centric prix fixe set menu that we have been eyeing for weeks. La Finestra, the group’s high-end Italian restaurant in the Old Town, has a single menu for Christmas, too, and it looks nice.
Now, a small detour about “drinking on Christmas”: onesip coffee, one of our favorite coffee shops in town, will again open for morning Christmas coffee between 10am and 12pm. Like every year, it will be packed with regulars and local baristas trading their Christmas cookies, and like every year, we’ll be there (just tasting other people’s cookies, you think we have time to bake cookies?). So be there too, okay? Bring your cookies.
We have always loved the Bottega bistros for Christmas Eve dinner, visiting in the past two years. Our favorite spot must be the window box at Bottega Linka. This year, it’s a set menu only from a certain hour, but it’s a nice one, and the wine pairing looks great, too. Bottega Bistroteka also offers a set menu revolving around fish. Bottega di Finestra seems to offer a la carte options, just like their Tusarova location. That’s where we’d head to a more local option in the Holesovice district.
Also, Sia restaurant, the huge pan-Asian restaurant in the V Kolkovne street by the Republic Square, will be open for Christmas Eve. This is great news for two kinds of people: (1) those who demand Asian flavors on their Christmas table, (2) those who forget to make reservations - it’s a huge place and unless they are fully booked by now, this could be your saving grace for the “oh-did-we-have-to-make-a-reservation-somewhere-for-christmas-eve-I-had-no-idea” moment.
And if all else fails, there’s always hotel restaurants, with Coda on top of the roof of the Aria hotel and Zlatá Praha on top of the Intercontinental hotel being the most logical choices - they will both offer Czech and international flavors, conservative, well-presented cooking, and great views of the city. And finally, there’s the 24/7 KFC on top of the Wenceslas Square, so that you can celebrate Christmas… Japanese style, we guess? Hey, let’s get real: Jan ate his last meal before he became a dad there, so it is a special place.
Which is a great transition to what our Christmas is all about: the drink afterwards. Because let’s be honest here: after spending Christmas with family, we all need and deserve one. Walking up Krakovska street from the aforementioned KFC is Parlour, our favorite cocktail bar in Prague. Don’t go there. That’s our sacred place. You can go to L’Fleur, which adds boutique Champagnes to the mix. And bubbles are good on Christmas. Come late. L’Fleur opens at 10pm, just in time for a drink.
In any case, happy holidays and see you over the buffet at The Eatery on the 24th! (Our choice this year.)