Oh, what a year 2017 was. What started rather slowly has become, both for us personally and for Prague’s food scene in general, a year of excitement and hope. Here’s the year 2017 in review, as it relates to the Prague food scene.
The good news was that the people of Prague continued to eat out on a much larger scale than ever before. How do we know? Well, running food tours in Prague means booking a loooot of restaurant tables, and it’s never been as difficult as in 2017. Places like Café Savoy now pretty much point fingers and laugh at people who walk in for brunch without a reservation, and Café Imperial and Next Door have stopped supplying Xanax to their Maitre Ds simply because they’re fully booked weeks ahead anyway. So getting dinner reservations is now officially a must for most good restaurants in Prague.
Also, 2017 saw a huge change in Prague’s dining scene with the long-awaited smoking ban coming into effect in May. Well, finally the visibility in a regular pub exceeds two metres, and you don’t have to wash your clothes every time you visited U Zlateho tygra. (You probably still want to wash your mouth though.) Just like in all other countries, people predicted mayhem, economic decline, and alcoholics crying in front of pubs that have shut down, and you know what? Just like in all other countries, nothing’s happened. So smoking is now banned in restaurants. Good riddance.
Prague food in 2017 - Notable losses
Prague has suffered a few serious losses on the food front. First, Cestr. Yes, we used to complain about the popular steak house all the time (the staff, the maitre d, the steaks, the soggy fries) but the truth is… we miss you, Cestr. We take it all back. Come back soon! When will the reconstruction of the Federal Parliament building end? Two years? We can’t wait two years to clog our arteries again with the mashed potatoes, the truffle sauce and the beef neck on paprika! (Sure, Kantyna’s potato pankaces are nice, but c’mon, they’re no match to Cestr’s potato offerings.)
Also, Story, the little restaurant that could, quietly tucked away where the streetcars literally end, is no longer with us: we guess running a restaurants AND a family just proved too much to take for the owners who became parents of a baby girl. Oh, we get it. At least Michal, the chef, has moved to Café Lounge at the end of the year, which must be 2017’s biggest surprise transfer on Prague’s food scene.
Finally, Simply good, the only place with kolache good enough to earn a recommendation for our food tours’ guests, shut down this year. Oh man. Shame on us, foodies of Prague. If we can’t support the only good kolache place in town, we should have a good look in the mirror. Maybe we’re not as cool as we though? Honestly. Our hunt for great kolaches hasn’t stopped ever since, and it’s not going well. The new Cukrar Skala is looking good so far, with great filling, but the doug needs work. You will be forever in our hearts, Simply good.
The drinks scene has suffered two notable losses in 2017. First, the Prague branch of Mr Tvaroh’s London-based Lounge Bohemia opened its door to the last patrons in December. We must have given the secret number to this super fun speakeasy serving molecular mixology to the… well, not masses, but surely to dozens of both locals and tour guests, who all enjoyed their visits immensely.
Second, Kavarna co hleda jmeno, a coffee shop so hipster people would take Instagrams of the bathrooms alone, had to close due to… well, the cafe somehow not making sure its lease got extended. Jeez. We may not have loved the coffee shop as much as others, but the Andel area will definitely miss that place. In the meantime, we can all visit its sister venue, Vnitroblock in the Holesovice district.
Prague food in 2017 - New openings
What seemed to be a slow year (not another one, please!) at the beginning has turned the excitement to eleven by the time it finished. The ubiquitous Ambiente group alone opened three new venues and rethought one dramatically.
First, Kantyna is unapologetically carnivorous, offering little to vegetarians except for contempt. (To add insult to injury, the potato pancakes, their only proper side, are pan-friend on pork fat.) While we were a bit critical when this “shrine of meat” first opened in the beautiful interiors of a former bank, we quickly grew to like it. Come at night to experience a Mexico City-style taqueria atmosphere, eating elbow-to-elbow with the local youth around the magnificent marble table in the centre.
Second, Mysak. Oh man oh man. Jan could not hide his excitement when he learnt about the change of management. That’s where his mom treated him to ice-cream sundaes when he got good grades at school! (He enjoyed both visits, haha.) A true legend has managed to reconnect the iconic name to its pre-Communist splendor with fancy ingredients (and prices to match), while also trying to stay fresh and contemporary with a slight focus on specialty coffee. Grandmas may complain about the prices or the spare interiors, but we like Mysak as a breakfast place or a place for work.
Finally, Grils, the cool rotisserie chicken place in the Karlin district with a crowdfunding story behind it, opened towards the end of the year with a strong concept: honestly, who with a pulse does not like rotisserie chicken? We know we do. While we may think it’s too polite and nice for its own good (read “we want our chicken to be nastier”), we’re sure Marketa, the executive chef and the closest Prague has to April Bloomfield, and her team are smart enough to steer it in the right direction.
Last but not least, La Degustation has revamped both the interiors and the menu, scrapping the choice between the 6 and the 11-course menu and just serving one, 8-course menu instead, with tighter controls on sourcing and execution. We’ll see what the Michelin city guide has to say about that come March.
But Prague's food scene is not all Ambiente. Bistrot 104 opened early in the year in the Vinohrady district with the ambitious slogan "We know where the North is". On our first visit, it was also clear the Slovak chef (formerly heading the kitchen at Le Terroir) knew where the East was, too, and that's where the cooking was the strongest. The restaurant is headed by Dragan, a member of the "Drustvo" group of young sommeliers that threw some super fun parties in 2017. We can't wait to get drunk under their direction in 2018, too. (#parentsoftheyear)
2017 was a good year if you love Asian flavors, as Prague gained three entirely new options. First, QQ Asian Kitchen was opened by Lee and Nyoman, chefs known from their previous engagement at the popular Sansho. QQ is fun, low key and has what Jan believes is the best soundtrack in Prague, while the cooking is fun, effortless and straight-forward, and hits all the right notes. The lunches are really nicely priced, too.
Second, Sia opened to high expectations, as it is backed by Chef Stift, a former judge of Czech Masterchef, and what seems to be an investment of a gazillion of dollars. Sia is enormous, has a great location, and the interiors are super nice. It is conceptually challenged: only white people can open restaurants that want to cover all the cuisines of Asia at once. Still, it has opened only weeks ago, and time will tell whether their signature dishes (Peking duck and dim sum dumplings in particular) will fill that void we did not know existed until we travelled to Hong Kong.
Finally, you have to applaud Taro, opened by the people behind our favourite Vietnamese restaurant in Prague, Gao Den, literally a few days before the year’s end, for the courage. A restaurant that offers nothing but bar seating, Momofuku Ko-style, and has a suited-up Maitre D who offers nothing but a fancy set menu for dinner, while avoiding major names from the Prague fine dining scene? Love it. While the performance on the first day when we visited may not have been entirely there yet, Taro managed to be much funner and interesting than Sia, without the backing of a major investment the former required. And their lunches are a la carte and fun.
Oh, and Pho Vietnam, Prague’s pho institution in the Vinohrady district, has remodelled under the auspices of the owner’s son, whose Cafefin next door proved he is well aware of the fact that Instagram is today’s god. Just check out that neon light! Now scrap that CZK 10 charge for the take-away box, and we’ll be on speaking terms again.
In other news, Paul Day, the chef behind Sansho and Maso a kobliha, has finally opened the new shop of The Real Meat Society in the Naplavni street, and the wait was absolutely worth it. The shop and the meat are beautiful, and the porchetta sandwich, flushed down with some craft beer by Matuska, is the perfect lunch in our eyes. Salt’n’Pepa, a well loved food truck, has opened its "kitchen" in the Letna district, so now you don’t have to wait for a food festival to put your lips around their duck confit burger. Their previous shop in the Vinohrady district is now run by Paprika, an Israeli fast food place. Oh man, we love us some hummus! Just a few streets away, Oh Deer bakery brought us cronuts. And we all said yes, thank you sir. May we have another, sir.
Moving on to weird and interesting, Paloma in the Pruhonice village opened just outside of Prague. Opened by the 2-Michelin star Paloma based in Southern France, and owned ultimately - ”through a concern”, as he would say - by the Czech Prime Minister, one of the richest people in the country, Paloma’s menu raised eyebrows by serving pretty much nothing local (while the Prime Minister owns a big local agricultural conglomerate) and asking steep prices for their French menu. The execution seems to be stunning, but most diners in Prague may be boycotting the venue because of the owner. We’ll see what the Michelin inspector will have to say about that place.
What about drinks? Not much on the cocktail bar front, except the opening of Banker’s Bar in the Old Town. This bank of alcohol (see what we did there?) was opened by the people behind La Casa de la Havana vieja, and expands the already broad horizons of Prague cocktail bar world.
EMA Espresso Bar opened Alf&Bet, its bigger sister with bakery and a coffee roaster, in the Palmovka area, expanding the hipster radius past the Karlin district. Despite that fact that they just opened, the baking is surprisingly strong, and we have already spent quite some time there when we need to get our work done and don’t want to deal with the crowds at EMA Espresso Bar. They will be roasting their own beans soon, just like Candycane coffee, started by the people of our beloved onesip coffee in the Old Town.
As for pastry shops, the IF Cafe empire now has a new beautiful location in Werichova vila building in the Lesser Town, and faces new competition from Cukrar Skala, a pastry shop affiliated to the Sia restaurant mentioned above. It offers Czech and French-inspired pastries, kolache and pralines. Still waiting for Votre Plaisir to open their fancy French patiserrie, which we’re sure will happen some time this year.
So what now?
We can’t predict the future, so instead we’ll tell you what we’d like to see happen in Prague’s food scene the next year. A list of demands, if you may, and if they’re not satisfied, we’ll get so desprerate we just may start chopping our fingers off.
We need, no, we deserve a great kolache place. Come on, people, the one pastry we’re known for in the world, and nobody does it right in Prague? Embarassing. We need a good vegetarian place that you can enjoy withough joining a new-age cult, and that does not do “tofu goulash”. (A side note to vegetarian chefs in Prague: you know we’re a mushroom-picking superpower, right?) A nice place dedicated to fish would be nice. And a hip wine or a beer place that serves nice, modern food, ideally based on Czech cuisine.
Let’s hope for the best, and see you around in 2018! Have a great one.