What is the best Michelin star restaurant in Prague for you? That is the question.
Ferrán Adriá of El Bulli fame once said that the Michelin guide is like the Vatican. Yes, it is an institution that is slow to adapt to trends and is somewhat immune to hype. That is why every new edition of Michelin’s Main Cities of Europe guide, while expected with excitement, rarely brings shock value in Prague, with only minor changes and little surprise. (This year was a bit different for Prague though.) Also, its track record has been a bit spotty, hinting that the number of inspectors assigned for Central Europe is roughly equal to that assigned to a single arrondissement in Paris. And the year 2018 has been no exception. But more about that later.
That said, the Michelin guide is still the second most prestigious Prague food guide behing our Prague Foodie Map (hey, see what we did there?) and an interesting take on Prague’s food scene from abroad. The 2018 Main Cities of Europe is out, and Prague currently has two Michelin-star restaurants and five Bib Gourmand restaurants (meaning “exceptionally good food at moderate prices“). Which one should you visit if you're in Prague for two days only? The Michelin site is super confusing, and the online reviews for all the restaurants listed can be all over the place.
That’s where we come to the rescue with a small guide of Prague Michelin star restaurants put down in layman’s terms. Meaning we liken them to celebrities so that everybody understands. If you know what you're in for, you will be happy in any of these. So while we may seem to be a bit critical, bear in mind we’re mostly nitpickin’ and just generally hatin’. Hey, somebody's gotta do it. So, strap on your seat belts, here we go.
Michelin star restaurants in Prague:
If they ever shoot an episode of Chef’s Table in Prague, it will definitely be at La Degustation. This place has everything. A striking kitchen open to the most beautiful dining room in the city, dimmed down with only tiny spotlights shining through beautiful, modern chandeliers on what’s important - the food, which is served on anything from clay plates to rocks or cobblestones. A fairly young, fairly handsome executive chef with a vision and philosophy. A team of young, inked chefs with facial hair in perfectly matching aprons. Dining at La Degustation is like theatre. Or more like a Formula 1 pit, as each chef, bent over the table in silent concentration, calmly executes his or her particular part of the dish the kitchen is working on.
The food is loosely based on a famous late 19th Century Czech cookbook. The ingredients are all sourced locally, French Laundry-style, from small organic farmers and hunters. La Degustation serves no lunches and the dinners are tasting set-menu only (currently eight courses with amuse bouche bites in between) and can be somewhat adventurous. The signature dish is a beautifully prepared beef tongue that just melts in your mouth. We really like two things the most: (1) an incredibly well curated selection of hard-to-get Czech wines, so go for the wine pairing option, and (2) the overall atmosphere: elegant, festive but also warm and casual. This is a small restaurant with some 35 seats, and the only fancy restaurant in Prague with a "fun" factor in the cooking. It is also currently the only restaurant that can shoot for two Michelin stars one day. Yes, we like La Degustation.
If this restaurant was a celebrity: Matthew McConaughey. Fun and casual, but can be serious, to the point of mystique.
You have to give it to Field: getting a Michelin star after only a year of existence in “Eastern Europe” is bit of an achievement in itself. The kitchen wants to wow you with the presentation (think dry ice and all that), but the cooking is solid and we particularly like Chef Kasparek’s sauces. Unlike in La Degustation, you can order dishes a la carte. That's great if you don’t want to commit to a set menu, and you can pair it all with great wines or their juices made in-house. Field also serves lunch, although they recently got rid of their cheaper lunch specials to focus on their main menu. The interiors are modern with a beautifully animated ceiling in an airy room, with a few details that refer to their “Free Range Dining” concept.
And that’s what we have a problem with: what the heck does that even mean? You’re thinking, ”Field” - hmmm - that means local and organic, right? But then you get a foie gras dish sourced from who knows where, or pineapple. The dishes are modern with sophisticated plating, and mostly inspired by Czech tradition, but not as much as La Degustation. Also, the wine selection tends to focus on France rather than the Czech Republic. Last complaint: they cancelled our reservation for late lunch because we wanted to bring in our baby boy JJ. Kids are not allowed. (Which can be good or bad depending on where you stand on this. We clearly think this is bad, and an insult to the most beautiful baby in the history of all babies.) So while the cooking and presentation may be a bit show-offy in our book, this is still a great choice with solid cooking.
If this restaurant was a celebrity: David Beckham. Modern, trendy, if a bit flashy.
Bib Gourmand restaurants in Prague
Oh, you gotta love Sansho. What other place in Prague mixes organic meat from a nose-to-tail butcher shop run by Paul Day of former Nobu fame with fresh Asian ingredients brought in from the Vietnamese Sapa market on Prague's outskirts? Exactly. The á-la-carte lunches and set-menu dinners will satisfy both carnivores and vegetarians. Yes, Sansho is your place if you have dietary restrictions. The diners sit at communal or separate tables in a very casual, stripped down environment with a few retro touches. Just imagine young, casual waiters in jeans and plaid shirts bringing dishes to share to the table, complemented by craft beers, wines or house cocktails. Perfect for a bigger group, but we can see ourselves going on a date there, too. Do you know that hip Asian place in your town where cool people go? That's Sansho.
If this restaurant was a celebrity: Ryan Gosling. Everybody likes that guy.
Maso a kobliha
Probably the biggest and the happiest surprise of the 2016 Michelin guide for Prague was the Bib Gourmand award given to Maso a kobliha. A bit like the Spotted Pig in NYC, Maso a kobliha, the sister restaurant of Sansho, is a simple gastropub with craft beers, solid food and a happy pub atmosphere during busy nights. The classics are obvious: the Scotch eggs and the vanilla custard donuts. But anything that is made of the organic beef and pork from Paul Day’s The Real Meat Society is worth a taste. Paul stays true to his English roots with dishes like Bubble and squeak, while paying homage to local cuisine by serving schnitzels with Waldorf salad or marinated cheese. This is not a dress-up dinner date venue, so leave those stilettos at home. It’s a happy place for a reunion with friends and drunken meaty nibbles… with a Bib Gourmand award.
If this restaurant was a celebrity: Jarvis Cocker. English, rock-n-roll with a mass appeal.
Not many chefs have done as much for the Czech culinary scene as Mr Pohlreich, the chef/owner of Divinis. As the on-screen talent of the Czech version of the Kitchen Nightmares show, he has been teaching the Czechs to demand better food in restaurants. While the locals tend to associate Mr Pohlreich with Czech cuisine, his flagship eatery Divinis is a classic Italian restaurant, if with a modern twist. You should not expect a trattoria with checkered table cloths, but an intimate, modern environment that may be ideal for a nice dinner date. This being an Italian restaurant, the menu is by definition a bit more conservative: chef Pohlreich has been known to keep a menu intact for long if the dishes work. Eating in feels a bit like eating in somebody’s living room thanks to the cosy decor. The selection of tables matters, so get a good one.
If this restaurant was a celebrity: Eros Ramazotti. Modern, Italian, likeable.
Na kopci is a restaurant you have to make an effort to find. And you should not blame your Uber driver for missing it the first time around. We sometimes do too. Talk about a true destination dining place, located way up there on the strictly residential hill above the Smichov district. The restaurant has an air of joie de vivre: the food is good, the portions are huge, the French wines are tasty. The atmosphere is very casual and familiar. The walls are all about the childhood photos of the two owners, which can feel either nostalgic and fun, or like an ode to leisure time under Communism. Na kopci is basically an elevated French pub with a homey feel located way out of the centre. To be perfectly honest, we’ve never been big fans of it. We think the cooking should be more refined. And we’d like to see better wines on the list. But if you like a big portion of steak or fish and enjoy an evening with the locals, this just might be your place.
If this restaurant was a celebrity: Gerard Depardieu. Likes to let himself go a bit with food and wine.
A few years ago, the guide awarded a Michelin star to Prague’s location of Gordon Ramsey’s Maze. Three months after it shut down. Yikes! Well, the good news is that Bistrot 104 is still open. The bad news is that the original team, incl. the executive chef and sommelier/manager who virtually ran the place, all left the restaurant way before the results came in. Yikes again!
Oh, Bistrot 104. Opening with a bang and what must have been the most clichéd promo video of all time. The slogan “We know where the North is“ (which has changed in the meantime) and a self-proclaimed focus on New Nordic cuisine made our eyes roll. Luckily, the executive chef also knew where the East was, and the flavors of his native Slovakia and the Czech Republic permeated the otherwise complicated dishes. Sadly, after the entire team left due to disagreements with the owners, things went downhill. So while the jury is still out about the new team, we’d pass for now.
If this restaurant was a celebrity: Dolf Lungren. Looks the part and boasts impressive muscles, but the acting sucks.
And who’s not in?
Three notable omissions from the Michelin guide for Prague in 2018: (1) Alcron, the smallest, the most traditional and the most conservative restaurant in Prague, and the only restaurant in town with a dresscode, has lost its Michelin star. We’re sure it will be booked out for weeks anyway. Chef Puncochar is always the bridesmaid, never the bride. His Grand Cru again failed to score a star predicted and expected by many Prague’s foodies. But they are wrong - Grand Cru is a concept that dates back to a time when people looked down on local produce and cuisine. Everyone’s moved on, and Grand Cru should too, despite the undeniably talented chef with a knack for super-intricate plating. Finally, Paloma, Prague location of a two-star restaurant in France, is yet to score even a mention in the guide. But they opened only a few months ago. And we’ll see what happens to the super-fancy, super-expensive restaurant owned by the wife of a prime minister most people in Prague love to hate.
Finally, a foodie’s bonus
Sure, the Michelin guide's coverage in the Czech Republic is limited to Prague. (They don’t cover Los Angeles, either, so no harm, no foul.) But if they did cover the rest of the country, Entrée in Olomouc would be the main contender for a star, if not two. The kitchen is headed by Premek Forejt, the shining star of Czech cuisine - who is to many Prague fine dining chefs what Mozart was to Salieri - and the team sends out dishes that seem effortless and just fun. The food follows both Czech and foreign inspirations, and is paired with beautiful local wines and pretty cool cocktails. The room, waited on by young, cool staff, is modern, if a bit flashy, and sports an open kitchen. Want a great dining experience no other tourist can brag about? Head out to Olomouc. Definitely worth the two-hour train trip from Prague.