So the 2019 Michelin guide for Main Cities Europe is out, and the Michelin star restaurants in Prague have been given for the year to come. Which Michelin star restaurant in Prague is the best for you?
Here’s the executive summary:
Prague has two Michelin star restaurants: La Degustation and Field. La Degustation is set menu only, Czech food for foodies with an open mind. Field is a la carte, with international touches. Four Bib Gourmands in Prague: Sansho, a casual Asian-fusion restaurant, Eska, a modern casual Czech restaurant with fairly fancy dinners in a remodeled factory in the gentrified Karlin district, Divinis, an Italian restaurant run by a Czech TV Chef, and Na kopci, a local favorite that serves French-inspired joie de vivre big-portion dishes..
Let’s be honest here: the online version of the Michelin guide is clumsy and pretty confusing and very hard to use. That’s where we come to the rescue by putting together a small guide of Prague Michelin star restaurants put down in layman’s terms. Meaning we liken them to global 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, haters gonna hate, and this time it’s our turn. 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, with modern chandeliers (that show what exactly goes into consommé) dimmed down and only tiny spotlights shining 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, hunters, mushroom pickers. (Yes, there are professional mushroom pickers in the Czech Republic. We loooove mushrooms here.)
La Degustation has only dinner service with 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.
One thing: be prepared to pay Western European city prices. This is not the 90s anymore.
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 the sauces prepared by Executive Chef Kasparek, the main judge on Czech Masterchef. 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 tightly attached to it 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, recently refurbished, 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. And now after the recent facelift, it looks better than ever. Do you know that hip Asian place in your town where cool and smart people go? That's Sansho in Prague.
If this restaurant was a celebrity: Ryan Gosling. Everybody likes that guy.
As Hana Michopulu once wrote, Eska can be well seen as La Degustation’s economy class: similar philosophy of using only local ingredients and fermenting them to add flavor, but without the intricate plating and with more casual service. But that would really be unfair to what Eska, located in a stunning remodeled factory for water heaters, really is: a great restaurant that serves anything from super popular weekend brunches to lunch specials and eight-course fancy dinners with wine pairings. And that’s just the restaurant part, because Eska is also a bakery that goes through over 500 kg of flour a day, and a specialty coffee shop that would be at the top of its class in its own right.
What we like about Eska is that it takes you out of the city centre into the recently rejuvenated Karlin district to see something completely different - not an homage to history like many places in the centre, but a modern place “in the now” that has a true Millenial appeal - the vibe of the place is simply younger, it is Instagram-friendly and appeals to the young urban professionals who work in the start ups and the tech offices Karlin has become known for.
If this restaurant was a celebrity: Lady Gaga. Cool and hip, but with sensitivity and depth.
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. (Another option: Fat Elvis. Works too.)
And who’s not in?
Prague has lost not one, but two Bib Gourmands compared to the 2018 edition: both Bistrot 104 and Maso a kobliha closed last year, thus losing their titles, too. We could say that The Real Meat Society is a bit of a successor to Maso a kobliha (serving both signatures: the Scotch eggs and the vanilla custard donuts) but the fact is it’s not a “proper” restaurant - more of a butcher shop that happens to cook a few meals. Not saying it’s bad - it’s great - but probably below the radar for the Michelin guide.
Two notable omissions from the Michelin guide for Prague in 2019: (1) We really thought The Eatery would get a Bib Gourmand. We really did, and we still think it should have. Chef Bycek, formerly running the kitchen at Alcron that used to have a star when he was there, would deserve one. We have a hard time recommending another place for modern Czech cooking that is not pretentious, or does not copy nordic cuisine in one way or another. The minimalist room is elegant and does not get in the way, and the wine list has some great Czech wines in it. And we also think The Eatery is hard to beat when it comes to lunches - the value for money is outstanding, and that’s what Bib Gourmand should be about. (2) Paloma, the Prague location of a Michelin star restaurant in France, owned indirectly by the Czech Prime Minister (yup, our prime minister is a rich agricultural mogul, welcome to the Czech Republic), didn’t even get a mention. But perhaps that’s because Paloma is not technically in Prague but just outside of it.
Finally, two bonus restaurants
Entrée in Olomouc
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 another star. The kitchen is headed by Premek Forejt, the shining star of Czech cuisine and now, as a member of the MasterChef panel of judges, a TV star, too. He’s talented, young, creative and honestly not bad to look at either. He and his team send out dishes that seem effortless and just fun, if a bit too complicated for their own good.
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.
Atelier in Brno
Again, Atelier is a victim of the Prague-centric coverage of the Czech Republic by the Michelin guide. This restaurant is worth a trip to Brno, the capital of Moravia and the second biggest town in the country, which is actually worth a visit alone. Tucked away in an old building’s courtyard, the restaurant would be one of the best even if it moved to Prague.
The chef used to work in London-based, Michelin starred L’Autre Pied (like Chef Forejt of Entrée), and it shows: the cooking is precise and focused and not as extravagant as Entrée’s, but whatever is one the plate is there for a reason, and delicious. Atelier is part restaurant, part cocktail bar, so if you love cocktails, book a table and you are in for a memorable meal. We have suggested a trip to Brno before. Atelier just seals the deal.