Prague dining

Prague Restaurant Preview: Eska

Prague Restaurant Preview: Eska

Not many restaurants opened in Prague this year have stirred so much emotion and caused so many heated discussions as Eska, the latest restaurant by Prague’s ubiquitous Ambiente group of restaurants that already owns and operates such heavyweights as the Lokal pubs, Cafe Savoy, Cestr or La Degustation. Eska is Ambiente’s attempt to redefine what modern casual Czech cuisine is, so of course it got people talking.

Ambiente will always find it a bit more difficult to warm the foodie circles up to their new openings because they are not exactly the mom-and-pop underdog people tend to root for on a subconscious level. They are not, by definition, the hidden gem you will keep for yourself from your friends and the wide public. No, they are the big money, the 700-employee behemoth that, in a way, defines the Prague food scene, so of course they will have as many haters as they have fans, if not more. But regardless of that, they are one of the biggest trendsetters in Prague when it comes to food, so when Ambi talks, or opens a restaurant with an entirely new concept for Prague, you listen.

Also, the stakes were heightened by the fact that the restaurant, which opened early November, was a long time coming, with the first planned opening date in May or June, and the information was leaking fast. We were supposed to see very modern design of an eatery that combines a restaurant, a bakery and a coffee shop. While the restaurant was not going to be purely vegetarian, it would be inspired by Nordic cuisine with all the associated fermentation and pickling, and focus on seasonal vegetables. And it should have been unlike anything in Prague yet. So how is it, really? Should you care? Or visit? Here’s our thoughts.

Meet a Prague local: Tomas Karpisek of Ambiente

Meet a Prague local: Tomas Karpisek of Ambiente

When we talk about Tomas Karpisek, the founder of the ubiquitous Ambiente group of restaurants, on our Prague food tours, we often describe him as the “Steve Jobs of the Prague culinary scene”. Sure, it's overstatement, but it’s not that far off. If there is anyone who sets food trends in the Czech Republic, it’s Tomas. The appearance isn’t that far off, either: we’re yet to see Tomas in something that even barely resembles a business suit. He’s more of a jeans-and-a-t-shirt guy. Also, just like the late Jobs, he’s a visionary of sorts and has a bigger plan, too. And he’s undoubtedly one of the most respected personalities on the food scene, as witnessed by our interview with Hana Michopulu, the owner of the popular Sisters bistro.

What does not stick in the Jobs analogy is the demeanor. Despite his achievements, Tomas is one of the humblest and most approachable people we know. He also clearly thinks a lot about his job, and it is hard to catch him off-guard with anything food-related. But interviewing him is fascinating: he’s very open and his twenty-plus years in the business mean he has stories to tell. 

Interviewing Tomas now is more interesting than ever: the Ambiente group is now on the cusp of a generational shift marked by the openings of the Eska restaurant (this interview was held two weeks before it opened last week) and the Bokovka wine bar, both co-created and run by a young generation of chefs and managers, a trend started by the Nase Maso butcher shop over a year ago. 

We met over coffee to discuss a few things. We planned for an hour. We ended up rushing the last questions after nearly two. We talked about the past, the present, and the future of Ambiente and Tomas, too. This is what he told us. 

Prague Local Favorites: Sansho

Prague Local Favorites: Sansho

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, we don’t have to explain who Paul Day is. We don’t have to explain that he came here from London, single-handedly put the heritage breed of the Prestik Pig back on the map, and is the driving force behind the organic butchers of The Real Meat Society. We also don’t have to explain that Prague has a sizable Vietnamese community and that we have, as a result, great access to Asian ingredients from the Vietnamese Sapa market. So what is there to explain? Sansho is, with a big degree of simplification, what Momofuku is to New York City: a place where local foodies and chefs go for great flavors served in a casual, unfussy atmosphere and environment. 

Fine dining in Prague: where to splash on a meal?

Fine dining in Prague: where to splash on a meal?

Alright, we have a confession to make: we have been working on a small Prague foodie guide in the past few months. The progress has been slow, especially given the fact we’re working on the project during our high season. And let us tell you: it will be awesome. Just you wait. We’ll keep you posted.

We are nearly finishing with the texts, and that is why we have decided to revisit some of the places we have been considering for inclusion in the guide. We’re talking fine dining restaurants. While it is easy to revisit casual dining places on a regular basis, it gets harder with fine dining: who has the time and the money? We know we don’t. But we also know that when we travel, we like to include one or two really nice places to have a dinner at, so fine dining is a very important category and should be included in our, or just about any, guide. Here’s our small report on the state of fine dining in Prague. These are not all the fine dining venues in Prague; just our shortlist.

Meet a Prague Local: Paul Day of Sansho and Maso a kobliha

Meet a Prague Local: Paul Day of Sansho and Maso a kobliha

It is really hard not to like Paul Day, the chef and owner at Sansho and Maso a kobliha, and the master butcher at The Real Meat Society butcher shop. What is actually really harder is to interview him in his restaurant: everyone who walks in is a friend or a fellow chef or a supplier or a regular. He may have stood up five times to greet guests and friends in the short time we interviewed him. His humor is dry and brisk and his laughter contagious. He’s the guy you would want to have a beer with.

He’s also the guy you would want to serve you meet: originally a butcher hailing from England, he has promoted whole animal butchery of organic and traceable meat from farms that let the animals live outside here in the Czech Republic. He’s also the man who has nearly single-handedly, with his partner Michaela, put the Prestik pig, an old breed of Czech fatty pigs, firmly back on the foodie map. He’s been serving fantastic breakfast sausages and buns at the farmers’ market from his white Land Rover Defender. And for us, he’s always been a great chef, steering Sansho and Maso a kobliha, two restaurants that really can stand up to the best establishments in the bigger cities to the west of the Czech border. We stopped by to interview him at Maso a kobliha after his lunch service.

Prague Restaurant Preview: Field

Prague Restaurant Preview: Field

When we first heard about the Field restaurant in early November last year, we had pretty high expectations. We were fans of Ola Kala and its executive chef, Mr Kasparek: the food was great and the restaurants did seem like one of the few hidden gems in the city - we always wondered why it was not on more people’s radar given how good we thought the food was. 

Then we saw Field's website. Full screen photos. Gorgeous pictures. Ambitious philosophy. We heard the first reactions. Great sauces. Lots of fun. We knew we had to go.

The Prague food scene in the year 2014: the Recap

The Prague food scene in the year 2014: the Recap

Food projects we hope will continue in 2015

Street Food Festival. From its very first edition in the Holesovice district, the Street Food Festival was an instant success: perfectly organized food event with lots of young talent cooking great food. So great, actually, that we ended up stuck in traffic on the D1 motorway for two hours on our way to the Brno edition while watching Instagram photos of the great bites we would never be able to taste because they were sold out before we actually got there. Great events with great people and food, and we can’t wait for the festivals in 2015!   

Prague restaurants preview: Grand Cru

We have been aware of the Grand Cru wine bar at Petrske namesti for a long time but never really visited the place. Recently, the wine bar opened a restaurant. We have heard good comments on the food and mixed comments on the service from our friends so we though we needed to check the place out, too. And, of course, whenever something new opens up, we can’t really miss it. 

Our dinner at Alcron

We love to travel. For food. Whenever we are, we try to splash out on a dinner in a Michelin-star restaurant and put it in our plans to get a glimpse at the fine dining scene of our destination. And because we write for people who are like us and who like similar things, we paid a visit to Alcron, one of the two restaurants with a Michelin star in Prague. We visited the other one, La Degustation, a few months ago. You can read about our visit here.

We must admit that Alcron had to put extra effort into winning us over. You see, we are a bit sceptical of hotel restaurants. They often feel less personal to us. Besides that, we do like the other Michelin-star restaurant in Prague, La Degustation, and knew that Alcron had a different focus and offered a different experience. That said, we were really eager to see what Alcron had to offer: it has always been synonymous with haute cuisine in Prague. Saying “tastes like something from Alcron” has always meant something special.

10 best bites in Prague

We travel mostly for food. We guess we all do, really. Sights? Yes, sure, we are going to see them, anyway, while we walk from a breakfast spot to a cafe. An hour-long line to wait for entry in a touristy spot? We're out. An hour-long walk to a place out of the centre that serves the best ice-cream in town? Sure thing! We look for authenticity both in food and in the environment. We travel because we want to see how the locals live and what they eat. What would a local foodie recommend to us? That's the question we want answered.

And because we write this blog (and run our Prague food tours) primarily for people like us, we have decided to share something like a top ten of our Prague dishes or bites. To do the complete list, you will have to visit many different restaurants but trust us: we stand behind these dishes. Also, it does not hurt that some of these restaurants are off the beaten track, so you may get see things that are more authentic and that you would not have seen otherwise. 

Hong Kong rolls at SaSaZu

Why start with an Asian-inspired dish? Because we visited SaSaZu quite recently and have this dish still in fresh memory. A confession we have to make: we could eat this dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and snacks in between. It is absolutely gorgeous: the combination of flavors and textures you get from the cucumber, crispy sea bass, mint and other herbs and then a dip in the apple soy sauce... we are in heaven. 

Perigord sauce at Cestr

We know it sounds weird, but we keep coming back to the Cestr restaurant mostly for the Perigord sauce. Although shown above with fries, we love it with the potato mash, a star dish of the restaurant: boiled in whole milk and then combined with lots of butter, there are only a few things better than this. But the Perigord sauce with truffles and demi-glace is so good we can pour it just about on anything. For instance, it makes wonders to the already great spinach or the beluga lentils that come with their trout sometimes. 

Meatloaf at Nase Mase

When Nase maso, the new butcher shop in Dlouha street, opened, the three butchers had a contest who made the best meatloaf. The master butcher, of course... lost, and now they make the other butcher's grandma's recipe on a daily basis, and they sell out often! The meatloaf is simply fantastic: with about 20% beef, 80% pork and more than 30% fat, of course it's good! You get three generous slices and three slices of bread to go with that, along with a side order of mustard. Hands down the best meatloaf we've ever had (and our's grandmas' meatloaf is pretty solid, too)! 

Frgale at Simply Good

What happens when a former corporate executive opens her own bakery? Wonderful things happen. Simply good in the Karlin district has been our bakery of choice when it comes to Czech kolachees and frgals, and the latter deserves a separate trip. Which means three stars in the Michelin guide book. Just saying. Simply Good’s frgale, a Moravian pastry that resembles a sweet yeast dough pizza with plum jam, curd cheese or poppies and then finished with streusel is a Czech classic to die for.   

Wild boar with rose hip sauce at Na Pekarne

Now if you are willing to travel for food, this pilgrimage will take you to Cakovicky, a village about 10 miles North of Prague, to Na Pekarne, a small pub and restaurant of Mr Fric, a famous Czech chef who will take you under his wing and will not let you go until you are fed and happy. There is a fine line between a guest and a hostage, and Mr Fric is yet to find it. :-) But you will forget the fact that you were served Slivovitz on entry and a beer when you sat down even if you did not ask for either when you taste Mr Fric's wild board with rose hip sauce: the meat is incredibly tender, and the sweeter sauce really combines well with the potato pancakes that include walnuts and raisins. Let us put it this way: if Mr Fric opened a restaurant just around the corner from us, we would be very overweight. Don't skip on dessert: the "povidlove tasticky" (potato-based ravioli-type pasta filled with plum jam and served with lots of butter, some sugar and crushed nuts) would deserve a separate entry on this list, too.  

kulajda soup at essensia

The description of the kulajda soup itself might not seem very appealing: creamy soup with potatoes, mushrooms, dill, vinegar and a poached egg. But have a spoon of the kulajda at the upscale Essensia restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental, and you'll know what the buzz is all about. You know that it must be good when it deserved a spot in Mandarin Oriental's menu, which tends to be more Asian-inspired. Everybody knows that Mr Stift, the executive chef, is a master of Czech cuisine and the kulajda is the best proof: wonderfully delicate and light yet full of fantastic flavors. It may be a bit pricey for a soup at CZK 245 (EUR 9) but definitely worth the price. The downside? The staff might look strange at you when you order just one thing from the entire menu. But they don’t. (At least not to your face.) 

beef rendang at Sansho

The "beef curry", served with roti bread and some rice, at Sansho is slow-cooked for long hours with many spices and it shows: every bite has a deep, yet a different flavor, and it is rare to see such richness of flavor in a single dish. In Sansho, it is served with spicy jam. The dish is a combination of the wonderful, organic and traceable Czech beef from The Reat Meat Society and the skill of Mr Paul Day, the Executive Chef. But let's be honest: it is really hard to pick just one dish at Sansho: we also love the pork belly and watermellon salad, the soft shell crab sliders or the chicken wings. Do yourselves a favor and check Sansho out.

Pickled herring and wasabi mayo chlebicek at the Sisters bistro    

When we started our food tours 2.5 years ago, Jan’s friends would pick on him at the soccer games, saying, “your really take your guests for chlebiceks (the Czech open-faced sandwiches)? Have you gone completely insane?” Well, if the chlebiceks are as good as the pickled herring and wasabi mayonnaise chlebicek, our favorite, at the Sisters bistro opened half a year ago by Hana Michiopulu, you would be mad not to like them. The pickle is light and fresh and compliments the delicate bite of the wasabi mayonnaise and the slice of the sourdough bread underneath it. Unlike some other chlebiceks served at Sisters, it is not entirely Czech, but it is pretty darn good.

mini vetrnik at cafe savoy

The vetrnik is normally very big and very rich so you may not need to eat for the rest of the day, which would really ruin it for us. However, Cafe Savoy offers a mini version, which we recommend. It is one of the most popular things served during our Food and Culture Tour and although Zuzi is not big on sweets, Cafe Savoy's vetrnik is a pastry she will never turn down: a small choux pastry stuffed with luscious, rich yet very light vanilla and caramel creams and topped with a caramel coating on the top.

smoky dish at the dish burger bistro

The Dish Fine Burger Bistro, a popular burger place in the Vinohrady district, quickly won us over, and we have become regulars fast, visiting about once a week. If Jan had his way, we would be there twice as often. The Smoky Dish has everything a great burger should have: a fantastic, grilled brioche bun, a great, juicy patty, BBQ sauce, smoked chili mayo, fried onions and pickles. Pair it with their bistro fries and flavored mayos, and you'll be in heaven... and a food coma for the rest of the day.

Sweet bonus: Pistachio ice-cream at AlDolce

Jan has a particular food addiction: the wonderful, lush pistachio cream sold in some Italian specialty shops here in Prague. Because of its addictive nature, he only gets it a few times a year: for birthday, for his name day (a big thing here in the Czech Republic), and sometimes for Christmas (provided he was nice, of course). The pistachio ice-cream at Al Dolce is the closest thing to the wonderful flavor and richness of the pistachio cream sold legally on the streets. Now, there is one thing where we agree to disagree: while Zuzi likes the bits of pistachio they sometimes put in, Jan likes the creamy version better. Either way, it is still worth trying. Yum!