Ahhh, the joys of devouring a good steak tartare! One of the most feared - and later one of the most loved - dishes we order in the course of our Prague Food and Culture Tours, beef steak tartare is one of the most popular dishes eaten in Czech pubs and arguably the king of a specifically Czech category of foods found in many Prague restaurants: “snacks that go well with beer”. Forget about the naysayers and fear mongers. You should give it a try in Prague. Where and how? Read on.
Oops, we did it again. (Oh, this never gets old. Thank you, Britney.)
Yes, we’re happy to announce that the second, updated and improved edition of our Prague Foodie Map, our Prague food guide, is finally out. Our curated selection of the best restaurants in Prague, along with best coffee shops, bistros and bars in town.
The first edition sold out in less than six months (the recommendation in the Food & Wine magazine helped). The new, second and improved edition adds more tips and Prague travel advice, mostly based on two things: (1) our own travels, and (2) the most common questions that get asked on both of our Prague food tours.
We travel quite a bit, and if you’re following us on Instagram (if you don’t, drop everything and do it now), you know it’s mostly for food. And we’ve always wanted to have a reliable, honest guide for each city we travel to, written by a local foodie. With things that only make sense to taste, and nothing more. A guide devoid of cliches and stereotypes. With tips that get you outside of the beaten path. Basically a guide a local would endorse. So we wrote one for Prague. And now you can have it, too.
If you have ever had any good food in Prague, the odds are you may have tasted some of the creations by Julka, otherwise known as Maskrtnica in the blogosphere. Julka has baked the first breads for the open-faced sandwiches in Sisters, and is the woman behind the Prague food phenomenon that are the vanilla custard donuts in Maso a kobliha. She’s also supplying bread to, and consulting breads with, a variety of great restaurants and bistros in Prague, and is one of the forces behind the Pecem Pecen project and the Sourdough Map, which have singlehandedly brought back the tradition of baking sourdough bread at home. So yup, she’s a big deal.
And it shows: we’ve tried to meet her for weeks now, after she’s come back from her 3-month tour of the US where she went through a series of short internships and visits in various artisanal bakeries, and still could not get a proper hour to sit down and have a nice chat. In between pop-ups, festivals and consulting, she’s that busy. And no wonder. If there’s one person that embodies bread in Prague, it is her (and perhaps Tomas at the Praktika bakery). So we’re happy that she at least shared her five favorite places in Prague, and her five favorite social media accounts.
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.
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.
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.
Meat and donut. What a name for what is arguably the best bistro in town. And a very apt name for that. Maso a kobliha is, at its heart, a butcher shop of The Real Meat Society, that just takes things a bit further by processing the meat into some fantastic fishes and by selling, without a shadow of a doubt, the best donut in Prague. Can you argue with that? Of course you can’t.
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.
There's not many things in life that come even close to eating a great meal with the right person al fresco on a lazy summer afternoon: you just sit down, savor the food and the ambience, and bask in the sunlight. Just lean into the chair a bit more and let it all hang out. You deserve it.
To recreate that fantasy here in Prague and to make sure you fully enjoy your summer trip to Prague, we have put together a list of our favorite Prague restaurants that have outdoor seats. This is not en exhaustive list. These are simply places we ourselves like to go to enjoy a nice meal on fresh air.
When Jan was small, he and his father used to visit the old Hamburk pub for Sunday lunches. It was not a beautiful place back then but then again, no pubs looked really that great in the 1980s under Communist rule. But Jan loved the maritime styling of the pub (referring, along with the pub’s name, to the fact that there was a river port with a direct connection to Hamburg nearby), with a big ship’s wheel under the ceiling as the main light in the room. It was a classic neighborhood pub with “regulars” hanging around the bar. A classic local pub of the Karlin district, a district with a “black soul”, the only “bad neighborhood” in town, a blue-collar worker, industrial neighborhood and a place when Jan’s father used to live.