tips for travellers

Sansho - arguably the best Asian fusion food in Prague

When ex-Nobu chef, Paul Day, opened a much-praised restaurant in Prague, we could not resist being one of its first visitors. Our expectations were high… Were they eventually met?This small, down-to-earth place has both communal seating arrangement and individual tables, along with an open kitchen. Rather than spending thousands on posh furniture and accessories, they decided to go for a minimalist look, which we loved. Although some may find the interior dull, smart touches extend throughout the interior décor: the contrast between the cold surface of concrete and the warmth of the wood and vibrant flowers in vases, eye-catching bulb lams; witty The Real Meat Society (where Sansho gets its meat) coasters; checked decor on both napkins and wardrobe of the staff. Nevertheless, the focus is definitely on the food.

Although the restaurant serves Asian-inspired food, it cooperates with local farmers and uses their organic eggs, meat and vegetables, and offers beer from a microbrewery. While à la carte menu is offered during lunch time, only a tasting menu is available for dinner (you can select only one dish from the menu, but the menu works much better as a cohesive whole) and it is served family-style. Quite unusual in the Czech Republic (we like our portions really big), this informal and sociable drew a lot of criticism as the restaurant opened.

We opted for the six-course menu - a lovely combination of complementary flavors. The first course, Scottish salmon sashimi, was a wonderful combination of fine fish with a citrus soy marinade, fresh ginger, pink peppercorns, chives and sesame seeds that awakened our slumbering taste buds with a sweet and sour tang.

Next up was a salad of green and white asparagus coated with a beautiful, aromatic dressing of coriander, mint, chili and Thai basil (and probably many more ingredients we were not able to identify) with an egg fried in goose fat.

Honzi’s least favorite but still tasty dish – chicken satay – followed: tender chicken legs were covered with rather salty than sweet peanut sauce that had a little bit of heat. Crispy fried onions on the top added extra texture.

The fourth dish was duck sliders; steamed buns were light in texture and reminded us of our dumplings. Slow-roasted duck, cucumber and scallions with a little bit of hoisin sauce were stuck into the buns. While still nice, I could hardly taste the filling. Therefore, the sliders seemed the weakest dish of the night to me.

Then an unusual combination of pork belly and watermelon salad “landed” on out table. This powerful combination of flavors and contrasts was wonderful. Juicy, caramelized bites of pork melted on the tongue and paired beautifully with the sweetness of fresh watermelon that removed the heaviness of the dish.

The standout of the evening was the final dish, the 12-hour cooked beef redang. The meat was slowly cooked in coconut milk with lots of spices (we bet there was chilli, ginger, galangal, and lemon grass) and was so tender that you could eat it even if you had no teeth. Crunchy toasted coconut and a jar of homemade hot jam were served on the side. It came with steamed rice, roti and wok-fried broccoli and bok choy with fish sauce, ginger and chilies.

Already stuffed, we decided to have desserts. Sticky toffee pudding was served warm with vanilla ice cream on the top. It was delicious, super rich and Honzi almost licked the plate clean. We also tried the homemade passion fruit ice cream with pink peppercorns. Yummy.

It was not a cheap meal. If you eat and drink as much as we did you could easily get to EUR 40 per person. There are certainly places where you can spend less in Prague, but hardly any of them pays so much attention to every dish. For that reason, we think it is definitely worth it.

Listen to an interview with Sansho's chef, Paul Day.

Coming soon: recipe for Pork Belly and Watermelon salad


Prague Castle by Night

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When people tell us that they want to see the Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge, we always recommend visiting these two marvelous sights either early in the morning or later in the evening to beat the crowds. Alternatively, you can visit the Castle during the day to enter the St. Vitus Cathedral and have a stroll in the Castle gardens (which is highly recommended), and then come back in the evening to truly enjoy the Castle's exteriors.

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To illustrate what we mean, we took a short walk to the Castle yesterday (our kitchen is located within walking distance of the Castle) and took these photos for you. These shots were snapped at about 9:00 p.m. There was hardly anyone there, except for the attendants of a BMW party (yes, you can rent the halls of the Prague Castle for corporate events).


Tipping in Czech restaurants

When you travel abroad, getting the local customs right can get tricky at times. This includes the rules of tipping in restaurants - every country and every culture has its own rules, and you want to get them right (or at least I do). Recently, Zuzi and I visited France and, more specifically, the Basque Country, and I must say we found the tipping rules quite confusing: you have to look in the menu or at the bill to see whether the tip has been already included, and then the recommended amount of the tip is not always clear - we were told it was 15% in a Michelin-star restaurant (the very lovely Briketenia, highly recommended both for the views and the food, although we found the delicious desserts to have slightly overpowered the courses that preceded them), but someone else suggested that a lower tip was more common. So what should you do to tip like a pro in the Czech Republic?

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To your luck, the tipping rules in the Czech Republic are pretty straight-forward. Here are the main rules and some additional tips:

  • The bill that you get for your meal does not include tip, which is paid extra. Tipping is not mandatory but is very common. You should refuse to give a tip only if you've been truly dissatisfied with the service - when you don't tip at all, always tell the staff why.
  • The usual tip amounts to about 10% of the bill, but you can give more if you're truly happy with the service, or less, for instance if you're happy with the food, but not some much with the service. When I talk about 10% of the price, I mean the price of the food ordered. If you order a EUR 100 bottle of wine, you don't have to give a EUR 10 tip for the waiter opening it.
  • If you pay with a credit card and use the payment terminal, ask whether you can include the tip after you confirm the amount of the bill. Some terminals let you confirm the bill and THEN ask you for a tip, but other terminals lack that option, which will leave the staff without a tip if you have no cash on your hands.
  • A "pro" tip: When the Czechs pay their bill, they give the money to the waiter and inform them of the total amount of the bill they wish to pay, including the tip (e.g., when your bill is CZK 800 and you want to give a CZK 100 tip, you hand out a CZK 1000 note to the waiter and say, with confidence, "nine hundred"). The waiter will take the money, and give CZK 100 back, i.e. withhold the tip right away. If you're not comfortable with this, the usual procedure can be used, too - just let the waiter give you the exact change and then leave the tip on the table.
  • Beware of tourist traps! Some restaurants in touristy locations may include the tip in the bill, and then solicit another tip. However, these cases are extremely rare.

Personally, I tend to be very generous with my tips (to the extent that Zuzi may at times express some protests against the amount) - I used to wait tables in a very popular bar/restaurant when I was a student, and I can appreciate how difficult the job is. But the final tip is really up to you. If you're satisfied, 10% is fine; if you're not satisfied, give less or nothing (and contact us for tips on where to go for your next meal).