The 2018 Prague Food Scene in Review

Confession: we have been bitching about Prague food scene’s development probably for a better portion of 2018. Not enough places are opening, some great places are closing, and where’s the innovation? While Prague lost a Michelin star and a Bib Gourmand award in the spring, the world lost Anthony Bourdain and Jonathan Gold, and generally, the mood here at Taste of Prague was fairly low. (Only to be lifted by the shenanigans of JJ and Lola, the two newest members of the team.)

But looking back at the year, things look a bit more rosy now in hindsight, thanks mostly to what can be described as a strong finish. (And the pills may have finally kicked in too.) 2018 was a year that has solidified some of the trends we have had seen before. People in Prague like to go out. A lot. Booking great restaurants for our Prague food tours has become a game of long-term strategy, and booking for last-minute enquiries nearly impossible. Don’t believe us? Look at Instagram videos from Dva kohouti, which opened in December. It’s been hopelessly full from opening up until Christmas. Whatever the concept, people seem to jump on it, at least for now.

Also, 2018 saw consolidation, as two new groups seem to have emerged to challenge the market-leading, and, in a way, defining behemoth that is the Ambiente group. Czech diners want common sense, quality and transparency if they are to spend top dollar, and seem less prone to jump on hype. So when an all-avocado restaurant opens, the logic of opening a restaurant based on produce that is in no way local and has to travel the world to get here is questioned online, and when a new rotisserie chicken place opens and serves chickens from a large, industrial chicken farm, they are called on that, too. That said, both of these places seem to be prospering at the moment, so we’ll see if this awareness manifests itself only online, and not in… ahem… real life.

New Prague restaurants opened in 2018

Well, we’re happy to announce that the three big openings of 2018 all focused on what comes dear to our heart and clogs our arteties: Czech food. First, Chef Bycek of former Michelin-star Alcron glory opened The Eatery in the Holesovice district. You gotta love the ambition there: minimalist decor, open kitchen with bar seating, focus on local and seasonal produce only. This is a fine dining venue great for a special occasion, and for dining out alone thanks to the bar seating. Many of the dishes show refined technique. The wine selection is also pretty sweet, and the markups sensible. Their lunch specials provide some of the best value for money in town. Holesovice should step up and show that they can support a restaurant like this. Come on, you can do this!

The Eatery, Prague

The Eatery, Prague

Kuchyn caused quite a splash when it opened for the summer season: a restaurant with a view in the super-touristy Prague Castle area that wants to cater to the locals? Guest of our Prague food tours have been asking about great restaurants with a view of the city, and Kuchyn seems to have answered all of these prayers. And it would not be Ambiente group if it did not come with a precisely defined, even stubborn concept: you get appetizers and all-you-can-eat soup, and then follow the staff to the kitchen where chefs open lids and explain the dishes, and you ultimately choose the main dish that speaks to you the most. This seems to work better when the restaurant is half-empty rather than full. There can be quite some pushing and shoving and, ultimately, discontent when the kitchen is packed with different parties trying to smell everything one over another. Still, Kuchyn has been packed at least every weekend, so we’re marking this one as success. Too bad the building’s owners did not allow heaters to make outdoor seating in the winter possible.

Finally, Vycep, run by the Kolektiv group (that runs Nejen bistro in the Karlin district or the new Meat Beer pub/restaurant by the Main Train Station), opened before Christmas, offering what they present as traditional Moravian Wallachian fare with beers from the Dalesicky pivovar brewery. And omg, does it work. We loved the place on our first (and so far only) visit. Moravian folklore songs sound fun and not at all tacky when combined with modern interiors. Hearing the music, you really wanna have a shot. (We did. Two.) The flavors are strong, the dishes familiar but refined and modern, mostly devoid of stuff that just shows off technique but adds nothing to the dish. The place comes off as honest and unpretentious, despite the amuse bouches being served on hay. (Can you stop that, please?) And the wine selection is tiny but well focused, offering some of our recent Moravian favorites. Opening of the year? They’ve been around for two weeks only, but this hits so many spots and does so many things right, we’ll definitely be back.

The trout borschtsch at Vycep

The trout borschtsch at Vycep

For some time, it seemed that the opening of the Manifesto market that opened to big fanfare and lots of press (getting featured as far as the NYT), and attracting some big names like Doubleshot, Angelato, the people behind SaSaZu or Faency Fries from Olomouc, would be the opening of the year. While it was refreshing to see a brave effort to kick-start a street food scene, five months later, as the first rentals expired, some of the big names left and the talk on the street is that some of the businesses were quite unhappy with the results. The assumption that the office rats from the Florentinum office building next door would storm the market for their lunch hours, and finish their days with parties at the Manifesto has not materialized, but nothing’s lost, and Manifesto is still a project that deserves admiration and support when it opens again in the spring of next year.

On the “fine dining” front, Benjamin 14 opened in the spring with not one, not two, but three executive chefs knows from their previous posts, notably Chef Pavlik from Bistrot 104. The concept is very brave: experience-based set menu dinners with only bar seating, built around local ingredients, lots of technique and interaction with the guests. When we have learnt that they want to do two seatings by 12 people only every day, we thought these guys were nuts. Chef Pavlik seems to have disappeared in the meantime (we saw him in an apron at Salt’n’Pepa Kitchen recently) but the restaurant still goes on with the remaining staff.

The bistro concept has continued to make headlines in 2018. First, Salt’n’pepa, everybody’s favorite food truck, opened Salt’n’Pepa Kitchen in the Letná district, offering some of their staples like the duck confit burger, along with some smart cooking for the younger diner that the surrounding area seems to offer in heaps. They also serve halusky, the Slovak answer to Mac’n’cheese, which we would love seeing more of. In the very same block, the people associated with the Kolektiv group (think Nejen bistro, Vycep) opened Pipca, a rotisserie chicken place just weeks after Grils in the Karlin district. Down in the Holesovice district, Ca Phe opened in the spring, offering solid coffee and polished Vietnamese fare in beautiful designer interiors. The Bistro opened in the Vinohrady district, solidifying its repute as a good address for food. Finally, the new Food Lab in the Old Town has the best kid’s club in town, and incredibly generous interiors.

Pipca

Pipca

Ossegg opened earlier this year in the Vinohrady district, combining unpretentious, honest pub cooking with a craft brewery in the basement. Sure, it’s not a looker, but we like the cooking and the beers and the absolute lack of fake veneer of any sort. What you see is what you get, nothing more, nothing less, without a thick layer of marketing. And it’s located in the “first high rise” in Prague. We like it.

Of course, if we talk about craft beers, we cannot neglect Dva kohouti in the courtyard behind Lokal Hamburk and Grils in the Karlin district. The combination of craft beers by Matuska (who has an interview in our Prague Foodie Map, coming out late February next year) and “craft pours” by Lukas Svoboda, the head man behind the beer drafting revolution started by the Lokal pubs, is simply genius. Usually you’d get one or the other - either craft beers, poured poorly, or great pours of Pilsner Urquell - but this marriage of craft beers with the purely Czech belief that the way you pour a beer affects the flavor (it does, people, it does!) - along with a new tap system designed specifically for this pub - is the newest Czech contribution to the world of beer. You’re welcome. And it does not hurt that the place looks absolutely fabulous. Food? Yeah, there’s a food truck in the parking lot, and they will be reselling sausages and pickled things by Lokal, but as far as we are aware, you can bring your own food in.

Dva kohouti.  (Photo credit:    Dva kohouti’s FB page   )

Dva kohouti. (Photo credit: Dva kohouti’s FB page)

There’s so many great coffee shops in Prague right now that a new opening cannot make a splash unless it’s Tim Wendelboe grinding coffee beens on James Hoffman’s abs (does he have abs? I dunno.) or something equally special. Okay, this may have been exaggerated, but you get my point. Anyway, Pauseteria opened in the spring, bringing specialty coffee roasted domestically (Candycane) to the heart of darkness of the most touristy Old Town. It’s kinda tucked away there, and well connected to the rest of Prague’s barista landscape, and uses beans by Candycane, just like Tvoje máma, which is a cute little coffee shop / bistro in the Vrsovice district, which is worth a visit if only for the splendid view of our favorite church in town, the Constructivist St Wenceslas Church designed by Architect Gocar.

Troje mama, hand modeling courtesy of  JJ

Troje mama, hand modeling courtesy of JJ

Candycane coffee must have some dirt on all the owners that opened new coffee shops in 2018, because it is also served in Café truhlárna, a beautiful espresso bar recently opened in the Franciscan garden in the New Town. Beautifully designed and in a secluded places in the centre of it all, this might be the hidden gem everybody likes. (So don’t go there. It’s a hidden gem and we’d like it to stay that way, thank you.) After a short hiatus, Kavárna co hledá jméno, the love-it-or-hate-it coffee shop in the Andel area, used by some to demonstrate that hipsters have become the dominant force in the universe, has reopened to the delight of many. Spell Coffee opened in Jindrisska street in the New Town in a courtyard otherwise occupied by a beauty salon. Letec espresso bar opened in Holesovice, a block away from the National Gallery’s Trade Palace and the newly opened Mama Shelter hotel. Finally, Typika, a beautiful specialty coffee shop opened in the Nusle district as a first flag of gentrification, along with a later newcomer, Nusle Beans. With a great pub (U Bansethu), craft beer place (Zly casy) and two good coffee shops, we now declare Nusle finally inhabitable again.

Typika

Typika

Two new places have graced Prague’s bar scene in 2018. First it was the Martinez bar in the Vinohrady district, combining cocktails with… wait for it… dim sum dumplings? The complicated space offers both privacy if you want it, or generous bar space, along with Asian-inspired bar food. Opened by Eduard of the former Bonvivant’s glory, Martinez now sails on his own and is a good excuse to visit the neighborhood. Finally, Parlour, our favorite bar in town, has opened Schody Home Bar underneath the stairs to Hradcanske namesti and the Prague Castle. And home bar it is - compared to Parlour, Schody has much fewer bottles on a mobile home bar, but adds wine and the full portfolio of Mr Zufanek’s drinks (because tourists walking by want something domestic). A great place to finish your nightly stroll through the Castle area, which is one of the best things to do in Prague anyway.

2018 - the RIPs

The first notable loss is actually a Michelin star, which was taken away from Alcron. The iconic restaurant had a particularly bad year - in addition to losing a star, it lost its executive chef, which moved on to open a restaurant of his own, The Eatery. The Michelin guide was ruthless to Prague this year, removing the Bib Gourmand award Aureole, which had it for a few years running.

Bistrot 108, which started the year by receiving a Bib Gourmand badge from the Michelin guide, shut its doors for good later this year, having been lead by a substitute team that stepped in after the original kitchen and staff all left due to disputes with the owners. Bistrot 104, despite the obvious clichés of nordic cuisine, served some great dishes and paired them with some great wines in its short life, and will be missed.

Another big miss (and another Bib Gourmand closed) is Maso a kobliha. Paul Day simply had too many things on his hands in both professional and personal life and has made the final decision to pull the plug on Maso a kobliha, the beloved pub that served great British pub food with Czech craft beers. The venue will be soon occupied by Las Adelitas that will install an “experimental” kitchen there.

Kaprova 8 opened in the spring, serving great Austro-Hungarian dishes to the masses of tourists… who just passed the restaurant by without stopping in. And three months later, it shut down, leaving the team of young, talented chefs behind. Money laundering? Nervous newbie investor? We’ll never know.

Mysak, the iconic pastry shop in the Vodickova street, shut down the extensive first floor that served streamlined lunches and pretty opulent breakfasts, leaving just the ground floor level with coffee and pastries. That concept has been working well for them, and the word on the street is that the upper floor will reopen in February next year, but as a pastry shop only.

Red Pif, the wine bar / restaurant in the Old Town is no longer with us, taking official vacations from July 10 and never coming back. Will they ever be back? Our money is on “no”, but our heart says yes. And that’s how self-denial works. Finally, Pastacaffee in Vodickova street, one of the oldest places run continuously by the Ambiente group, shut down this year for good, only for the executive chef to move to Kuchyn.

Sisters, Hana Michopulu’s place for the chlebicky open-faced sandwiches, is NOT shutting down, so don’t worry. But we think it is no longer a secret that Hana is moving on after years of taking care of the concept, having sold the place and the relating know-how to the Together group (the people behind Bruxx/Vinohradsky parlament, Sia or Cukrar Skala). As far as we know, Together should not be changing the concept any time soon, using the know-how in its catering business.

As for drinks, Bonvivant’s had a rough year, closing its location in Bartolomejska after their lease has not been extended, according to what we’ve heard. That said, they have reopened at a new location in Manesova 55 in the Vinohrady district, taking over the space originally used for Mr Tvaroh’s famous Lounge Bohemia speakeasy.