The Prague food scene in the year 2015: the Recap

You don't realize how good of a year you’ve had until you start counting the venues that have opened and realize that only a few have closed. And that’s what we’ve come to realize when we were writing this summary post, following a tradition we started last year with our 2014 recap.

2015 was indeed a good year. Not a revolutionary year perhaps, but still a year that saw a few openings that did or may still shake up the particular industries. And who knows? In hindsight it may actually prove to have been the year when things changed forever. Here’s a recap of what happened on the Prague food scene in 2015. Just to make sure we get each other: we only write about venues we feel are worth writing about, so if we’ve missed something, it may have been on purpose. Or we just may have missed something. (Let us know if we did.) This is not an exhaustive list and it is not meant to be one.

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Prague Coffee in 2015

2015 was a good year for coffee in Prague: many new exciting venues opened and virtually none closed, as specialty coffee slowly moved into the mainstream and extended its reach further and further into the residential districts of Prague. Speciality coffee is served today in places where you would starve a year ago. The development has reached a point where it is surprising to see a new, modern coffee shop offering bad coffee rather than decent one. We see no signs of stagnation yet. Quite the opposite: the Czech Barista Championship and the Prague Coffee Festival were attended in high numbers. They even had their own hashtags, for Christ’s sake.

The clear coffee opening of the year is Kavarna Misto. A fairly long time in the works and with several delays, the new cafe by the Doubleshot roasters opened to quite a bit of hype: a barista dream team, some of the best technologies in town and a full kitchen, with one of the coolest coffee shop designs in the country. And we live about 5 minutes by walk from there, so that’s cool. The other opening of the year probably goes to Eska. Sure, it’s primarily a restaurant, but Ambiente group's shift in focus to specialty coffee can become a very important element in the future, if and when the group decides to open its own cafes or, who knows, roast its own coffee.

Other interesting cafes opened in the residential districts around the centre. Kafe Karlin was the first to colonize the Smichov district with specialty coffee by opening Kafe Kolej, a tiny booth right at the Smichovske nadrazi railway stop. The Letna district got two new cafes, the Ye’s Kafe/Studio by baristas formerly associated with Bitcoin Coffee in Holesovice, and Cafe Letka opened just two blocks away. Double B Coffee & Tea opened early this year in Vinohrady, as if that district needed any more good coffee shops. Things got better in the centre, too, as the Cafe of the Studio Dva theatre at the top of the Wenceslas Square brought specialty coffee to the New Town, staying open quite late every single day. Finally, Lucka, the owner of I Need Coffee!, opened Super Tramp Coffee in one of the ugliest passthroughs in Prague, turning it into one of the nicest.

Prague Bars in 2015

Two knew cocktail bars opened this year, and they both quickly became our favorites. L’Fleur is a classy place that focuses on artisanal cocktails and great Champagne, juxtaposed right next to one of the biggest party centrals in Prague. Cash Only Bar near the Bethlehem Square is a new location opened by Hemigway Bar nearby. Opened as a "sorry-we’re-full-but-we-have-another-location-nearby” addition to the infamous bar, it has created an identity of its own, and we actually think it’s a bit more fun, although Hemingway Bar may have the more creative cocktail menu of the two. Finally, Lounge Bohemia pop-up bar landed in Prague with a bang, offering a taste of molecular mixology by Mr Tvaroh in fun, Mid-Century Modern surroundings.

Not much new on the wine bar front with one, loud exception. The Bokovka wine bar has reopened in a new location at Dlouha to virtually no advertising, since all Ambiente’s PR effort went to Eska that opened a few weeks before. Still, the “run-down” (you know, the kind of run down that takes a designer and a sizable investment to implement) bar run by Roman Novotny, former sommelier at La Degustation, has become one of the nicest places to have a glass of some nice natural wine, Czech or foreign, a cheese board or charcuterie. And when the private cinema opens upstairs, this may become a proper wine destination. In related news, the Na Brehu Rhony has expanded to the Karlin district. And that’s it when it comes to wine. We’re still waiting for the Monarch bar, managed by the people behind Grand Cru, incl. one of our favorite sommelier of all time, Karel of former Vinograf glory, to reopen as a wine and tapas place. Probably next year soon. Another opening we’re still awaiting is Winetou, a collaboration between Mr Trojak and Kobza. The leaked information suggests it should be a super fun place.

Prague Restaurants in 2015

In the food industry, restaurants followed a very similar path to coffee. While many new places opened, none of the important players actually closed. We did see a few trends: early in the year we were bracing ourselves for big pastrami wars as new pastrami places seemed to be popping up everywhere. The wars had a very anti-climactic ending: nothing really came out of it, and there is not a single place that could be recommended for a stand-out pastrami in our book (if you discount the Ruben sandwich at Maso a kobliha, that is).

The same goes for the trend of Vietnamese cuisine, which has solidified its position as the “ethnic” cuisine of choice given the sizable community and the Vietnamese Sapa market, the funnest market this side of Vienna’s Naschmarkt. A few places have opened but none of them became the dominant player. Banh-mi-ba, the banh-mi sandwich bistro that opened early in the summer, may be the most covered opening of the year, followed by a new location of Banh Mi Makers that opened its door in the very last days of the year in the Dlouha foodie arcade nearby. Two more openings complete the Asian-cuisine-in-Prague roundup: Spices opened its door in the Mandarin Oriental hotel with a revamped menu, and Yoshihashi Sushi in Ramova has become a public secret as one of the best sushi places in the city.

A few household names on the Prague food scene have expanded or relocated. Aromi, an Italian local favorite, has closed its Manesova location and reopened in the space abandoned by the former Sahara cafe at the Namesti Miru square. Riccardo Lucque, the owner, has also expanded his network of La Bottega bistros with a new location at Tusarova in the Holesovice district. It’s struggling to find its audience a bit, but the cooking is solid and we like that place. Las Adelitas, our favorite Mexican restaurant in Prague, has opened a brand new location in the Lucemburska street in Vinohrady, and it’s a great one, too. We really liked to get a seat behind their street tables in the summer. Emanuele Ridi, an Italian chef that has become a bit of a TV personality, has opened a new restaurant, Manu, just across the river from the Dancing House. We've heard through the grapevine that his original restaurant, Da Emanuel, in Prague 6, may be closing soon.  

The Nase maso butchers have delivered on their promise and opened a shop just behind its existing premises. They sell hot dogs and vacuum-sealed meat during the day, and ever since Nase maso started offering the “dinner from the butcher”, the shop is the only place to buy meat to go after 7pm. The Real Meat Society has also expanded its offer, and the Naplavni shop now sells bone broth, a few sandwiches and some nice gourmet products. Finally, Home Kitchen has opened a new, beautiful location in the Kozi street, and turned the original Jungmannova location into an espresso bar. They are now in the process of building their brand new location in the Andel area.

Just like the year before, the Karlin district continued to soar in 2015. The first opening was the Proti proudu bistro, which boasts great design, good cakes, and some pretty dark-roasted coffee. Garage - True Canadian Deli has brought Poutine to Prague. Their opening hours are a bit weird but the Poutine ranks among the city’s best hangover foods. Nejen bistro made waves in early summer with their Josper grill and nice interior design.

Finally, Eska, Ambiente group’s newest restaurant, which combines a dining room upstairs with a bakery and a specialty coffee shop downstairs, and arguably the most important opening this year, opened in early November, fortifying Karlin district’s growing reputation as a food destination. 

What else was there? One of the openings of the year must be the Praktika bakery. It opened out of nowhere and without a warning, and proved that the time has come to actually bake and serve great bread in Prague when it started serving bread way above and beyond everything served thus far in the city (with the notable exception of Maskrtnica's breads at Maso a kobliha). Herbivore opened very near the Naplavka farmers’ market, offering some great vegetarian lunch offerings that are better than many vegetarian places in terms of quality of the food. Finally, San Carlo opened in April in Dittrichova street very near The Real Meat Society shop, challenging Pizza Nuova for the best Pizza Napoletana in Prague.

Not much new on the sweet front except maybe three exceptions. Puro Gelato opened right next to the Naplavka farmers’ market, creating a bit of a food hub with Na brehu Rhony wine bar next door and Herbivore around the corner. For many people, it became a worthy alternative to the Angelato ice-cream shop. Iveta Fabesova, the finalist of the Czech Top Chef series, opened the second location of her IF Cafe, which focuses on French pastries but adds some Czech classics to the mix. She's building a new location in the Prague 5 area. Is Smichov becoming the new Karlin? We don't know, but we hope somebody will finally notice Bubenec. Hey! Foodies live here, too, okay?

Finally, Votre Plaisir, a French patisserie known mostly from farmers’ markets and food events, opened its shop in Soukenicka just a few days ago. We’ll see how Czechs warm up to the idea of a Paris-style boutique. Czech pastry shops are traditionally places where grandmas and small kids like to have a seat and devour on pastries, absurdly huge ice-cream sundaes and Italian-style coffee. We’ll see how the takeaway works in these conditions. We know we’ll be there. That said, a traditional high-quality Czech pastry shop is still sorely missing on the Prague food scene. Maybe next year?

Top Events in 2015

Standart Mag

When we first got our hands on the first issue of the Standart coffee mag at the Czech Barista Champs in January, we knew it would kick some major behind. On a global scale. The magazine gets better with every issue, and we’re huge fans. And it’s not only because we know the people behind it. We’re happy Standart got nominated for the Sprudgie awards. They deserve it.

Street Food Festival

Street Food Festival has continued to create a fairly convincing impression that street food is something the Czechs do, while we have no real food truck or street food tradition to talk of. Which, in itself, is pretty notable. They have even managed to turn the occasional events into a regular affair in the form of Street Food Jams this summer. Here’s hoping the SFFs will live long and prosper in the next year, too!

The Prague Coffee Festival

The Prague Coffee Festival, held in the fantastic National Agricultural Museum, has shown that the Prague coffee scene has reached maturity and grown enormously from what used to be a minority sport to a fully professional league with sponsors and actual money. More cupping that one could handle and lectures by big names like James Hoffman. Talking about sports, January’s Czech Barista Championships at Jatka 78 did at times feel like watching and cheering a football match, and the attendance was incredibly high. Adam Neubauer, the winner, finished in the Top 10 at the World Barista Champs in Seattle later that year, while Ondra Hurtik was the runner-up at the World Coffee in Good Spirits Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden with his Rosemary signature drink. January’s Czech Barista Champs will be bringing people from Workshop, Koppi, Five Elephant, Has Been and many others, so coffee does not seem to be going anywhere the next year.

symposium CULINARY Prague

The second installment of the Symposium Culinary Prague brought to Prague names like Joan Roca and Massimo Bottura, the chefs behind the first and second best restaurants in the world according to the World’s 50 Best ranking. Enough said.

Prague Food Transfers in 2015

The biggest transfer of 2014 was Chef Puncochar’s move from Le Terroir to Grand Cru. This year, culinary transfers on the Prague food scene had a distinctly Asian flavor, with two chefs leaving their well-established positions for new adventures. First, Stephen Senewiratne, the former sous-chef of Spices at the Mandarin Oriental, left for Red Pif (who previously hired Chef Levý of former Cafe Fara fame, only to say good-bye a few months later). Second, Chef Shabay, the creative power behind SaSaZu, has left the position for… well, who knows what? He has admitted on social media to work on a new project but nothing has come out of it yet. Finally, Chef Premek Forejt has returned from London (where he, just like Michal Cerny from Story, a hidden gem recommended by many Prague’s food enthusiasts and also in our Prague Foodie Map, worked at L’Autre Pied) to head the kitchen of the Olomouc-based Entree.

On the coffee scene, the biggest transfer was the fact that the entire barista team of Anonymous Coffee has left to work for Ambiente, with Ondra Stekl staying at Ambi as its barista-in-chief. In other news, Jirka Sladek of Brew Bar, our favorite coffee stand at the Naplavka farmers’ market, has been hired by Doubleshot as one of the baristas for Misto, only to part ways a few months later. Now he and his colleague Radek are tentatively playing with the idea of expanding the Brew Bar to a format that would go beyond the Saturday’s farmers’ markets. Whatever they are up to, we are looking forward to it.

Chefs come and go, but if there is any constant on Prague’s food scene, it’s that two talented and skillful chefs, Chef Rachat and Chef Sophia Smith, will... come and go. The former is now cooking at Herbivore, the latter at Café Buddha Balbínova, but who knows what will happen to them next year. For whatever reason, they haven’t been able to stay in one job for an extended period of time, which is a shame. Every restaurant they worked at has benefited from their presence.

Out-of-Prague 2015 Bonus - Entree

You know something’s happening when the talk of the town… is actually not located in the town. Yes, Entree has captured the imagination of the spoiled Prague foodie crowds who have been buying railway tickets to Olomouc just to see what many have quickly dubbed the best fine-dining Czech restaurant out of Prague.