Four decades of communist rule nearly finished off fine dining in Prague. That’s no exaggeration. Restaurant recipes were standardized to the last gram of flour; innovation in the kitchen was stifled. It’s taken time for the dining scene to recover, but the good news is it’s alive and kicking again. Foreign imports like Italian, Mexican and Thai were the first to arrive, and chefs are now rediscovering classic Czech recipes and giving them a modern twist.
Czechs love pork and it forms the basis of many of their best dishes. Dumplings, usually made from flour but occasionally potatoes, make for a reliable side. Add cabbage and you’ve got the national dish: vepřo-knedlo-zelo – roast pork, dumplings and sauerkraut. But look out too for more exotic entrees like duck, rabbit and venison. These can be delicious.
Goulash is often considered a Hungarian dish, though Czechs, too, claim it as their own. The Czech version is simpler: nothing more than cubed beef in a brown sauce flavoured with sweet paprika and caraway seed and topped with grated onions. It’s usually served with bread dumplings. Two places that pride themselves on the real thing are U provaznice behind the Můstek metro station and Pivovarský dům in Nové Město – the latter brews its own beer.
Budget & Blowout
Unsurprisingly, beer trumps wine in the country that invented modern lager. Pivovar u Bulovky – or simply “Richter’s” – brews its own to accompany upscale pub food like the house goulash (119 Kč), served with roast peppers and a spread of bread and potato dumplings; or pork cutlet served with grilled sausage and roast potatoes (175 Kč). Draws a mainly neighbourhood crowd, owing to its relatively remote locale. Bring a cartographer or simply tell the cabbie “Bulovka” – the name of a nearby hospital.
For a splurge to remember, try La Degustation in the Old Town. It’s a dining tour de course – literally. No ordinary meal, but a prolonged grazing session, where waiters present 14 mouth-watering courses over an entire evening. Diners choose from two set menus: Bohême Bourgeoise (1,850 Kč) and Terre et Eau (1,950 Kč), the former focusing on updated classics from Bohemian cooking going back more than a century, like freshly smoked beef tongue and confit of doe. Yes, it’s a lot of dough, but you won’t eat for at least a day after.
You’ll find street stands in the centre hawking everything from gyros and pizza to corn on the cob. Avoid the sausage booths that line Wenceslas Square. They serve wurst that’s sadly worse than anything you’d find in Germany. Look instead for párek v rohlíku (20 Kč) – a wiener stuffed inside a cylindrical bread roll and served with dollop of mustard or ketchup. Yes, a hot dog, but better. Lángos (25 Kč) – fried dough served with garlic or ketchup – are a Hungarian import from the ‘70s and love at first bite when done well.
Best Bar & Decent Cafe
Trendy cocktail bars are still the rage in the Old Town but for something with more character, head to Hapu ((Orlická 8, Prague 3; Tel 773-577-708; no website) in the outlying neighbourhood of Vinohrady. You won’t find velvet ropes and attitude, but rather a laid back local vibe, complete with comfy chairs and well-tended drinks. Manhattans are making a comeback and Hapu mixes a good one (95 Kč).
Kávovarna in the Art Deco Lucerna shopping passage off Wenceslas Square is a no-frills student café that draws a mix of artists, scruffy dissidents and everyday folk for kaffee klatsch over espresso (35 Kč) or, better, a cup of freshly melted hot chocolate (45 Kč).