With the recent announcement that Art Nouveau Hotel Evropa is due to become a W Hotel in 2020, it would seem Wenceslas Square may be on its way to regaining a bit of its First Republic dignity, somewhat lost to the strip clubs and stag parties of today.
If you don’t want to wait another three years to experience the kind of chic hotel lounge a franchise of the W’s caliber is certain to bring with it, there is Como Restaurant, located in another of the neighborhood’s most historic buildings, the Hotel Jalta.
Erected from 1954 to 1958 on the site of a residential building bombed by Allied Forces at the end of the war, it also houses a Cold War fallout shelter from which the secret police eavesdropped on eminent guests. The bunker was opened to the public in 2014.
The restaurant adjacent to the hotel is hoping to be remembered for its modern menu and striking décor rather than its Socialist associations. Both were recently overhauled to attract locals who have long considered Vaclavske nam. 45 a haven for visitors.
The first change would be the reconstructed lounge with its inviting circular bar, willow chandelier, and cushy barstools. Designed by American architect Jason Volenec whose retro-chic sensibility has graced watering holes from New York to LA, it puts a little welcome distance between you and the tourists on the terrace.
Volenec’s bar—and the revamped cocktails list—entice guests to sidle up and settle in for the evening. On a recent visit we sampled a zingy Old Fashioned and a beachworthy Mangorita. With way too much of a fresh ginger kick, the Moscow Mule was the only disappointment.
The food, for the most part, also deserves praise. Full disclosure, I attended a tasting event—which will in no way stop me from critiquing the mildly astringent gazpacho with grilled shrimp, whose avocado garnish would have benefitted from a chop rather than a purée.
That said, there were some successful starters here, the best of which was a salad niçoise with fresh seared tuna served on an appetizing tangle of greens with hard-chopped egg, and an arugula salad with praline-studded goat cheese balls in pistachio and date dressing.
Como chefs Joe Sefton and Dušan Mackovič each sent out a signature dish inspired by his home country.
The seared cod in English chef Sefton’s take on fish and chips was a bit bland, but the well-matched flavors and textures of the accompanying mint pea purée, crispy polenta, and tartar sauce delivered. Mackovič’s slow-roasted half-chicken with root vegetables belongs to the same category of comfort food, a fragrant and filling dish.
But it was the northern Italian cuisine—black risotto with calamari, prawns, and scallops, and a potato gnocchi with goat cheese and chorizo—paired, respectively, with an Austrian Riesling trocken and an Italian Pinot Grigio, that give the menu its repeat-visit appeal.
Dessert, a salty chocolate ganache with candied orange slice, ginger, nuts and vanilla ice cream, was served in a deep plate; the fun and unfussy presentation was slightly reminiscent of eating a Studentská Pečeť candy bar from a bowl.
The historic Como is a nice choice for special occasion dining, treating visiting family or friends, or a quiet drink at the bar when you find yourself in this Prague district dominated by fast food and high-street fashion.
As the renovation to the front half of the restaurant is completed and a sushi menu added to the offerings, I hope the Como sticks to the refined simplicity that made it worth a second look to this local who might otherwise have held out for the W.