Embracing the Czech way of life isn’t easy. First, there’s the language to tackle, with its spiky looking words covered in hooks. Then there’s the local cuisine, which consists mostly of solid lumps of meat in unctuous sauces. However, there’s one Czech culinary institution I’ve fallen hopelessly head over heels for: the cukrárna.
The cukrárna, which a friend jokingly suggested you might translate as ‘sugaryeria’, is a mecca for lovers of all things sweet, combining the Italian gelateria and French patisserie. You’ll find one in every neighbourhood in the country, serving up cake and ice-cream to everyone from tiny tots to grandmas. This is the place to go if you want to really have your cake and eat it, while sitting down inside with a coffee and watching the world go by.
In London, cafes decked out in vintage granny chic are currently de rigeur. Here in the Czech Republic, you’ll find countless cukrárnas effortlessly rocking this look –because they haven’t changed in at least thirty years. This, however, in my view, is the key to their charm. If you want somewhere with a soulless interior, go to your familiar American coffee chain; if you want an authentic slice of Czech daily life served up with your káva, check out your local cukrárna.
Erhartova Cukrárna – Vinohradská
Erhartova Cukrárna is already a household name amongst Czechs. If you’ve struggled to get a seat in its charming but rather cramped Letná branch, you’re in luck: a new one has recently opened on Vinohradská. The interior of this branch is stylish, with a 1930s vibe: the curved window which sweeps around the café’s front lounge is thankfully net-curtain free, making people watching a breeze.
The proof of the proverbial pudding is, of course, in the eating, and there’s plenty here to please the palate. As well as Czech classics such as laskonka (a white meringue sandwiched with a chocolate creamy filling) there are macaroons in a range of rainbow hues, ice-cream sundaes and an extensive selection of chocolate cakes.
I sampled the Fragola, a sponge cheesecake hybrid with just a hint of strawberry, which set me back just 29 CZK for a slim slice. My companion was pleased with her chocolate milkshake (35 CZK) and Staročeský povidlon, a huge pastry and cream confection.
If you intend to linger, there’s wi-fi so you can take your laptop and tuck into your zákusek of choice simultaneously. Now that’s my kind of multitasking.
Erhartova Cukrárna, Vinohradská 125, 130 00 Prague 3
Fox and Deer
This relative newcomer more than makes up for its minimalist interior and lack of ice-cream by the sheer deliciousness of its freshly baked cakes. We were impressed by the sumptuously rich chocolate gateau laced with cherries (89 CZK) and the light lemon meringue in non-soggy pastry (75 CZK). Such indulgence doesn’t come cheap, but you won’t go away feeling shortchanged: you get a hefty wedge of sponge for your money. Next time, we’ll be sampling the medovník we spotted being served, which was obviously lacking the nasty artificial cream you often encounter in a cukrárna. It seems to take a Russian to bake a decent version of this Czech classic. Who knew?
Fox and Deer, Jugoslávských partyzánu 19, Prague 6
You want a huge slice of cake oozing with fresh cream with a cutesy French name? You want a quirky interior that’s the right side of retro? You need to head for Letná and the delightful Alchymista Cukrárna.
If the weather’s sunny, sit outside in the beautifully kept garden and indulge yourself with a glass of rosé while tucking into a slice of something sweet. The range of coffee is excellent – devotees to the bean can pay a visit to Prague’s coffee museum next door – and there are also teas and homemade lemonade on the menu. Expect to pay 40 – 50 CZK for coffee and 50 – 70 CZK for cake. This is my personal favorite of the five and undoubtedly worth the trip to Prague 7. A real gem.
Alchymista Cukrárna, Jana Zajíce 7, 170 00 Prague 7
Ovocný Světozor (Hájek a Boušová)
This is definitely the place to come if you need a sit down and a sugar fix in central Prague for a reasonable price, but it’s super popular, so be prepared to wait in line. The menu is extensive: as well as the typical cukrárna fare, there are pancakes, fresh fruit smoothies, chlebíčky (open sandwiches) and a huge range of ice-cream sundaes, including the Gondola (89 CZK) and of course that classic the banana split (65 CZK).
We opted for a slice of Čokoládový těžká paříž (40 CZK) – basically chocolate gateau – and the cheesecake decorated with a slice of lime (40 CZK). Both were palatable enough for the price. The Illy coffee was far more drinkable than the toxic sludge served up in many neighbourhood cafes, too.
Italská cukrárna – Vodičkova
It’s hard to know whether this place is doing cute kitsch with a hint of irony, but its bright orange walls adorned with frescos of questionable artistic merit combined do make it a fun place to stop by. And unlike your average neighbourhood cukrárna, there are no synthetic fillings here, as the slogan Dorty z pravé šlehačky – cakes with real cream– emblazoned across the counter confirms. I road tested a slice of chocolate layer cake (35 CZK) topped off with a tiny strawberry which was satisfying and a slightly dry slice of tiramisu (35 CZK). Yes, that’s right: I polished off two slices of cake by myself. Who cares about calorie consumption when you can call it research?
There’s a mouthwatering array of ice-cream sundaes on offer with delightful names like Bambini, Angelo and Fantazia, all around the 70 CZK mark. If you don’t have time to stop, you can pick up a cornet through the serving hatch on the street. And if you’re in the area after 18:00, all the zákusky are reduced to 24 CZK.
Italska cukrárna, 4/673 Vodičkova, Prague 2
Do you too have a soft spot for the cukrárna or have the so-called cakes consisting of fruit suspended in jelly on a stingy sponge base put you off forever? Is there a ‘sugaryeria’ we’ve missed that’s stolen your heart? Let us know in the comments section!