“Bonjour!” a booming voice greeted us from behind the counter.
“Bonjour,” I replied shyly. (French has never been my forte.)
From the pictures I had seen on the website, I quickly deduced that this was the Jean-Paul Manzac, who has recently transitioned from star chef to shopkeeper.
His (now closed) Prague restaurant Brasserie M had received the Michelin Guide’s “Bib Gourmand” rating three years running. Jean-Paul’s newest venture is a combination which includes the shop, La Boucherie Moderne, and adjoining eatery, Bistrot M.
I had dragged myself out of bed on a Saturday morning to go and check the place out. Outside it was softly snowing—the kind of snow that when it lands on your coat, the flakes remain completely intact.
Normally, under such circumstances, I would have stayed holed-up at home with a cup of coffee, watching from my living room window as a layer of white descended upon the city, but I had already made plans to meet my friend Estelle in Anděl. She had agreed to give me her French “take” on the shop’s products.
At meeting up, it was about a ten-minute walk to Zubatého street, our feet gliding through the freshly fallen snow. We stamped our boots on the ground and entered the shop.
As we browsed around, Estelle immediately squealed with delight as we looked into one of the coolers and saw Petit Suisse—a fresh cheese with a thick yogurt consistency, popular with French children. A shelf overflowing with Lu brand cookies and biscuits and Mont Blanc pudding dessert evoked a similar reaction.
The shop definitely caters to French families, and with a location just a block from the Lycée Français de Prague, I’d say that’s a pretty good strategy.
“They [French people] know what these products are,” said Manzac, “but Czechs are also starting to buy them as well.” He said currently his customer base is about one-third Czech, one-third French, and one-third expats of varied nationalities.
As if on cue, a French family entered the shop. Their three year old daughter boldly approached the cash register and Jean-Paul produced a bowl of Smarties candies to oblige her.
Besides cookies and sweets, La Boucherie Moderne’s extensive poultry section stood out, with items like quail, pigeon, Cornish hens, and canette (female duck). All of them are free range, corn-fed and imported from France. Manzac also sells individually packed cuts of lamb, veal, Angus and more.
I was more interested in the charcuterie though—I love the French-style dried sausage, called saucisson. We sampled three different kinds, but our favorite by far was the one with a crunchy layer of herbs on the outside. One good-sized sausage costs 195 CZK—a little spendy, but definitely worth the splurge.
After that, we were on to the cheeses, which are ripened under the expert care of Olivier Tourette. The 24-week-aged Comte set my mouth a-tingle with its tangy flavor and I purchased 100g for 71 CZK. Estelle was so amazed by the brie that she bought a generous wedge even though her parents were coming to visit soon with a carload of French goodies (including cheese).
Next, we tried the pâté and rillete. Jean-Paul carries the Thiol brand, which he said has the best quality of all the industrial producers. I found I preferred the texture and flavor of the rillete, which is slow-cooked and has tender chunks of meat inside (216g of duck rillete came to 99,40 CZK).
Of course, you’ll need a good wine to pair with all that meat and cheese. I didn’t have high hopes for the wine section as it seems French wine is synonymous with overpriced in Prague, but we were pleasantly surprised. There was a wide selection of bottles between 100-300 CZK.
Estelle pointed out that some of the bottles had a little tag that said selected for Le Guide Hachette des Vins—one of the most respected wine guides in France (just being included in the guide, regardless of the number of awarded stars, is a huge stamp of approval).
One bottle with this distinction was a red Côtes du Rhône, which only cost 120 CZK. We both tried it and thought it was quite drinkable. Another affordable option for only 115 CZK was a sweet, white Prince des Gravières. The level of sweetness would be perfect as an aperitif or with dessert.
All that sampling had whetted our appetite for some real food, but unfortunately Bistrot M is only open from 11:00–16:00 on weekdays. Instead, we settled for an espresso in the front room and chatted a bit more with Jean-Paul about his business.
It seems that given his reputation as a chef, the bistro is actually doing better than the shop, and he has decided to expand the seating into the second room where the wine is currently located. In addition, he’s considering stocking a few fresh veggies, especially lettuce, and maybe some fish in the future. I will definitely be stopping by again to sample the lunch menu, and to check up on his progress.
Estelle and I had long since finished our espressos so we started to pack-up our purchases. Even though my pocketbook had taken a hit this morning, my stomach thanked me for braving the winter weather instead of lazing around at home.
WHERE: Zubatého 5, Praha 5
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: nearest tram stop – Arbesovo náměstí
OPENING HOURS: Mon: 14:00–19:00 Tues-Fri: 8:30–19:00 Sat: 9:00–13:00
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