A is for Amuse Bouche
Locally foraged marinated mushrooms, octopus terrine with topinaur puree, celery foam: you know you’re in a classy joint when you’re greeted by a flurry of these complimentary pre-starters. They might tease the tastebuds but they won’t sate your hunger.
B is for Bellevue
Back in the day, Bellevue might have been the aspirational eatery in Prague but now it needs to up its game. The waiters marched around purposefully but somehow the service was still slow. Don’t get me wrong, the food is well prepared – my guinea fowl was prettily presented and flavoursome – but overall the menu remains unimaginative. In this food writer’s humble opinion, there are upscale places in the city with a far better price/value ratio.
C is for CottoCrudo
Full points to the flagship restaurant at the Four Seasons hotel which served up best dessert I had during my intensive research – a vanilla cheesecake with almond pannacotta and wild berry ice cream – as part of their excellent value lunch menu.
D is for DJ Booth
You might not be able to read the menu without a torch (provided on request) but there’s no avoiding the aural delights emanating from the DJ booth in Mala Strana’s hip thai eaterie Noi.
E is for Empty
There’s nothing more depressing than being the only diner in a restaurant especially when it seems to be doing many things right. My partner and I spent a Saturday evening in the atmospheric Romanesque cellar which houses Le Terroir although the lack of ambience due to the absence of any other paying customers did put a dampner on things. Perhaps its no surprise that this fancy eaterie is rumoured to be closing in October.
F is for Foie Gras
Chocolate fondant, scallops St Jacques, any kind of carpaccio…There are certain dishes which appear on Prague’s fancy dining menus ad nauseum – and that unethically produced goose pate foie gras is one of them. Not everyone wants Heston Blumental style weirdness on their plate – even a sweet-toothed gal like myself would pass on snail ice-cream – but sometimes there does seem to be a lack of imagination behind the city’s top-price menus.
G is for Ginger & Fred
Ginger & Fred surprised me with its great value lunch menu which exhibits creative culinary flair with specials such as veal carpaccio with a light vanilla dressing or sea bream with Jerusalem artichoke puree and a tangy fennel salad. Alas, judging from the crowd I saw on my visit, it is popular with tour groups – no surprise given its location on the top floor of Frank Gehry’s iconic Dancing House – you have been warned.
H is for Hand massage
Funky SaSaZu – the food is superlative, the red interior décor somehow makes me think of a Shanghai brothel – might be the only restaurant in Prague which offers diners a complimentary hand massage.
I is for Ichnusa
When this Sardinian restaurant first opened, it was the hot dining ticket in town. Fans raved about how chef Ivo would just cook up whatever his creative spirit and the ingredients to hand dictated. Now there are three rooms rather than just one and the chef stays in the kitchen (albeit with the door open) but the food remains excellent. The venue is replete with cosy nooks and crannies to nestle in if you’re in search of a good spot for a romantic dinner a deux.
J is for Javánka and Co
Although this Indonesian bistro doesn’t offer ‘fine dining’ – the kindest way to describe its interior would be shabby chic – it still sticks in my mind as one of the highlights of my culinary odyssey. Co-owner Juanita Kansil’s warmth clearly infuse the dishes: she insisted we try samples of all the yummy stews and curries before ordering all of which were delicious. Definitely one to try if six course taster menus aren’t within your budget but you still crave a foodie treat.
K is for Klima
While hanging out on a Monday evening in the rather lovely Art and Food (which exhibits canvases by renowned Czech artists Pavel Brázda and Michal Singer) Ivan Klima, Czech novelist, essayist and all-round literary hero, casually strolled in. Besides literary legend spotting, the affordable menu, friendly owner Vlastimil Svatý and regular live piano music make this a place worth visiting.
L is for Luka Lu
Without doubt Luka Lu, situated in the heart of Mala Strana’s main throughfare Újezd, wins the prize for wackiest décor. The overall impression is of a riot of colour reminiscent of a bad trip in Alice in Wonderland as chairs sit on the walls, harbour bells hang from the ceiling and a butterfly mural climbs up the wall of the courtyard. Go for the seafood though not just to admire the décor which is bound to brighten your mood.
M is for Music
What is it with the jarring dissonance between the classiness of a venue and the cheesiness of the soundtrack in this town? I don’t expect to hear Christmas tunes in February at a Michelin starred venue (yes, I’m talking about you Alcron) nor did I expect to hear jazz moods covers of U2 at a place that serves my food under a silver dome (take note Terasa U Zlaté studně).
N is for Napkin
You know a place is Michelin starred when every time you go to the bathroom, you return to find your napkin has been neatly refolded.
O is for Open Plan Kitchen
Foodie theatre is all the rage now: from Holešovice’s harbourside bistro Home Kitchen to the Michelin-starred La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise, the prep that used to take place behind the scenes has now moved to centre stage.
P is for Paul Day, aka Prague Foodie Hero
British chef Paul Day’s first Prague-based restaurant, Sansho, quickly became a local legend thanks to its melt in the mouth pork belly, crab sliders and sticky toffee pudding. Paul, who originally trained as a butcher, then set up The Real Meat Society which offers T-bone steaks, gammon and bacon to Czech and expat carnivores alike. Last November, Paul opened Maso a Kobliha (aka Meat and Doughnut), a pub/butchers opposite Sansho on Petrské náměstí serving up scotch eggs, venison pie and ox tongue sandwiches. The local culinary scene would doubtless be a duller place without this Prague foodie hero.
Q is for Quail
There’s not much meat on this bird but that doesn’t stop it appearing again and again on Prague’s upscale menus. The best? Quail risotto at Le Grand Cru where chef Jan Punčochář, formerly head chef at Le Terroir, is now at the helm.
R is for Red Pif
Ever wondered what a glass of vino produced in France by a Czech expatriate might taste like? Head to Red Pif and find out. Chatons de Garde, a full-bodied biodynamic red produced in the Ardèche by Czech vinter Andrea Calek is the one to ask for.
S is for Salabka
A restaurant with its own vineyard right next door, gourmets will find Salabka is worth making the trip to the slopes of Troja for. Our waiter couldn’t resist giving us an impromptu tour of the distillery – and a couple of free glasses of víno to sample. The food – which the blurb on the website dubs ‘cuisine de soleil’ – is superlative.
T is for Taster Menu
It’s great to have the chance to sample six or for greedy gourmets visiting La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise, eleven, of a chef’s best creations but I did sometimes find myself hankering after a normal portion complete with a couple of sides. No, please, don’t pity me.
U is for U Modré Kachničky
As the name – which translates as At the Blue Duckling – suggests, this place’s piece de la resistance is, duck. I’ve no complaints about the poultry (although 500 CZK it was rather overpriced) but the somnambulant waiters and explosion-in-an-antiques-shop décor gave the place a creepy Addams Family vibe which means I won’t be back.
V is for Views
W is for Waistline
Yes, it did expand – a little – but then again, I’m the kind of gal that can’t resist dessert.
X is for X-Factor
When eating out the x-factor for me is genuinely warm (rather than obsequious and fawning) service. The prize for this goes to the waiter who served us one Sunday afternoon in Kastrol: he displayed an adorable level of enthusiasm when praising the creaminess of the kujada soup unparalled by restaurant staff I encountered elsewhere.
Y is for Yeast
Radek Kašparek, head chef at new kid on the gourmet block Field has a quirky signature dish: a yeasty sauce made from bread dough (omačka od chlebový kvašek).
Z is for Zenith
What was the zenith of my culinary odyssey? Tough call. Corny as it sounds, I think the biggest lesson I learned from the times I had to dine alone like an abandoned fiancée is that its not what’s on your plate as much as the person on the chair in front of you which makes a great dining experience.