With so many comings and goings on the cutthroat restaurant scene, it’s heartening to see an old favorite climb its way back on to the forefront. Despite being in the almost invisible locale of the ill-fated (but well-regarded) Artisan, on a quiet back street bordering on the Kinsky Gardens in Prague 5’s sliver of Malá Strana, the newly opened Atelier Red & Wine builds on the reputation of its namesake Atelier, which closed in Vrsovice years ago.
Atelier Red & Wine is off to a refreshingly strong start in its new incarnation, and its well-considered seasonal menu is full of skillful, eloquent pairings that make a bold impression. And, of course, there’s a thoughtful wine list, which runs the gamut from very affordable Moravian bottles (around 400 CZK) to higher-end, treat-worthy French vintages (1,500 CZK and up); there’s also a daily offer of 10 to 12 wines available by the glass, and it’s possible to BYOW for a negotiable corkage fee. Some of the former Atelier-ers came here by way of Celeste, the fancy spot atop the Dancing House, but thankfully here the high standards are focused on the plates and the impeccable service without the stuffy atmosphere.
The restaurant benefits from the same intimate rooms as Artisan, with the latter’s cappuccino-and-orange hues replaced by namesake reds in the lamps, bar counter, tea light holders, and the warmly lit display of wine bottles on the wall by the entrance. Out back, the small garden patio faces out onto a leafy courtyard, where the background sound of a waterfall adds to the peaceful vibe. We sat out there on a weekend lunch visit, moving from a sun-soaked table that overheated quickly to the welcome shade; the waiter said an order of umbrellas is expected soon. At a dinner visit, the background music was loungey, and the tables soon filled out with amiable groups of friends.
Service on both visits was more than able, professional, and friendly, although it seemed a bit unnecessary that a separate waiter was tasked with presenting and collecting the salt and pepper shakers before and after each course. Otherwise, we appreciated the server’s seamlessly accommodating a member of our table’s dietary concern – the raw egg in the Caesar salad dressing. The Caesar didn’t miss a beat without it, actually, and was still one of the nicest in town, although it was a bit misleadingly listed as an appetizer and would more than suffice as an entrée salad for one. The shredded Romaine was without wilt, the dressing pungent from anchovy without being too garlicky, and the sliced chicken breast was tender with a lemony kick. The slivers of bacon, too, were thick, smoky, and salty – a cut above the unfortunate anglicka slanina that is too often a first resort for kitchens here.
At dinner, our complimentary plate of crusty bread, with a pleasant hint of sourdough, came with a lovely basil cream cheese, like a smooth, creamy pesto with an aromatic lick of garlic. Once that was scraped clean, a jug of olive oil was brought for the remainder of the bread.
From among the other starters, which also included items such as sardine-and-mackerel rillettes (158 CZK) and glazed Prague ham (184 CZK), the smoked butterfish (189 CZK) stood out as an inventive pairing. The thick slab of the milky-colored, meaty fish, smoked in-house, was perfectly matched with a scoop of lightly herbed potato salad and a cold poached egg that broke open at the touch of a fork and oozed over all. It was also a hearty portion, artfully leaned together.
The mains were just as successful, and just as hard to fault. A fillet of mackerel (328 CZK), nested on a bed of buttery shaved carrots and zucchini, was flaky and distinctive and relatively boneless. It came with a lovely mustardy jus flecked with estragon that matched the mackerel’s strength.
The beef entrecote was a good deal at 294 CZK, served with new potatoes indulgently fried in goose fat, and the steak was managed the all-too-rare feat (in Prague, at least) of being cooked evenly throughout, an exact medium, as ordered. The 200-gram slab had only a small band of gristle at the end, and needed no further accoutrement than the dusting of cracked salt and pepper on top. A small bowl of homemade tartar sauce, studded with chopped capers, went nicely with both.
Gnocchi with mushrooms and peas (224 CZK) made for a perfect springy lunch. The homemade pockets were filled with a paste of aromatic forest mushrooms and were light without being gummy. A vibrant puree of peas, with a few whole ones, sat underneath, and a potato foam fluffed on top; the sunny combination washed down with a glass of fresh cucumber juice (75 CZK). Tap water is available by the two-liter pitcher for 40 CZK, and we opted for lemon and mint in with the ice.
A heartier main, but still full of zest, was the rabbit shoulder (284 CZK). Stewed with sundried tomatoes, green olives, and salty speck, the meat – although fiddly to get to past the many small bones – was rich, tender, and incredibly juicy. Two wedges of buttery, robust grilled polenta, complete with char lines, mopped up the jus well.
It’s imperative to save room for dessert, as they are given (and deserve) as much attention as the rest of the menu. Out of the two sampled, the French toast (134 CZK) was the star, and well worth the 15-minute wait; dense, soft, and chewy with a dusting of powdered sugar, the two slices came with a dollop of tart rhubarb compote and a scoop of asparagus ice cream – a great combo. The cheesecake (84 CZK) struck a good balance with flecks of vanilla and a layer of stewed strawberries within, a drizzle of strawberry sauce lining the plate.
Atelier Red & Wine makes the most of an intimate space and garden patio that once found – despite its hidden location at the base of the Kinsky Gardens – beckons for return visits.
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