Written by Laura Baranik
Those who´ve lived in Prague for any extended period of time know that to find a consistently reliable fine dining establishment in the Czech capital can be tricky, if not impossible. My own family has spent many a Friday afternoon in heated arguments over which restaurant to attend that evening, my parents having blacklisted about half of Prague´s eateries for such irreparable offenses as overcooked spaghetti, meal mix-ups, and waiters who empty the whole Mattoni bottle into my mother´s glass (we can pour it ourselves, thank you very much).
One proposal that none of us is ever able to argue with is Kogo. Established in 1995 as a tiny pizza-pasta restaurant on Havelská, Kogo immediately impressed with its no-nonsense service, high-quality food, and relaxed ambience. A decade and a few price hikes later, it has tripled the size of its original restaurant, opened sister restaurants in Slovanský dům, Karlovo náměstí, and Bratislava, and become one of the most popular eateries ever to grace Prague´s often desolate culinary landscape.
I have a personal preference for the newly-renovated Kogo on Havelská – I find the decor more intimate and the service slightly better than at Slovanský dům – but others swear by the newer additions to the Kogo family. The menus, however, are virtually identical, so it´s really a matter of which atmosphere you prefer.
The Havelská Kogo has a sleek interior of black wood and peach-colored paint, as well as a quiet little outdoor courtyard and a somewhat less-quiet front patio. It also features a rather strange entryway to the toilets, in the form of an enormous pivoting door that seems to thrill most children and some of their more puerile (or tipsy) parents. The flowers are fresh, the tablecloths are clean, and the waiters are not only consistently attentive and polite, but also suspiciously good-looking.
All of the above indicates that whoever´s making the decisions here has some excellent taste, and that goes for the menu as well. Patrons can choose from a large selection of soups, salads, pastas, pizzas, meat dishes, and fish, all of which, surprisingly enough considering the lengthy menu, seem to reach the same high standard of quality. Admittedly, I am usually hard-pressed to order anything other than my favorite pasta dish, the tagliatelle rucola e gamberi (tagliatelle with arugula and shrimp, 224 Kč), which comes with a slightly pink tomato sauce, a handful of freshly shaved parmesan, and a generous amount of large, juicy shrimp. Another hit is the insalata frutti di mare (seafood salad, 256 Kč), a bed of lettuce loaded with fresh mussels, octopus, shrimp, and squid; for those who prefer their salads a little less fishy, the insalata rucola – pomodoro -grana padano (arugula, tomato, and parmesan salad, 192 Kč) or the colorful insalata di stagione (160 Kč) should do nicely.
A favorite of Kogo´s returning customers is the zuppa di fagioli con pancetta affumicata (bean soup with smoked bacon, 140 Kč), a decidedly non-Italian dish, and rather filling, but delicious nonetheless. The tomato soup is light and sweet, and perfectly accompanied by Kogo´s famous warm pockets of crusty bread. A great choice as an appetizer, the insalata peperoni con olio di oliva e aceto di balsamico (red pepper salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, 195 Kč) is less of a salad than an antipasto of warm red peppers garnished with feta cheese.
Kogo also makes some great risotto, such as the risotto ai funghi porcini (risotto with porcini mushrooms, 256 Kč) and the risotto al nero di sepia (risotto with squid ink, 256 Kč). Beware, however, of ordering any of the main seafood courses – the shrimp come unpeeled, and you´re likely to spend most of your meal digging through shrimp shell with greasy hands to find the tiny sliver of meat inside. If you´re craving some red meat, the juicy tenderloin steak (448 Kč) can be made in a variety of ways: with black pepper, mushrooms, almonds, green pepper, balsamic vinegar, or artichokes and herbs.
Pair your meal with one of their excellent Italian wines, ranging from inexpensive but still quite pleasant at around 600 Kč, to a variety of more expensive bottles. Highly recommended with your steak (or otherwise) is the Vranac (560 Kč), a great full-bodied Montenegran red.
For dessert, try the delicious ricotta and strawberry cheesecake (85 Kč), or the unique walnut and chocolate Reforma cake (85 Kč), which comes drizzled with caramel sauce. As a refreshing complement to your cup of coffee, order the sorbetto al limone e fragole (lemon sorbetto with strawberries).
Aside from the fantastic food, Kogo gains credit for not being the type of restaurant to hustle you out of your chair as soon as you´ve put down your fork; whether you´re there for a quick business lunch or a lengthy romantic dinner, their waiters will stay attuned enough to their patrons´ body language to know when to bring the check. Why would we want it any other way?
Ristorante Pizzeria KOGO Havelská
Havelská 499/27, Praha 1
Tel. 224 210 259
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 8 – 23 h. Weekends 9 – 23 h.
Ristorante KOGO Slovanský Dům
Na Příkopě 22, Praha 1
Tel. 221 451 259
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday 11 – 23 h.
L´Angolo by Kogo restaurant lounge
Dlouhá 7, Praha 1
Tel. 224 829 355
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday 8 – 24 h.
Laura Baranik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was written in August, 2006.