Well of course you need my help on this one. Asking your Czech acquaintances about their favourite local-cuisine spots might sound like the most logical thing to do only until you learn that the answer is mostly ‘wherever they have an expiring Slevomat* voucher to’ and that those of your 30-something colleagues that still don’t live with their parents rely heavily on just about anything fried unconscious for both their lunch and dinner. Czechs tend to like their food cheap and plentiful, a combination that often results in rather unfortunate restaurant experiments which in turn give them excellent rant stories to ruin everyone’s day with – a true win-win.
All my PMSy bitterness aside though, I thought why not treat you guys with a list of my favourite Czech cousine havens this week – places that manage to get it right in soothing my comfort food cravings as well as make a good impression on any guests life throws at me, all that without being tourist-trappy. Enjoy!
* CZ version of Groupon – a website to sell discount vouchers
Lokál – with several outlets around the city – is a safe bet if you wish to get a civilised taste of the authentic Czech pub culture. The idea was to re-create a traditional pub with a heavy focus on excellent draught beers straight from the tanks while at the same time setting the pub-food bar unprecedentedly high: Lokál’s chefs are just the right people to help you reminisce of the good old 1980s when eehhvery Czechoslovak wedding reception menu had ham with whipped horseradish, chicken soup and schnitzel on it. Amazingly, you can go crazy on all Czech food here (including black pudding with sauerkraut, bread dumplings, goulash or lečo – a tomatoey summer dish that they cutely translate as ratatouille!) without having to worry about additives, artificial fats or flavourings and meats of questionable origin. Lokál has one of the best meat suppliers (Kšána) and is absolutely nazi about using honest, fresh and locally produced ingredients.
(I can also recommend this place to any of your low self-esteemed female friends as the butch atmosphere of no-frills, sausage galore (no pun intended) and a really attractive beer menu tends to fill the place with mostly men every night. They’ll think it’s Christmas!)
Lokál Dlouhá, Dlouhá 33 (metro B: Náměstí Republiky)
One of the biggest threats to my waistline, this patisserie/café is shamelessly close to my apartment while at the same time continuously producing some of the best traditional cakes in the city. Pop by for a slice of the dandy atmosphere of the 1920s (including the furniture and the music!) and discover the patisserie world way before macarons, crème brûlée and raw cheesecake took over. I never, ever leave without their fantastic ‘větrník’ (a yummy thing i cannot be bothered to try to translate for you right now as it’s really late and I have an early meeting tomorrow) although the punch cake is a close second, and often end up ordering their retro cakes for parties etc. They really are about a zillion times better than those by Hájek (the most popular local cakery) and contain no-nonsense ingredients. Their homemade whipped cream tastes like r̶a̶i̶n̶b̶o̶w̶,̶ ̶u̶n̶i̶c̶o̶r̶n̶s̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶p̶i̶n̶k̶ ̶c̶l̶o̶u̶d̶s̶ ̶c̶o̶m̶b̶i̶n̶e̶d̶ the real thing and is expected to be included in the Unesco heritage list any moment now.
Kavárna Šlágr, Francouzská 72 (tram: Krymská)
Despite now officially being featured in the Michelin guide, this French- Czech restaurant located in a mainly residential Vinohrady neighbourhood is still extremely underestimated and definitely deserves more than one visit. If you need a cosy ambiance to go with your Czech food, look no more. Ola Kala has a simple charm of white wood walls, soft lighting, comfy padded benches and always a beautiful statement bouquet to dominate the space. An absolute must-try are their plum jam dumplings with gingerbread crumbs (extremely scrumptious and if you are me, extremely childhood memory-inducing, too), their chicken soup with liver gnocchi and the beautifully crispy soft trout with mashed potatoes. Ola Kala Bistro, Korunní 48 (metro: Náměstí Míru)
Krystal is another place I feel completely comfortable taking any of my guests to (see my review here). Their incredible talent to cook seasonally and incorporate even non-cool ingredients like horseradish, rillettes or even the traditional dill sauce into extremely tasty and most of all sexy creations never ceases to amaze me. Krystal might not be cooking Czech-only but their take on ‘Beef Svíčková with creamy sauce, cranberries and herb dumplings’ (Czech ultimate national treasure) is one of those that leaves you wanting to lick the plate (or licking it, really, just tell them you a) come from a Russian peasant family b) collect pictures of licked-out plates for an edgy exhibition in Norway). Also, if the heavenly apricot dumplings with fresh cheese are on the menu, consider yourself very, very lucky as I have been systematically trying to eat them up ever since they introduced them a couple months ago.
Bistro Krystal, Sokolovská 99 Karlín (metro B: Křižíkova)
I took my dad here the last time he came to see me and he loved it. Perhaps a bit too much, judging by the number of beers he managed to down during those two hours we spent there and the fact that I have been specifically asked to keep the digits a secret. To be fair though, Nota Bene’s carefully selected beers from tiny Czech breweries are a huge hit among the local beer connoisseurs and the modern Czech cousine they choose to pair them with is so outstanding that I have fallen in love with this place even though I never really understood the concept of beer in the first place (I mean, surely noone genuinely likes it for its taste?).
Yes, I might have started popping by a lot more often ever since this cool guy I met at a party the other day happened to mention NB as his favourite hangout (it’s just that he forgot to take my number), but I insist that their chef is a legit godlike creature and even though they do not have a fixed menu and cook from whatever is currently in season, the surprise is always an incredibly pleasant one. Make sure you have the rabbit if available!
Nota Bene, Mikovcova 4 (metro C: I.P.Pavlova)
Also on my list of comfort food emergency stops: noodles with sugared poppy seed and melted butter by Noodles at Hotel Yasmin, semolina porridge with chocolate by Cafe Jen and Cafe Savoy‘s signature breakfast sponge cake with walnuts.