I’m not going to write about goulash and pig’s knees. Restaurants in the tourist areas of Prague bombard you with signs advertising these traditional Czech dishes. Tourists sit at sidewalk tables with ginormous plates of meat and mugs of beer in front of them. And everyone is happy, so I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat goulash and pig’s knees in Prague…they are delicious. But I’m not going to write about them because there is so much more to Prague’s restaurant scene.
Get outside of the Old Town and you will find the restaurants of a younger generation of Czechs. They embrace the same elements as other top food destinations, like using seasonal, local produce and applying modern techniques to traditional ingredients. Meat is likely to be locally sourced and perhaps even butchered by the chefs themselves. Tasting menus are replacing a la carte menus. Vietnamese food is hugely popular. There is a large Vietnamese population in Prague and good availability of Asian products. Hence, there are Vietnamese bánh mì and pho restaurants all over the city.
We wouldn’t have thought of Prague as a foodie destination until we experienced it for ourselves. We were delighted with the diversity of cuisines that we found. In fact, we had so many great meals that it was difficult to narrow down our list of favorites to just a few. Therefore, we present them in two parts so that we can give each one the detailed attention it deserves. Here in part 1, we share some unique dining experiences, including a new restaurant serving authentic Czech food that you order with your senses instead of reading a menu, an open air international street food market, casual Asian fine-dining, and a contemporary restaurant with a spectacular wine selection.
Although it is in an undeniably touristy area, Kuchyň doesn’t feel like a touristy kind of restaurant. It is located in Hradčanské Square next to the Prague Castle entrance. A discreet walkway next to the Salmovský Palace leads to the restaurant in the back. The long shaded terrace is protected from the crowds and offers a beautiful view overlooking the city.
Kuchyň means kitchen in Czech, and you will understand why when you arrive. They serve authentic Czech cuisine in a very unexpected way. There is no set menu. Instead, Head Chef Marek Janouch and his team cook up six main dishes each day and you choose by visiting the kitchen to see what looks and smells good to you.
The atmosphere is very modern, but the dishes are developed from recipes used in the kitchens of aristocracy dating back to the 16th century. Each day there is one salad, one soup, and one appetizer; they are optional, so you decide which ones you want or just get all three.
Kuchyň had been open for just one week when we visited in July. As it was 95 degrees that day, we skipped the soup, but ordered one salad and one starter to share between the two of us. The salad was sweet and sour marinated tomatoes, which was bright and refreshing in the hot weather. The starter was a mildly seasoned steak tartare, also a nice fresh option.
When we finished our starters, it was time to select our main courses. We followed our server into the kitchen where big copper pots were arranged on the central island. One by one, they opened each lid to let us look into the pot and take in the aromas inside. One pot might have goulash and another roasted pork or beef stewed in wine. Pay attention because it’s going to be a tough decision! There is also a selection of side dishes each day, which could include dumplings or potato pancakes.
Within minutes of returning to our seats, our dishes arrived to the table. The presentation was very simple, without much garnish, but everything was delicious. Our friend Mark’s schnitzel was the winner of the table, the thick piece of pork that was tender and juicy inside despite being breaded and fried.
We shared a dessert between the four of us and finished up with a shot of Slivovice (plum brandy, a traditional Czech distillate), a fitting ending to a unique experience. While you could work a meal at Kuchyň into a day touring the castle, it is worth the hike up the hill to visit the restaurant on its own.
Hradčanské nám. 186/1, 118 00 Praha 1
Possibly the coolest gastronomic experiences in Prague can be found in what used to be an empty lot next to the train station. The Manifesto Market opened this summer in June 2018. It is an outdoor market of international cuisines served street food style. Chefs, restaurants, and food vendors from around Prague have created pop-up locations in converted shipping containers. It is an entirely cashless environment, payment can only be made by credit card or payment App on your mobile phone.
When the New York Times published an article on the Manifesto Market in August, we felt a little proud to be able to say we’ve already been there. According to that article, the market was initiated by Martin Barry, an expat from New York and founder of the nonprofit urban redevelopment program called reSITE. Manifesto Market currently has a 2 year lease on this site, after which reSITE plans to move it to another district in Prague. In addition to food and drink stands, there are also shops for designers and art galleries. Frequent events include outdoor movies, music, cooking workshops, and art exhibits.
Grazing in a kind of food crawl seemed to us like the best way to tackle the scene. We like to grab a beer or wine and do a lap around the market to check out all of our options before diving in. We started at Wine Food, a pop-up of the Italian Wine Food Market in the Smichov neighborhood. A plate of sliced porchetta – roasted piglet seasoned with Italian herbs – and a glass of Italian rosado wine was a great beginning.
At Poke Haus, where you can build your own Hawaiian style poke bowl, we dug into a Tuna Turner poke bowl filled with fresh raw tuna, rice, and just about every topping available. Then at Yazu, we grabbed some Japanese beers and roast duck bao buns with hoisin sauce from their menu of Asian street food.
We could also choose among burgers and beer, fish tacos and margaritas, creative cocktails or gelato for dessert… enough variety to suit any craving.
Na Florenci, 110 00 Prague-Florenc, Czechia
Sansho is a local foodie favorite, as is British Chef Paul Day. The New York Times considered Sansho a “small-scale revolution” when it opened in 2011. The concept is Asian casual fine dining – try to get your head around that. Chef Day creates fine dining quality pan-Asian cuisine served in a casual atmosphere.
Sansho was also Prague’s first whole animal restaurant. Chef Day butchers his own meat, which is sourced from local farmers. Every bit of the animal is used, nose to tail. Day worked in butcher shops in the UK from the age of 13. He learned his culinary skills in London as a sous-chef at Michelin-starred Nobu and also spent time working in London’s Chinatown where he learned about Asian ingredients.
Inside the sparsely decorated dining room are big communal tables under plain white walls. We sat outside at one of the patio tables, where a 12th century church in the background provides the decor. Lunch dishes can be purchased a la carte, but dinner is served only as a six-course tasting menu. Dishes are served family style in the middle of the table to be shared. We were there for the dinner tasting menu, which included four starters and two mains plus sides.
We began with a lovely plate of seared salmon sashimi. The salmon was buttery soft, glistening with a sheen of sesame oil. That was followed by bite-sized clams with yuzu sauce and crunchy-soft pieces of beef tendon. Next, lamb rolls wrapped in betel leaves, a version of a popular Vietnamese snack, were full of flavors including lime, peanut, and chili spice.
Crunchy, fatty pieces of pork belly with hoison sauce and watermelon was an unexpected but delicious combination of salty-sweet flavors. I understand why this is one of Sansho’s most popular dishes. The last of the starters, a soft-shell crab slider featured crispy fried crab from Vietnam served on a springy bao bun with wasabi sauce.
The main courses were served family style to share. Duck with jack fruit and lamb with peanut sauce were placed on the table along with sides of veggies, jasmine rice and fried bread.
We were surprised to find that there was no dessert included with the tasting menu. Without that sweet touch to signal the end of the meal, we experienced momentary confusion. Nonetheless, the food was fantastic and it’s good to know that many of the same dishes are available a la carte for lunch.
Petrská 1170/25, 110 00 Nové Město
This spot has gone through several phases in it’s history under the name Monarch. It first was a wine bar, then a gastro-bar that served Spanish tapas, and now has been redesigned into a restaurant called Pohostinec Monarch since May 2017. (This is a good example of why you need to check the dates on restaurant reviews. If you come to Monarch expecting a wine bar with Spanish tapas you could end up very confused.)
Pohostinec Monarch is the more casual little sister to Grand Cru, a well-known upscale restaurant that is renowned for it’s wine list. Both restaurants are run by the Premier Wine and Spirits Group which is one of the biggest wine importers in Czech. Pohostinec Monarch also has an impressive wine list with about two dozen wines by the glass and hundreds by the bottle from Czech winemakers as well as wineries in Europe and the New World.
The food menu is small but interesting. Chef Jan Punčochář from Grand Cru co-created the menu along with Pohostinec Monarch’s head chef Jan Volšička. The focus is on traditional Austro-Hungarian and Czech cuisine with a modern spin and curiously, dry aged USDA-certified Black Angus steaks.
We started with a glass of rose wine and the veal tartar, which was very mild, garnished with crispy fried capers. We ordered the glazed carrots with honey, feta cheese and beets to include some healthy vegetables in the meal, and it turned out to be incredibly delicious. Warm, savory and sweet. To me, this dish was an ideal pairing with the dry rose wine.
To go with our mains, we moved on to a red wine from Artevini Winery in Moravia that was a blend of Frankovka, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The Mushroom dumplings were excellent, not heavy like most dumplings but gnocchi-like little pillows surrounded by a rich mushroom sauce and with fresh cheese shredded on top.
For a taste of authentic Czech food, we also tried the veal schnitzel which was served in the traditional style with tangy Moravian potato salad.
Na Perštýně 349/15, 110 00 Praha-Staré Město-Staré Město