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28 April 2017

72 Hours in Prague II: Where To Eat and Drink

This is the second of a series of three posts about my recent trip to Prague. You can also check out part I (things to see and do) and part III (speciality coffee).

As usual, I did a fair amount of speciality coffee research before my trip but didn't have much time to check out Prague's eating and drinking options. Luckily, I found the Prague Foodie Map online and after checking some of the coffee recommendations of the Taste of Prague team who put together the map, I decided that I had similar tastes and immediately paid €5 to download the guide. If you buy the digital version, you get a PDF and access to a special Google Map. You can also buy a hard copy in several shops and cafes in Prague. The PDF was a bit awkward to print and a little fiddly to read on an iPhone, but I used the food, drink, coffee and shopping recommendations and more general tips throughout my stay and they never let me down. They also run food tours, which sound awesome but are a little pricey (2,700 CZK (about £85)).


Several of the Prague Foodie Map recommendations and indeed a few of the places we ate at are operated by the seemingly ubiquitous Ambiente empire, which seems to specialise in relaxed but hip eateries that will take you from brunch, to lunchtime burgers and pizza, to contemporary reinventions of the neighbourhood pub and a full on tasting menu. You can see their full offering here.

I tried to sample as many local dishes as possible but meat and particularly a wonderful breed of butcher's shop/bistro hybrid that I've not seen elsewhere is at the heart of Czech food, so I don't feel too guilty about eating burgers on two occasions. Finally, if you are looking for beer recommendations, you've come to the wrong place: neither my mum or I like the stuff and didn't drink any while we were in Prague. Sacrilege, I know...

Breakfast/brunch
Eska (Pernerova 63/49, Prague 8). We went for breakfast at Eska, a cafe in the trendy Karlin neighbourhood, on a sunny Sunday morning. Although we arrived before 10 am, we were lucky to get a table without a reservation, but I was pleased that we got to sit at the communal table with a great view of the open kitchen and the coffee bar. The weekend brunch menu was great — I had divine scrambled eggs on house-baked bread and my mum had the Czech breakfast (bread with four different toppings). Freshly baked bread and sweet treats are also on sale; I had a buchty (sweet bun) with a hazelnut filling for pudding. There was a lovely relaxed atmosphere, the staff were friendly and the coffee (from Czech roaster NordBeans) was delicious. Website. Instagram.



Cafe Lounge (Plaská 615/8, Malá Strana, Prague 5). The closest speciality coffee spot to our hotel, Cafe Lounge was an obvious spot for breakfast on our first morning in Prague. The sister cafe to EMA Espresso Bar, Cafe Lounge has a full kitchen and serves food all day alongside excellent espresso and hand-brewed filter coffee from a rotating selection of European roasters. The weekend brunch menu had lots of great choices but we went full hipster with the avocado and poached egg on toast, which was very nice indeed. We arrived soon after the 9 am opening time, but I can imagine it gets busy during the brunch rush. Website. Twitter. Instagram.


Sisters (Dlouhá 727/39, Prague 1). A tiny but very Instagrammable sandwich shop in the Old Town specialising in chlebíčky (open-faced sandwiches not dissimilar to the Danish smørrebrød). I tried one with salmon and one with beef, while my mum had a couple of veggie options — the beetroot and goat's cheese was certainly the prettiest. They were very reasonably priced and delicious. Website. Twitter.


Bakeshop (Kozí 918/1, Prague 1). Just a few blocks west of Sisters, Bakeshop is a popular cafe-bakery that is known particularly for its sourdough bread. We went for soup and cookies one lunchtime and although it took us a while to find a table, the food was very good, even if I did accidentally order a mini ("regular") cookie instead of a regular ("large") one. There's another, smaller branch in Malá Strana, near the Kafza Museum (U Lužického semináře 99/22). Website. Twitter.


Lunch/dinner (mainly meaty)
Naše Maso (Dlouhá 39, Prague 1). We walked past Naše Maso on our first afternoon in Prague and there was a big queue even at 2:30 pm on a Friday, so we went to Sisters (see above) for lunch instead. We returned on Monday, though, to sample the hamburgers and they were indeed awesome. There is a (meat-centric) English menu outside and once you make it through the door, you can pick your meat from the butcher's counter and either take it home or pay a grill fee for the staff to cook it for you. I don't regret my burger choice but the steaks and the meatloaf I saw also looked great. There's beer on tap too (not quite cheaper than the water on tap...). Fast food at its finest. Website. Instagram.



Kantyna (Politických vězňů 5, Prague 1). We tried to visit Ambiente's newest restaurant — a hip, fun take on the Czech neighbourhood pub/butcher's counter concept (if there is such a thing — on our first night, which happened to be a Friday. We arrived, hungry, around 8:00 pm and the hostess essentially sent us away saying that there were no tables until at least 10:00 pm but they didn't take bookings. When we returned to find the place much calmer on Sunday evening, we understood why: the ordering system is quite complicated for foreigners and most of the staff didn't speak English well, so they probably figured we wouldn't have coped on a frenetic Friday night.


It works like this... Take the menu/scorecard from the host(ess) when you arrive — each person needs their own card — and find a seat at an available table. You can order drinks from the bar (take your card with you so that they can mark what you've had) and starters and pre-cooked meats from the deli counter opposite the bar. If you want a burger, steak or other cut of the meat, head for the butcher's counter near the entrance and order there; you can pick your meat and they will cook it for you. We ordered a beef carpaccio to start but it ended up arriving after our main courses so they let us have it for free, as we didn't really want it anymore. It was really tasty, as was my burger, and my mum's pork chop, which she said was the nicest she'd ever had. We had a couple of sides too, and the drinks were reasonably priced (there aren't many non-beer options, but they did have OMG Gin, which I tried in Sorrento last year).



Once you know how it works Kantyna is a really fun, relaxed place to eat and drink and a very Czech experience, in a very cool restaurant. Maybe don't take your vegetarian friend though... Website. Instagram.

Kolkovna Celnice (V Celnici 1031/4, Prague 1). After being turned away from Kantyna on Friday night, we tried a few other places on my list, none of which had any tables. I was worried we might never eat (do try to book a table for Friday nights — ideally somewhere cool outside the city centre), but we were seated at the Celnice branch of Kolkovna, a large Pilsner eatery with a large menu of Czech classics, within about 20 minutes. I didn't think much of my 'Tom Collins' (gin and lemonade) but at about £3 for almost a pint, I couldn't really complain. The food was good with big, good-value portions. I tried the beef shoulder with pumpkin mash and my mum had the 'Moravian sparrows' (pork). There was a lively — but not too OTT — atmosphere on a Friday night and I liked the industrial-chic decor. They also have several other locations in the city. Website.



Lokal (Míšeňská 66/12, Prague 1). The Ambiente group's modern take on the Czech pub concept, with several locations in Prague. One of them was a block from our hotel so after failing to get a table on Friday night, we went for a hearty lunch on Saturday. It was busy but a bit calmer at lunchtime, and I enjoyed my roast duck with dumplings. My mum felt she ought to order the deep-fried cheese (supposedly particularly good at Lokal), and although she liked it, she probably wouldn't feel the need to order it again. As at Kantyna, you get a drinks 'scorecard'. I just had the home-made raspberry soda, though, which I really liked. Website. Instagram.


Kogo (Havelská 499/27, Prague 1). We spotted this upscale Italian restaurant on Friday night on our search for a table, and decided to book it for Saturday evening. We shared a huge antipasti platter to start and then both had Dover sole, which was cooked to perfection. I had a couple of cocktails and they were both prepared nicely. This would be a good option if you feel like a change from the meat-heavy Czech fare but don't want to splash out for or haven't booked one of the fancier tasting-menu restaurants, like La Degustation and Field. Website.


Drinks
L'Fleur (V Kolkovně 920/5, Prague 1). We only went to one cocktail bar while we were in Prague, but we picked a good 'un. The bar has influences from both New York and Paris and is beautiful, intimate and understated — we sat at the bar to watch the superb mixology in action. The cocktails were all inspired by the Louvre collection. I had a 'Follow the Freedom' (cognac, Champagne, lavender and smoke) and a 'Parfum' (jasmine-infused gin, rose lemonade and lemon), and both were really top notch — a real sensory experience in both cases. The Hemingway Bar and its trendier younger sister Cash Only Bar were also on my list of places to try. Website. Instagram.



Snacks and sweet treats
OK, so the Prague Foodie Map folks repeatedly warned against the purchase of the ubiquitous trdelnik cakes — a sort of hollow, chimney-shaped cake, served with some combination of cream, nuts, chocolate and ice cream — in part, because they are not Czech but Transylvanian. I had hoped to buy a gourmet version (they would go down well at Maltby Street Market, my local street food market) but this proved impossible so I paid about 70 CZK for one doused in a synthetic caramel sauce. It wasn't unpleasant but it was way too big and a little sickly.


For a really delicious Czech treat, look out for the věneček (pronounced veh-neh-check), which looks like a doughnut but is made of choux pastry and filled with cream. I had an amazing peanut version at Misto, which was possibly the best thing I ate all weekend. Cafe Savoy is supposed to be a great place to try these and other pastries. Buchty (sweet buns) abound too.



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