The pandemic travels and rare opportunities: the empty treasures of Prague

Traveling during a pandemic is not safe, yet many of us were tempted to get our heels off our boring homes whenever it was legally possible. I will share my vivid while safe Covid journeys in a separate story, but here I will share the beauty of space gifted to us wherever we found ourselves during that ominous year. Pandemic travels are unique in their nature of vastly emptied streets, cyclists abound and parks more busy with locals than just kids and serious runners.

Rare opportunities must be seized otherwise they pass without us having that slice of this uniquely delicious cake. So I had never crossed the centuries old stone bridge as many times in a day as I did over the summer 2020. Still, I was not overfed on the sweetness of its architectural beauty that meets the natural landscape in such a delightful balance. What an expansive sense of joy can a walk in your own city reverberate!

The bright summer gap before the vicious virus returned in a disregarded force had offered rare glimpses of welcomed spaciousness to savvy travellers. As we were allowed to travel, we could choose from the limited packet of safe places to visit. More, those tiny beautiful destinations in recent decades overrun by mass tourism, were almost empty. As if turning back the clock, a few locals grazed the narrow cobbled creeks around the Old Town Square early mornings the past summer and the Charles Bridge. Holiness of the place itself revealed thyself in the full spectre of a brightly-lit miracle. Prague was all mine! Well, not entirely, yet that thought bloomed when the only two feet crossing over the medieval stone bridge belonged to me.

Such rare opportunities are the butter on the bread of the second millennium we live in. Pandemic travels are risky, but can be significantly made safer by adhering to a few savvy measures I share in a separate story that journals my cross-continental trips during Covid.

More, these rare opportunities do not land on your breakfast table. Nevertheless, you must see through the fog of time and ego. Only then the world viewed through the lens of a positive eye is where opportunities dance more realistically in front of you.

Now we are in spring 2021 and with no spontaneous sight of relief, there is only one bright chance for safer travels. First get vaccinated. Don’t be a fool since there is no gain in endangering your health but also others. Your loved ones and potentially many innocent people’s lives are at stake. The sooner you get the shot(s), the better for almost tourist-free tripping of your lifetime! I am fully vaccinated, and must confess I did not expect how my anxiety had accumulated in my heart until then. That immense sense of relief truly freed me. It is not those who avoid the jab, but those who did their little to protect our common interest — the safety of existence with other human beings.

I am immensely grateful for the rare opportunities the pandemic offered, yet I hope that this next summer, but realistically perhaps the further away summer 2022 the majority of the world will be vaccinated, so we can go back to business as usual. Traveling has the wanderlust recharged with wonderlust that enhances our experience in this finite world.


Tea Mountain: bringing Eastern tea stories to the hip Karlín in Prague

Tea Mountain is an authentic tea shop offering directly sourced teas from Asia, rare but highly desirable contemporary ceramics by artisan Czech potters and an urban buzz striping minimalist experience. Sipping tea in the thoughtfully designed tea room puzzled into the leafy Křižíkova street, streams a calm feeling into your mind, as if nodding that this is not just another whim of trends that recently flooded the bistro crazed Karlín. Tea Mountain has climbed the summit of mindful locals enjoying high quality tea, its aesthetic appreciation, but also attracts solo workers who found their laptops more pleasant in the cosy room’s relaxing embrace.
Tea Mountain PragueCzech pottery

Finding the yin of Karlín

Stretching alongside the snaking bends of the Vltava river, the hip Karlín has been adored by some and victimised by other residents of Prague, yet I feel the zen, the relaxed ease, immediately and every single moment when my feet march over the doorstep. The yin, calming sensation inside Tea Mountain is complementary to the yang vibe of the nearby Eska bakery and Czech restaurant or the coffee-centric Muj Salek Kavy. The Czech rotating trio of tea enthusiasts bring the eastern tea spirit to the hip Karlín hood. Tea Mountain as a shop and tea room was opened in 2013 by Martin Špimr, a basketball trainer and a family man, who after running a highly successful online tea business brought the experience to the cobbled streets of Prague. He regularly travels to the Eastern tea regions to handpick but also to participate in making tea.
Karlin Prahatea ware

Eastern tea appreciation stretching West to Prague

What greets you inside the soberly sized tea room is a wall filled with clay caddies, artisanal Czech and Asian pottery, a handful of bare tables and a wood tea counter stocked with eastern classics but also some rather unusual pickings. Teas from China, India, Japan, Nepal, Taiwan, but also from Georgia, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam seasonally appear on the evolving menu. Some Camellias were brought in such tiny quantities that you might be the only customer bringing it home. You can get wild or by humans habituated tea cultivars at Tea Mountain, but the owner has a penchant for oolong. The choice from these semi-fermented teas is immense, and rare to see anywhere in Europe. From the quirks, alluring is the vintage oolong aged in lemon skin, which turned too lemony to my purist taste (carve it out with a pu-er cake breaking knife), but the three and even four decades old Taiwanese teas re-roasted under various conditions were more my cups of contemplative tea (except for the wet clothes, chalk and dust taste of the Tie Guan Yin 1981 vintage).
Tea caddy tea cupVintage tea aged tea

The treasures from Tea Mountain

You won’t find many flavoured teas or tea blends at Tea Mountain. The very high quality Earl Greys are worth exploring. The Nepalese cultivar is particularly intriguing, and the neroli is just fragrant enough, not overpowering the perfect cool afternoon tea. One of the best Earl’s I have tasted. Still, I like the pure classics in their best quality, like the Rock tea from Wu-Yi, the Dong Ding and Tie Guan Yin oolongs of the Fujian mountains, the excellent white tea like Bai Mu Dan not just from Southern China but also others from Taiwan and India. From the Indian Darjeeling I adored the Jungpana Muscatel Wonder. Ideally brewed shortly (1-2min) so it does not get bitter, and you will discover marzipan and sweet almond nose with velvety smooth, like a soft feather cushion mouth enveloping taste, marigold and muscat aftertaste.
tealemon teatea time
Some of the rare experimental styles of white tea that captivated my palate there was the pure, white flower garden with tangerine scented milky smooth, sweet and deep herbal notes Lin Yu Chi Ruby Xin Bai Cha. Tea Mountain shares every detail about each tea harvest, the precise garden or origin and the process on its website. Not many tea shops do so, perhaps only Song Tea and Ceramics in San Francisco would give you such a clear insight into what you are buying. The young farmer Mr Lin has picked the two winter leafs and the young tips of the TTES 18-Ruby cultivar in January, let them wither for 72 hours, gently rolled and dried in warm air oven. Then, the leafs were baked on wood coal, which is the new style originating in the 1960s Fujian province in China. It comes from the Yuchi area in Nantou Province, not far from Sun Moon Lake that is more known for its black tea. Transparency creates loyal customers like myself. For Christmas, I got a white tea named the “brows of long age” bought by my Prague-based [wine] sommelier sister, a frequent customer, who often advises me on her favourite finds at the Tea Mountain. As the tea room became our grounding reunion sanctuary before our vinous adventures at night, she navigated me through their exciting collection. Growing organically in the capital Taipei area (San Xia about 400 m above the sea level) the San Xia Chin Shin Gan Zai Shou Mei was a very limited production of Mr. Wang Wei Chen. On the sun lightly dried for just couple of hours, and then for three days withered leafs, express the natural aromas of the local Chin Shin Gan Zai cultivar of the Camellia. The gentle, yet fragrant aroma of dried meadow flowers, honey sweetness, and long pleasant summery fruity aftertaste please my mind and taste buds on special occasions. During the summer, when I need to cool down, I get the newest spring harvest of Japanese sencha, gyokuro or other steamed green tea from the region.
aged tea

A holistic tea lifestyle experience

For me visiting Tea Mountain is a multiple pleasure. The water used for brewing tea in the tea room is either partially filtered though osmosis, or more often Czech spring water sourced in Zdislav from Jablonne well in Podjestedi is used, either makes the tea tasting better. Environmental responsibility is also considered since most of the cleaning products for the pots and cups are certified organic, “bio” in Czech. Each time peaking at the new precious acquisitions of the aged pu-er cakes and bricks and dipping my nose to catch a whiff of the almost five decades old oolongs stored in clay pots, my tea soul is amused. These precious teas are often sourced in minuscule quantities during the friendly encounters of Martin Spimr with the tea producers in their countries of origin. He also discovered some talented Czech potters like Martin Hanus, Martin Hadrava and Jiri Duchek who occasionally exhibit and sell their tea ware and vases at Tea Mountain. This summer, I came just a day after the opening exhibition and most of the gorgeous, globally competitive, pieces were sold out. Only some little jewels still awaited to be added to my personal collection of tea cups, so I am glad to add the first pieces of Czech-made ceramics into my growing international collection. Now, that I can sip the tea in my country’s creative spirit, I feel that my aesthetic and spiritual encounters with tea are more complete.
Křižíkova 488, 186 00 Praha 8 – Karlín, Czech Republic

Mon – Fri: 11am – 8pm; Sat & Sun: 2:30pm – 8pm

+420 604 386 963
 


Eska: searching for Czech authenticity in Prague through food

Eska bakery and restaurant in Karlín is Prague’s upscale echo of San Francisco’s Tartine Manufactory. A must go for foodies interested in made-from scratch, baked, fermented, and pickled slow-food made in Prague principally from local ingredients. The hipster hood of Prague, while rejuvenating itself rapidly in recent years, Karlín is now accommodating locally working youthful middle class. Far from being edgy in the Mission district of San Francisco vibe, the flat bed of Karlín stretching between the Vltava River and Žižkov hill benefited from the influx of growing companies into its central, yet tourist-free homeland.
Eska Praha KarlinEska design Praha Karlin

Rural tradition transformed into contemporary Czech food at Eska

Save for salt, the landlocked country can pursue the abundant, hyper-local, farmers produce from the Czech rivers, meadows and hillsides. You won’t find mangos, seafood and other for the Czechs exotic ingredients on the menu at Eska. Rotating seasonally, the menu follows the sun, the moon and the thermometer. Residing in Central Europe makes winter more challenging so veggies are pickled, dairy is fermented and fruit is transformed into jams and marmalades. The marmalades appear in the Baker’s breakfast and other Eska breakfast sets. This is creative Czech cuisine on steroids, but also for this reason“if you are gluten or lactose intolerant do not come here”, warned the open-minded waiter during my recent meal at Eska.
I came for brunch, dinner and to get some bread, Czech made chocolates and fresh dairy. The butter, beaten steadily into its sticky, dense and fatty form directly on the premises, is excellent.
maslo Eska Praha KarlinEska Praha Karlin
From the beech wood-fired oven come two types of organic sourdough that you can buy to enjoy at home or nibble on while indulging in one of the seasonal plates at Eska. The head baker Aleš Karpíšek lets the loafs rest for at least 14 hours prior to baking, and his sourdough slow-grower is beloved so much in the Czech capital that some casual eateries and wine bars sell or serve his bread. Moist, with some holes in the centre and a crunchy chewy crust are its signature traits.
The chef Martin Štangl had evolved his naturalist Czech cuisine philosophy during nine years as a sous chef at the Michelin stared La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise. At Eska, he serves more generous portions and also more approachable, simple fare. Still, common Czech food is “transformed beyond recognition” as most plates are masked by a veil of delicious mystery. Like the signature Potatoes in ash, smoked fish, dried egg yolk, kefir. The creamy kefir and grated egg yolk (California chefs like Jeremy Fox like using it too) entirely cover the baked potatoes that nest in an indigo patterned Japanese style bowl. Generous, yet easily digestible vegetarian main course, that will sate almost any hungry eater. More bread satisfies the huge appetite.

Trendy and sustainable nuances

While supporting sustainability, filtered tap water is served, but charged for, which I find ridiculous. Like in Northern America and increasingly in contemporary trendy restaurants in Europe now root to leaf, the waste-reducing use of vegetables haloes on the menu at Eska. Potato skins, carrot tips, fennel fronds, all pop in the plates.
Also, nose-to-tail eating supporter, Amaso supplies the meat including the traditional Czech breakfast sausages (párky). You can buy the Frankfurters, a blend of beef and pork meat in a long slim sausage at Naše maso, the most popular butcher in the city. At Eska the sausages are served simply and traditionally with homemade mustard, horseradish and bread. Naše Maso like Eska, La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise, Bokovka wine bar, Café Savoy, and many other well-known food and wine hotspots are owned by Ambiente, the most significant player in the restaurant business in Prague.
Another breakfast and brunch favourite is the Omelette with either spinach, cheese, ham or mushrooms. Perhaps the best omelette in Prague, it is also the priciest (when omitting the five-star hotels breakfasts).
Stalking the menu online will only give you a hint of what to expect since some dishes change with the chef’s mood and the daily availability of the ingredients. My recent brunch involved the bold Carrots cooked in hay with mustard ice cream and brown butter, and the superb Steamed smoked catfish. This locally caught river fish rarely appears on the Czech menus since it is a noble fish scarce in the country. Perfectly smoked, the fragrant loin with pickled red beets was snowed in the green lettuce cap seasoned with the beet juice and dill. The staples on the modern menu that I found and tried in summer and also late in winter are the exquisite Potatoes in ash and a modernised popular vegetarian plate eaten by the Czech Christian families traditionally on Fridays, the Fermented red wheat, black trumpet mushrooms topped with runny egg. I had the hay carrots prepared differently with parsnips in fall, so ready yourself for little pleasant surprises.
Desserts run mostly on the Slavic nuances such as the Honey pie served with rum mousse or the Semolina pudding with apple and a healthy addition of sea buckthorn (rakytník). The current wave including vegetables in sweet defiles at restaurants sailed from the popular Dirt Candy in New York to Prague. White asparagus with sheep’s yogurt and crumble was on the menu in April, but I dared only to the classics such as the homemade sorbet with chocolate ice cream I enjoyed in summer.

In the mood for adventure? Try it all in the eight-course tasting menu or order the menu of five dishes selected for you by the chef Karpíšek. Served one by one and can be placed in the middle of the table, so you could share them with your company. Either can be accompanied with beverage pairings. The drinks menu will teach you about fermentation. Did you know that not just wine and beer, but also bread, cheese, chocolate, pickles and yoghurt all involve the organic chemical reaction when sugar is converted into alcohol or the sour tasting acids? The happy bacteria thrive and your digestion has a blast.
When you flip the food menu, you learn that in Czechia, formerly the Czech Republic and even deeper in the history Czechoslovakia, the flour grade is decided by how much ash = inflammable material, remains after burning the flour. The higher the number on the flour sack, the more whole-grains remained, thus more minerals and fibre to nourish your body. Two types of wheat-rye sourdough bread are baked at Eska. The classic darker skinned 33 loaf with 33% of rye and some 7% of added boiled potatoes and Vejražkový” 66 in which 66% of the flour is rye. The later is naturally lower in gluten than the classic Czech bread. Roasted local cumin is the staple ingredient in traditional Czech loafs. For a quick lunch or an office run off get the daily soup, open sandwiches, spreads or cold cuts at the café, also available to take-away. Although the bakery’s offer is not as complete as Joseph Bröt in Vienna, it remains authentic in its Czech core.
Fermenting and pickling pantry

Local supply and supporter of the Czech quest for quality by Eska

The concise yet constantly evolving, on natural wine focused wine list offers mostly Czech wines but also from the nearby European vineyards (Austria, Germany, Italy, and some French Champagne). best tea shop in central Europe by a mammoth leap, Tea Mountain supplies the green, oolong, white or black tea, depending on the season and choices of the barrister. At the counter café downstairs you can also buy locally roasted coffee beans from Doubleshot and Nordbeans. Supply your pantry with kefir grains to make your own lemonade (at Eska they make it with the cascara shells regularly, plus daily changing flavours), lovage-flavoured salt (sprinkled over the butter at the restaurant), Czech dairy, some vegetables, or indulge in typical Czech pastries such as the cream roll (kremrole) and during Easter the house “mazanec” almond coated breakfast loaf with raisins. Trained barristers prepare the perfect cup of coffee: drip, filtered, espresso, macchiato, cappuccino, flat white, the boozy Švejk´s coffee, chai latte spiked with the local spirit called Kontušovka, and other liquid temptations. Czech-made, superb quality organic chocolates by Ajala are also worth sinning. The cocoa was carefully roasted, ground by granite stone mill and of course “packed with love“. I felt the love in the 70% chocolate covered generously by a spiky carpet of crunchy cocoa nibs. Bokovka, the hip natural wine bar also offers the Ajala bars as well as the hot chocolate.
The towering workshop swing of a building is split openly into the bakery and café as you enter from the street and the main restaurant cum bar above. Well-travelled foodies may find the environment familiar. Swooped by the global design trend in dining – barring the walls, tables and the menus, while gushing with genuinely passionate emotions inhaled from the laid back service, Eska filled wholesomely the niche on the Prague’s constantly changing dining scene.
 Pernerova 49, Prague 8 – Karlín
+420 731 140 884
Mon-Fri: 8am-11:30pm; Sat-Sun: 9am-11:30pm


Best Prague's wine bars

Prague is my favourite city for a manmade beauty. It is known mainly for its beautiful architecture, cobbled narrow streets, vibrant night life and also as a great place to have a well-priced jug of excellent beer. The Czech Republic has also a long history in making wine and considering the recent enthusiasm of a creative bunch of small local winemakers, now it is also the perfect time to try a glass or two of Czech wine. Here, follows my critical selection the best Best wine bars in Prague where you can enjoy wines from Mělník, Moravia, but also from the neighbouring Austria, Germany and France, which was the initial impetus for one Czech king to plant the first vines in Prague some eleven centuries ago.

In the Velvet Revolution spirit, this metropolis in the central Europe has experienced another, yet wine revolution, recently. One can get high-quality local wines as well as international stars from France, Italy, Spain, California, Australia, Argentina, Chile, just to name a few. Some of the country’s oldest vineyards were also replanted.
I come to my country’s magnificent capital frequently, so I would like to share what I think together with my sister, a local sommelier, and her colleagues in the wine industry, the Best Prague’s wine bars.

Vinograf

At first, a tiny but so cozily snug wine bar in the vicinity of the ancient Charles Bridge, Vinograf reminds to be the most old Prague authentic of the wine bars in Prague. This is the place where you meet your friend for that casual evening out or finish your dinner after dining at one of the nearby restaurants (such as U Zlaté Studny = Golden Well). Here nobody cares if you wear a nice dress after a fancy dinner, or jeans with sneakers. This bohemian dress code remains one of the charms of Prague. Vinograf is co-owned by one of the most distinguished Czech sommeliers Klara Kollarova. She cut her wine teeth at the first Czech Michelin stared restaurant La Degustation Boheme, therefore attention to detail, be it very casual, is assured. Selected wines from smaller Czech and Moravian producers are the most attractive feature of her very first relaxed wine bar.
Best wine bars in Prague Vinograf
Now, the business is growing, as she opened a third location. The biggest Vinograf is conveniently cushioned from the human buzz around the Municipal House on Senovážné náměstí (disclosure: my sister works there as a sommelier) and another in Angel, the popular commercial shopping and office district. Both of the newer Vinografs are more contemporary, much larger and offer a wide selection of international wines next to an extensive food menu. The homemade duck pate and Czech farms cheese are must try. The experienced team of sommeliers (all of the staff are sommeliers and waiters in one) as well as a practical tablet wine list offer mostly mid-range priced bottles, but also tempting regularly changing wines by the glass.
Best wine bars in Prague Vinograf
 Míšeňská 8, Prague 1, Senovážné náměstí (square), Prague 2
 +420 214 214 681 | velky@vinograf.cz
 Old Vinograf: Daily 4pm-midnight; New locations open also for lunch Mon-Sat

Veltlín natural wine bar

Owned by Bogdan Trojak, also a wine maker, poet and writer, Veltlín is in the hands of a multi-skilled artist. The tiny wine bar cum boutique features wines by a group of the Czech natural winemakers who call themselves “Autentisté” (Authentic winemakers) as well as other wines made in the lands of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Wines made with the environment and the expression of the terroir in mind can be bought, tasted or savoured in long sips on the premises. All either low or containing no sulphites and other chemicals altering the wines’ natural character. During the warm season there are also tables outside. Sitting on a sunny day under the leafy trees, right on the pavement of the eclectic Křižíkova street in Karlin just feels so authentic, like a local resident hanging out at his wine canteen.
Best wine bars in Prague Veltlin natural wine bar Prague Karlin
 Křižíkova, Karlín, Prague 3
 +420 777 082 316  |  info@veltlin.cz
 Mon-Sat 5pm – 11pm

Bokovka

If you are really into wine and hanging out with the local wine trade than have a sandwich or hotdog at Naše Maso in the Gourmet Passage Dlouhá, a glass of Italian wine at the wine bar inside the passage, and then head around the corner to Bokovka. Under the wings of sommelier Roman Novotný, also like Klára an ex-sommelier at the Michelin stared La Degustation Boheme, the once creative friends’ wine club moved to a new rustic location of a courtyard with an art gallery. As the trained palates and creative heads of the local artists who co-founded Bokovka and sommeliers direct the inventory, here you come to drink a bottle or two, not just a glass. Novotný has penchant for natural wines, that he tends to stock on, but you will find many other bottles from around the world. From the Czecho-Moravian cellars I can recommend the whites from Dobrá Vinice, Jakub Novák the wines from Gala Vinařství, Sonberk, … and if you feel adventurous try some on the grape skin macerated orange wines. From the reds try the Czech grape varietal Frankovka or the Bordeaux Blend Skale from Pavel Springer. With the wine the cheese from the well-stocked “fromagerie” and small snacks like sardines with a slice of bread complete the hedonistic creative symposia held at Bokovka.
Best wine bars in Prague Bokovka

 Dlouhá 729/37, 110 00 Praha 1-Staré Město

The Augustine Hotel

Although more known for its creative cocktails and an incredible artisanal beer made according to the centuries old recipe of the resident Augustinian monks, the Lichfield Cafe-Bar at this five-star hotel is perhaps the most stylish bar in Prague. Its elegant interior with vaulted ceilings and very comfortable sofas is the nicest as well as the priciest place to have a drink. The staff is professional and has a variety of wines by the glass, just ask what they have as they change the selection quite often. Tapas and cakes are of top quality and perfect with either the wines or tea. The bar is usually not packed so it is an ideal romantic and elegant date cocoon. Plus, during the warmer months the vaulted garden of the monastery offers the ideal refuge with refreshments from the Malá Strana (Lesser Quarter) tourist crowds.
Hotel Bar at the Augustine in Prague
 The Augustine, Letenská 12/33, Prague 1
 As it is a hotel it’s open until very late, until the guests are drinking

Grand Cru

A romantic setting in a charming Baroque house and an ambitious wine project sets Grand Cru apart from its Prague wine siblings. The wine list is curated by the award-winning (best sommelier in the Czech Republic) Jakub Přibyl and is focused on the old world (European) wines, mainly from France. Most of the bottles come just from the best vineyards and producers. You will find older vintages of Mouton Rotschield and Château Latour with a reasonable mark-up, yet with a slight catch – the ‘shape’ of the wine is not guaranteed, so if the wine is oxidised, corked or in any other way defected you still have to pay for it. In Paris, there is a casual wine bar in the Latin Quarter taking a similar approach with their ‘last bottle’. Take it or leave it, there are still other wines waiting for you in the glass cellars set in the sturdy wall. Some bottles come from Germany, Italy as well as the Czech Republic, while about 10 wines are served by the glass (from the enomatic dispensers). Across a small garden, an international restaurant headed by the former chef from the gastronomic Le Terroir, is connected to the bar, and you can order small, often meaty, snacks of top quality with your wines. The homemade sausages are the highlight.
Grand Cru wine bar in Prague
 Lodecká 1181/4, 110 00 Prague 1
 +420 775 044 076
 Mon-Fri from 5pm-2am (weekends can be discussed)

The Winebar & brasserie 

A more modern design in a new location of the former romantic Winebar near the Petřín hill. For the hungry wine drinkers a selection of farmers’ cheeses, olives, hams and other wine-friendly delicacies including the casually Francophile main dishes such as steak tartare can accompany the wines. Although the wine span captures the main European vineyard regions, Burgundy has a special spot in the heart of the owners.
 Arbesovo Namesti 7, Prague 5
 +420 608 823 432
 Mon-Fri 12noon-3pm & 6pm-11pm; Sat 6pm-11pm
As in any big city, every year new businesses open, some are better, challenging the established Best wine bars in Prague, and this means that once in a while I come back to this selection and adjust it a bit. I have been changing this list for over five years now, but one wine bar still remains in the leading fleet – Vinograf, and it is not just because my sister works there, but as the online guest reviews confirm, this is not just mine biased opinion.


Sansho: Czech meat feast with an Asian twist in Prague

After opening Sansho in Prague in 2011 the locally transplanted chef, who stirred the local top quality grass-fed meat craze, has grown his food business in Prague by another eatery Maso a Kobliha and a boutique butcher’s shop (The Real Meat Society) planted off the tourist paths near the National Theatre. Paul Day is not only a chef but also a butcher so rest assured that you are getting the best meat available in Prague on your plate. The Englishman worked everywhere from London’s China town to Nobu at the Metropolitan hotel where he developed his passion for Asian food. Kitchen counter at Sansho in Prague
The atmosphere at Sansho is ultra casual, the communist Prague meets a contemporary casual pop-up. Bare interior equipped only with simple wood tables and some retro design accessories such as a coat hanger. The open kitchen concept connects the diners with the cooks. Simmering, bubbling and sizzling brings an authentic acoustic to the restaurant. The staff is off-beat and relaxed. Wear jeans and sneakers and you will fit in.Salmon new style sashimi at Sansho
The food at Sansho is honest, tasty and creative. There is no menu, but some staples have got to be served regularly over the years, and a la carte is served during lunch. The plates mostly change seasonally and even daily according to the local availability of ingredients and the chef’s mood. Sourcing directly from Czech farmers and the superb Vietnamese markets around Prague, using the entire animal, and option to choose from meat, fish or vegetarian menu make eating at Sansho exciting. Sharing plate style though calls for a diplomatic approach with your dining partners. Check the board outside the restaurant for daily specials before venturing in. Reservations are essential.
We usually order the tasting menu as it is a great value for money and it shows off the chef’s cooking skills at their best. Starting with New Style Salmon Sashimi, a tribute to the chef’s stage at the London’s Nobu, always assures me that high quality ingredients are the priority at Sansho. The fish is delicate, oil-based sauce refreshing and the white sesame seeds add depth and balance the salmon. If you do not order the tasting menu I highly recommend starting with this lightly seared Nobu style dish.
Crunchy Sansho Fritto Misto of fried and breaded seafood on a bed of mixed salad brings fish and chips to mind.Soft shell crab slider at Sansho
The crunchy and juicy Soft Shell Crab Slider tastes heavenly! The fried crab carcass sticking out from the delicate bao bun moistened with a tasty mayonnaise and crispy raw veggies waits for your generous bite. The Chinese and by Nobu inspire cuisine of these bao calls for a pint of Czech beer or a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc.
Vegetarians will appreciate the delicious Okra tofu sambal of a crisp tofu with green okra and fried onions. The tofu is deep fried to perfection so you may not recognise this soybean, Asian vegan version of cheese in it. The crunchy okra adds bitter touch, cucumbers with fresh spring onions zest and the fried onions a yummy depth. Vegetarian tasting menu can be ordered ahead.
Vegetarian fried tofu

The first nose to tail dining in Prague

The only dish I found boring was Rabbit with Wild Green Jungle Curry. It was very bland for all five of us, despite having different taste preferences. The Czech version of a rabbit in a cream sauce is much better.
Fatty meat lovers will love the Pork Belly with Water Melon and hoisin. It is made with juicy & fatty Czech rare breed Prestik pig. I can imagine Chinese diners indulging in this plate. The sweet watermelon is an original juicy partner to the pork belly and the hoisin sauce typical for dick dishes in China adds richness.
Pork belly with watermelon
The Mini Burgers of Beef and Pork were an absolute hit at our table. Succulent and mouth filling. These were one of the best mini burgers I have ever had. With the exception of those mind-blowing ‘miniperfections’ by the three Michelin Joël Robuchon.
Mini burgers
Our go back to favourite at Sansho is the Twelve hour baked beef rendang. This tender cooked beef delicacy is made with Czech dry hanged organic Aberdeen Angus and served either with rice or home-made roti bread. I prefer the pancake-like Indian roti with the grass-fed beef. I cannot eat at Sansho and not having it, so I off set my carbon footprint weeks ahead. Lamb version is also served as Lamb penang, roti, rice & greens.
Beef randang with roti
If you have space left for desserts then you will move across the pond west, far away from the shores of Asia. The deserts are inspired by the ultra-indulgent and rich American sweets.
I liked the most the Sticky Toffee Pudding, very rich and intense, but deliciously refreshed by melting ice cream. The Cheesecake is nice, but the super sweet caramel sauce on top was just a step too much. Cosy feeling were the Warm Chocolate Cookies with ice cream. Like a sweet burger or a snadwich, the cookies held the ice cream in between.
A cup of tea is a perfect balancing match to these intense sweets.
Deserts: Chocolate cookies, caramel cheesecake and sticky toffee puding
The wine list covers Europe, New Zealand and South America. The Czech wines are worth exploring though. We had an excellent and light Pinot Noir by Gala from the Morava region. The juicy strawberry and refreshing lightness of this Pinot promise a great bargain when compared to the red Burgundies on the list. The more intense red Italian wines are great with the pork as well as with the powerful deserts if tea is not what you want.
Cuisine: Pan-asian swinging far West – from Japanese and Indonesian to American on the desserts menu.
Visits: September 2011-2016
Price: A six-course tasting dinner menu from 900 CZK per person is a bargain as it includes lots of food. What I like about Sansho is that they source local water. A jug of filtered water with refreshing cucumber and mint costs on 10 CZK (about US$0.50).
 Tuesday-Friday lunch: 11am-3pm; dinner: 6pm-11pm; Saturday only for dinner 6pm-11pm; closed on Monday and Sunday.
 Petrská 1170/25,  110 00 Prague 1-Nové Město, Czech Republic
 +420 222 317 425


Secret of Raw: raw foodie underground stirs healthy revolution in Prague

Despite their iconic meaty plates, that the Central European cuisines are more known for, there are many vegetarians and increasingly also vegans conscious not only about animal welfare but also their own health. Many of these plant eaters dine out, but until recently had to struggle with having very limited options, often resorting to hipster eateries or a plate of risotto or a basic salad at most nicer restaurants. In Prague, there are plenty of vegetarian as well as some rather rare vegan dining options, yet the Secret of Raw was the first to introduce the “raw” concept to the Czech palates in this populous capital city.

Raw ding in Prague founder of Secret of Raw in Prague

What is raw food?

It is minimally processed and cooked or heated up to 42-47°C (the accounts vary), so the living enzymes that help us with digestion are largely unharmed. The nutritional value of these foods is higher than in cooked or conserved foods, and foodies appreciate their preserved aromatic abundant flavours.
At the Secret of Raw, the first raw restaurant in Prague co-founded by healthy food enthusiast Jan Plajner, the food is delicious as much it is packed with vitamins, minerals and other benefits. I quizzed him about the challenges and the highlights from his raw revolution, flourishing despite the whims of the Czech climate.

The new wave of healthy diners

The great news for restaurants like his is that the Czechs, including myself, in line with their neighboring Germans and Austrians, are more than ever interested in health and nutrition. It might pop out as a surprise to most other nationals, who fell pray to stereotyping, since these countries’ gastronomies are renown for their beer, white-flour- based dumplings and sugary strudel.
Yet, it is like in America, where not everyone eats hamburgers, or pizza is not the foundation of the Italian diet. It does not always mean that what is traditional and known to travellers, is also the daily bread of most of the country’s citizens. Although beer remains high on many male Czechs and Germans liquid scale, more juices and tea is consumed than ever before. Today, increased education and access to information about food’s effects on our health, nag the minds of more families and individuals about what they eat and how they can improve their lives with the right foods.
At the Secret of Raw the staff recognised the potential of a healthy makeover of some of the heavyweights of the Czech table. For example svickova, the iconic dish every Czech woman has to master before getting married, has had a meatless and cream-free twist. Grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables were used in its preparation instead of beef, white flour and heavy cream sauce.
Healthy Czech svickova at Secret of Raw in Prague

Raw ideas for the Czech taste buds

The inspiration comes mostly from traditional Czech cuisine, but also from other locally popular foreign dishes such as mexican fajitas, tortillas, burgers, and Asian dishes. Initially, the team browsed the Internet for raw recipes, since there was nothing like that in the country yet. Today their imagination has no boundaries as even trends are incorporated into the recipes. If an exotic ingredient such as the Brazilian açai is popular it can find its place in one of the new recipes.
The dishes range from typical Czech dishes as the above mentioned Svickova, but the international influences from Italy, through Americas to Asia have entered the cooks creative minds. The Beetroot ravioli are one of the favourites.
Raw Mexican dishes at Secret of Raw in Prague

Sourcing ingredients and the challenges of European seasonality

Smetana’s Four Seasons are not just a mesmerising classical composition, but also the remainder of a damp fall and cold winter forming around the warmer spring and summer during each year in most of Europe. In a cold climate, it seems natural to crave heat-creating comfort food. Therefore, it is an enormous success that a project like the Secret of Raw took off and has been thriving all year around.
One of the sucres factors is that the inhabitants of Prague like novelties. Their penchant for discovering new countries and cuisines might come from decades of oppression under the Communist rule, yet even before the nation embraced foreign cultural and gastronomic tendencies such as Japanese tea rooms, French cafes, or Vietnamese spring rolls.
Healthy lifestyle is trendy and anything new in this direction is welcomed with forks ready to sample. Mr Plajner confirms this tendency, and adds that it is not anymore just the so called LOHAS group, meaning Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability seeking people, who venture into his restaurant. When I dined there, I saw young mothers with children, couples and an older man, all savouring their raw lunch or a dessert.
The biggest challenge in Prague is to find organic ingredients for a big operation such as a restaurant. There does not exist a reliable supplier, able to regularly and quickly deliver all the required ingredients. At the Secret of Raw only the dry and the ingredients with a long expiration tend to be organic. The co-founder of the business, admits: “Our fruits and vegetables are not organic, first because of the operative issues, and then also for the reason of the high cost, that our clients would not support.” It seems that although the market with organic food has been thriving in the past years in the Czech Republic, paying more for it at restaurants has not yet found sufficient support. Perhaps, an opportunity? True, in the always blooming California or Monaco, where many can afford to dine at a Michelin stared restaurant fully based on organic local produce (Monte-Carlo Beach hotel), this is more realistic and economically viable. In a highly seasonal country, where all you can get fresh during the winter is snow, local raw food is a struggle, but importing from the warmer is always an option, although not the most sustainable one.
Healthy Beetroot ravioli at Secret of Raw in Prague

Focus on concentration and freshness, not restrictions

Although raw food is about health and getting maximal nutrition out of your ingredients, the restaurant, and most of the other raw restaurants I dined at from California, through Florida, London, to Hong Kong, do not care much how many calories, fat, sugar, and other trouble makers are on each plate. Often, since lots of nuts are used in the preparation, the calorie-total can get shockingly high, so this food generally is not for serious dieters.
On the other hand, most people who switch to raw food usually loose some weight, because of its accent on vegetables and clean eating, but also high protein and fibre contents, both filling you up substantially so you cannot eat that much of food as you would when eating more processed, not truly satisfying foods. The calories in raw dishes seem to really count, when compared to nutritionally poor food filled with empty calories. Indeed this paradox inspired many raw snack producers not to provide the numbers, but rather highlighting the quality and the provenance of the ingredients in order to attract their consumers. Mr Plajner adds: ”Generally our food is so healthy and nutritionally dense, that if you eat a varied raw diet, you will not miss anything and nothing should be in excess.”
One of the unwanted and often overlooked complications of these healthy intentions is bacterial contamination causing a serious sickness. Since raw dishes are not heated above 42 degrees, many of the pathogenic bacterias are not killed and they also thrive in unpasteurised (conservation through heat) ingredients. Therefore, the raw diet is mostly plant based. Meat and animal products are known to be most sensitive to temperature fluctuations.
raw burger at Secret of Raw in Prague

The secret revealed on the menu

The Czech taste buds prefer substance and concentrated flavours, therefore “dishes where there is something dried are the most popular”, says Mr Plajner. For example raw pizza, burger, mushroom or banana and chocolate pancakes, and the tortillas. I loved the freshness of the Beetroot Ravioli for a hot summer day lunch. While the Sunburger with white radish “fries” and cashew tartar sauce might deceive but surely satisfies the big eaters. The desserts are the bestsellers though. Fruit-based cakes, chocolate tart, and during the hot summers raw ice cream are wanted.
The desserts became an immediate success, often overshadowing the savoury dishes. Possibly because they are more approachable for the Czech palate used to warm home cooking. My sister is one of their raw desserts fans and replicates them successfully at home. It is an explosive endeavour though, she admits.
raw dessert at Secret of Raw in PragueRaw dessert
For the raw food preparation essential kitchen tools such as a powerful high speed blender (Vitamix), dehydrator (Sedona), sprouted, spiralizer and high quality knives are necessary. Most of these gadgets are also crucial for home raw food preparation according to the restaurant’s highly popular recipe book titled “The Secret of Raw Food”, soon also available online in the English version. You can get away with a good blender though and adjust the rest according to your kitchen equipment. For example instead of dehydrator use normal oven on the lowest temperature, that can be set to ideally 42°C. If one is serious about eating and preparing raw food at home then invest at least into a good blender, otherwise “it is like cooking without a stove and a pot”, says Jan Plajner. If you are curious about raw food and not adventurous enough to try it at home, then get out and try it at their small with warm colours painted restaurant on the edge of Vinohrady and Zizkov. During the warm season there is also a small terrace fronting the cafe.
 Seifertova 574/13, 130 00 Prague
 +420 222 513 258
 Daily from 10:30 am – 11pm; except Sunday open only for dinner from 5pm.
There is also a small selection of instant raw breakfasts, bars, nuts and super foods to take away.


Prague: European architecture with a mystic veil

Look at her, Prague! She will steal your heart as, from the enigmatic gate of a viewpoint, you enter into a fantasy painting, where the brush with a flick of a master projected an alchemy of gilded spires, complete, in prefect proportions, with the subtle pastels of its façades. All that gingerbread artisanship is puzzled into the hilltop castle pinched at the back by the spiky St Vitus cathedral, that as a noir Gothic backdrop guards the essence of the esoteric dreams evoking imagery of Prague.
Prague Lesser TownFormer Augustine Monastery in Prague
The centuries flowing mystery of its originally independent towns is enforced by the disorienting Gothic darkness, Baroque voluptuousness, Art Nouveau grandeur and other architectonic bafflements that from the ninth century have imprinted their soles into the time-dusted sandy façades of today. Its compact beauty casts her spell on most visitors, but there is more to the town’s charms that energises rather than dims your mood with melancholy.
Under the blue umbrella of a sunny sky brightness pops out from her architecture. Prague is painted with subtle shades, spanning from gingerbread, polished gold, classic mahogany, all the way to the thick milky white. Do not miss out as, often, there is more to see inside, so open yourself to her charms, and allow your feet to take you elsewhere. To capture the entire colour palette, be patient, immerse yourself into her riches and by the time of the day and by the seasonal metamorphoses affected psyche. Like in the charismatic writing of the Prague’s perhaps most famous citizen – Franz Kafka, you may wake up, feel and see everything totally transformed, if you long for it intensely enough. Changing your angle is rewarding not just with more diverse images in your smartphone or camera, but allows for the emerging, highly individual feelings of each particular moment in your captivity by Prague, to embrace you fully into her comforting spell. Once the sun sets behind the lusty horizon, the Prague Castle puzzle, the churches’ roaring domes, the Strahov monastery above the fertile hilly orchards of Petřín and the robust arches of the 14th century Charles Bridge (Karlův most), all gleam with warm golden lights, mesmerising unfailingly the otherwise lighthearted passersby.
Vyhled na Prahu z PetrinaNight in Prague

Smooth time in Prague

Now you are set to appreciate the beauty, so I will get more practical. Either before the artists take their stages on the increasingly busy cobbled stone carpet of the Charles Bridge or late after dinner as this popular river crossing empties, are the best times to savour the centuries surviving architecture. Still, beware, the uneven bumps of the stone pavements will massage harshly your soles and uncompromisingly shave high heels, so leave fancy shoes at home as wearing comfortable shoes saves a later pain. Prague is casual, and you will get away with wearing nice walking shoes even at the fanciest restaurants, concerts and shows. The city centre is not too large, although some parts are quite hilly, and the cobbled stones end up feeling like steel after an all-day exploration. As the popular and by many locals cursed wheeled segways will be banned soon, relieve any soreness at the walk-in Thai massage hangouts scattered throughout the city centre.
Avoiding the umbrella gatherings, as I call the tourist groups lead by a guide, will make your trip much more real. There are 30 dark saints-depicting bronze statues lining both sides of the bridge, all are replicas with just one made of marble, and the guides tend to investigate each of them, while as if they were puppies stroking their over-touched coats for good luck. True, the guides spice it up with certain historic data, anecdotes, and myths, but reading it yourself at your own pace allows for savouring the magnificent vistas from one of its hilly parks (Petřín, Letná and Žižkov are my favourites). And, have a beer with it! Watching the snake-curved Vltava river awakens one’s sense of a fluid existence, while the stillness of the centenary bridges rises an awareness of the once desired and controlled connection between the life of the kings, the nobleman and the rest of the town.
Old Charles Bridge in PragueChapel on Petrin Hill
Today, Prague’s almost minuscule proportions hardly digest the international banquet of visitors. With its narrow streets, the Charles Bridge, the cobbled squares of the Old Town and the noble and once intelligentsia accommodating hoods bellow the castle squash the majority of the floding admirers. If you still want to capture her delicate soul as well as the soothing energy Prague gives away to anyone who allows her to, you need to adjust your schedule to the clock of tourism. Part from the groups on Segway tours, aways from the bachelor binges and the other eccentric inventions of our modern tourism industry. Although a ride in one of the historic cars with open roofs on a nice day may suit to romance seeking visitors. The Old Town Square ( Staroměstské náměstí) as well as the adjoining, with luxury gushing Pařížská street, are set as the departures for an imposing fleet of these old vehicles, that will take you around in a nostalgia evoking style. During the exploration lift your gaze up. The painted façades shield the most elaborate works of art just bellow their roofs.
Museum kampa Prague

Czech art scene

Browse around Kampa, the part of Lesser Town bellow the Prague Castle grouping artists in the past. Today, lacing the river banks of Vltava, there stands the modern Museum Kampa showcasing mainly contemporary Czech and Central European art. The exhibitions change constantly, but permanently the works of František Kupka and Otto Gutfreund are on display. The Museum was established by an art collector and benefactor Meda Mládek, who lived in exile until the 1989 Velvet revolution. She initiated a reconstruction of the historical premises of Sova’s Mills (Sovovy mlýny), former water mills, where the museum and the river-lining restaurant now stand. The surrounding park is like a small version of the Yoyogi Park in Tokyo. On pleasant days it serves as an alfresco rehearsal stage for the local theatre groups naturally ensuring entertainment for the passersby.
There are many museums in Prague, some worth checking out, but most are not as interesting, even kitschy (Torture Museum, Museum of Communism, Gold Museum…), but some of the interiors and galleries should be included in your cultural tour map. The Gallery U Betlemské Kaple (Betlémské nám. 8) showcases iconic Czech art from the past century like the comic drawings from Adolf Born as well as many contemporary pieces by living artists. Their intriguing inventory changes often and will interest collectors.

Interior designs in Grand Cafés of the 20th century

The world’s only cubist Grand Café Orient located on the first floor of the House of the Black Madonna (Ovocný Trh 19) was created by a renowned architect Josef Gočár. This building alongside its architecture showcases the unique czech contribution with furniture, pottery and glass to the cubist movement that was already established in paintings.
Grand cafe Orient - Czech CubismArchitecture and design in Prague
The name of Café Louvre (Národní třída 20) may sound French and it was built during the period of czech infatuation with everything French, yet this is one of the signature cafés of the First Republic Czechoslovakia era at the beginning of the 20th century. The grandiose rooms of the Café Imperial (Na Poříčí 15) boast exquisite ceramic mosaics on the walls, floral and animal carvings on the stoic pillars in the style of oriental and Moorish arts. Café Savoy is located across the river from the golden-roofed National Theatre (Vítězná 124/5), and shaded from the tourist crowds makes it a very popular elegant breakfast hangout for the locals. The lofty, over a century old ceiling adds a bourgeoise character, while the bread and pastries baked downstairs guarantee freshness. You can watch the pastry chefs work through a large glass window. Get a large soup with meat dumplings or Svíčková na smetaně often considered as the national czech dish (a confusing name literally meanining ‘candles on cream’, but it is a very popular slow-braised beef dish with a vegetable sauce served with the typical czech bread dumplings) for lunch there.
Art Deco design in Prague

The new wave of luxurious lodging in Prague

In the historic Lesser Town, an elegantly restored 14th century monastery is now the residence of the Mandarin Oriental hotel (Nebovidská 459/1, Prague 1). The guests are welcomed by tranquil, delightful, luxurious and stylish interior combining history and modern comfort surrounded by the cobbled streets of the Lesser Town. The hotel’s spa is located in a former chapel adding spiritual energy to treatments that have won coveted awards for its therapists’ excellency and its splendid setting.
Another historic treasure is the Hotel Augustyne (Letenská 12/33, Prague 1). Augustyne is currently Prague’s most luxurious hotel, surpassing the outdated interior of the Four Seasons Hotel across the river. The Augustyne is situated at the gorgeously restored 13th century Augustian St Thomas’s Monastery. The six building complex has a lovely garden to sip the house beer. At the hotel today, made according to the same recipe as the monks made it now trusted to a local microbrewery, the golden hued Czech liquid jewel can be enjoyed at the its 1887 bar. Adorned by original frescoed ceilings reminding of the Strahov Monastery library, this is undoubtedly Prague’s most beautiful set for imbibing. The hotel’s 16 suites boast with views over either the nearby Prague Castle, the perfectly manicured garden and courtyards, the monastery chapel or the towering St Vitus cathedral. All the bedrooms were furnished with by-Czech-cubism-inspired decorative ceramics, sculptures and images. The Tower Suite has the most romantic view from all hotels in Prague.
The Augustine Hotel Prague
Prague also booms with charming boutique hotels. The most active setting has the Hotel U Prince (Staroměstské náměstí 29, Prague 1) located right on the hiving Old Town Square. The hotel’s terrace offers unbeatable views of the wondrous Astronomic Clock and the castle complex. Its prohibition-style underground bar, the Black Legend, was recently voted as one of the Top 50 bars in the world. Other great cocktail bars include the Hemingway, Tretter’s and Buggsy’s, all in walking tastances between each other.
The highly cultured tourists appreciate having most of the sights at a short walking distance. The National Gallery, the Jewish quarter with a more than 700 years old striking Old-New Synagogue (Staronová synagoga) and its Jewish Cemetery crowning the Pařížská street, where the most luxurious global brands (Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Prada, …) laid their stately boutiques. Local fashion designers like Klára Nademlýnská (Dlouhá 3, Prague 1) are known mainly for their „pret-a-porter“ feminine collections, that are simply cut, modern and easy to wear. Their boutiques are located in the branching streets east from the Old Town Square.
The city’s fascination with precious metals and in particular gold reflects itself in the names of streets, restaurants and some hotels. The Golden Well Hotel (U Zlaté Studně 166/4), built on the same hill as the Prague Castle in a historic building surrounded by the castle’s rose gardens, has only 17 rooms and 2 suites making the guests feel at home. The breathtaking panoramic views from most of the rooms and the superb gastronomic restaurant Golden Well Terrace make for the most romantic dining experience in Prague.
Mandarin Oriental Hotel in PragueEntrance to Golden Well Hotel Prague

Buying quality and tradition

Shoppers eyes will be flared up while purchasing the globally renown Bohemia Crystal at the lavishly painted, gilded, magnificent old boutique of Moser (Na Příkopě 12, Prague 1; open daily except 25.12.). Ludwig Moser, made his company’s name chime loud in the glass manufacturing world. He opened his own shop and the engraver´s workshop in the centre of Western spa town Karlovy Vary in 1893 and quickly became the most prestigious producer of crystal in the former Austrian-Hungarian monarchy. Supplying the glass to royalty started with the emperor Franz Joseph I, later extended east to the Persian shah Musaffereddine and west king Edward VII of England. The modern royals as well as influential statesmen today still long for its precise clarity. Handmade production of an ecologically friendly lead-free crystal of a unique color spectrum and co-operating with the top artists guarantees the top-notch quality and prestige. A five minute stroll from the store is Museum Moser (open daily on the Old Town Square) that showcases important masterpieces created during the existence of the Moser house.
Czech Crystal by Moser
Traditional puppets reserved not just for children can be bought at Marionety right next to Charles Bridge (U Lužického Semináře 5). At this charming little store the hand-carved wooden puppets made according to the old local craft hang from the ceiling waiting for someone to play with them or decorate home walls.
For contemporary Czech design a must-go is Futurista Universum (Betlémské náměstí; Prague 1), a large and clean-cut space dedicated to the works of the most significant modern Czech designers. continually updated selection of the best design, jewelry and architecture.
Puppets in PragueCzech design at Futurista in Prague

Musical ears of Prague

Today, a quarter of a century since the Velvet Revolution, the city stubbornly owns its authenticity while also flourishes with edgy art galleries, stages world’s best classical music, casual jazz concerts, pampers with authentic European Grand Cafés in Art Nouveau, Art Deco or Cubist styles as well as intriguing gastronomic dining locations. Rudolfinum and the grandiose Municipal House, both homes for the internationally praised Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, are best for classical music, Jazz Dock, Reduta and U Malého Glena for jazz, soul and other genres that emerged in the past century America. Seeing the Rusalka Opera at the old gilded building of the National Theatre makes you believe in fairy tales and bewilders even the adults.
Smetana’s jolly notes of “My Country” and “Vltava” are one of the most emotional classical compositions ever written, so if you cannot decide what to book, look for this Czech composer’s epic oeuvre. At the same time intense and mellow, its harmonious composition overwhelms you with sensations.  The violins, like chippering birds in spring announce the joy from natural awakening, penetrating your soul with a present, conscious and energizing bliss.
Easter eggs
The hourly spectacle of the 15th century Astronomical Clock, crossing the robust stone Charles Bridge, and marveling at the puzzle of the fairytale Prague Castle buildings that create the “world’s largest coherent castle complex” are just one reason for visiting. The best month for the trip is May, when the annual Prague Spring series of concerts take on the town’s stages, the Prague’s Gourmet festival on the Castle kicks off, and the flowering trees on the Petřín hill gardens tantalize your nose. Earlier in the spring you can admire the Czech Easter traditions including the colorful hand painted easter eggs. Fall is also pleasant, as the number of tourists declines considerably or the chilly December, when the city sparks with Christmas lights and authentic outdoor crafts markets hosted on all the main squares. It can get very cold, so wearing a thick winter coat, ears-covering hat and sipping on spiced mulled wine can make the tour around the city more enjoyable for warm climate dwellers.
The “City of Hundred Spires”, the “Golden City” or the “Heart of Europe”, whatever nickname was adopted for by the centuries beautified Prague, the core of the town is an architectonic masterpiece, while its liberal citizens welcome anyone that can inspire them to create something new. Prague hums with activity, but strangely her architecture creates a calming feel as if the town’s own body relished in stillness. Do not miss the opportunity to penetrate deeper under her perfect skin and try to find her soul!


Restaurant Golden Well: Hidden gem overlooking the sea of spires in Prague

The breathtaking panoramic views from the gastronomic restaurant Golden Well make it the most romantic place to dine in Prague. In particular during the summer when guests can sit at its open-air Terrace, which with the Prague Castle carving its spine, surrounded by the castle’s rose gardens and a vista worth 1000s of photographs are not unique in Prague, but its cuisine is outstanding. And that is hard to beat.
Panorama of Prague
Located atop a boutique hotel of the same name, this is a complete lovers’ and honeymooners’ paradise. During the summer days, the guests can sneak into the private rose gardens of the Castle through a small gate as if they were the king himself.
Each time I dine at this wonderful place, tucked away from the city besieged by tourists, and perched up on the hill just older the Prague Castle, I am taken aback by the postcard colours before the sun sets beyond the hundred spires of the Prague’s horizon. As in a retro film, the hues of the roofs, the façades and the domes of the churches turn into a surreal puzzle of fading colours.
Golden Well Restaurant - terrace
The history of the building can be traced back over 500 years, but it was in 2008, when an extensive reconstruction with the help of Italian designers gave birth to the luxurious interior of the main restaurant. The cosy soft leather-covered chairs are comfortable and the room has a warm feel ideal for the cold months of the year. The terrace has authentic garden touch with its more modest naturally-colored decor, plants winding up around the steel support, and sturdy rattan chairs.
Golden Well Restaurant interior
An award-winning chef Pavel Sapik creates modern gastronomic dishes with French and Czech flare. As a member of the Czech national culinary team he won gold at the Culinary Arts World Competition in 2005 and was voted the Chef of the Year in the Czech Republic just before he moved to work at the Golden Well, where his culinary talent shines. Born in the wine-growing land of the fertile South Moravia near the border with Austria, his family roots have been deeply grounded in the culinary Earth for generations. You can savour the fruits of his work in the eight-course degustation menu, that can be paired with wines by the talented sommelier.
Trio of tuna
His modern approach to Czech and continental dishes often leads to lighter, yet tasty and original versions of the classics, but also to absolutely new plates that you have never tried anywhere else.
For summer the lightly spicy Thai-themed soup with shrimps and vegetables was a prefect refreshment, while the Trio of Tuna was not shy of showcasing the possibilities of this Mediterranean fish. Served raw in a tartare with onions, chive and a dollop of creme fraiche with dill, semi-cooked to perfection with colourful sesame crust and seared while remaining tenderness, it showed that the chef works with top quality ingredients. Even in Prague, far from the sea shores, you can get superbly fresh fish (the frequent flights do not take long).
Golden Well Restaurant lobster
Seafood is also of the highest standard. The lobster from Canada was juicy, tender and served as a carpaccio on one side and a cooked claw on a bed of crisp vegetables, with a luxurious highlight of black caviar. The scallops were always succulent, soft like a feather pillow, but rich thanks to their crisp seared face and tail. Served with a fatty chorizo even more richness was added to this otherwise quite light seafood.
The amuse-bouche always pleasantly surprise. One day it can be based on meat pate, other of fish, but usually it is a mini-version of the chef’s complex thinking about food.
The steak has been always amazing and consistent. The meat is sourced mainly from the Americas, and the cooking technique again highlights its qualities while adding a whiff of high-cuisine.
Cheese and deserts are mainly inspired by France and there are only French cheeses on the menu, but we always ask for Czech cheeses and they often find some interesting variations for us. Home-made sorbets are the pastry chef’s pride, while the typical Czech sweet treat of Povidlove Tasky, which can be described as plum jam ravioli served with crushed nuts, warm butter and home-made brandy ice-cream, brings some to their childhood while introduces others softly into the generous Czech cuisine. In-house Chocolate Pralines can be also taken home.
Terasa U Zlate Studne - Scallops
The bar downstairs welcomes you with a sparkly crystal jeroboam of the world’s most luxurious cognac Remy Martin – Louis XIII, made in limited 100-piece release. There are only 40 restaurants in the world that are allowed to serve this rarity and the personnel had to undergo a specific training in order to be able to serve this gem of the French liquors.
The Golden Well hotel&restaurant
The wine list has a good breath. From the great Czech produce I can recommend the white beauties such as complex and generous Velké Dobré Bílé, barrique “Reserva” from Dobrá Vinice (literally translated as “Good Winery”), and the indigenous Czech varietal Pálava from Gotberg, that is more aromatic and tends to lend the wine candied apricot flavours. From the reds, the Grand Cuveé André, late harvest aged in barrique by Šlechtitelská Stanice Velké Pavlovice, that gave birth to this aromatic cross of Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch, and Skale Family Reserve – aged in barrique by Pavel Springer, this wine shows that great wines with ageing potential can be made in the country. Top chateaux from France, Italy, Spain but also New World producers are featured in new but also older vintages.
Although Prague is for global standards a small city, its panorama feels like an endless sea of colourful buildings. It can be enjoyed from its hills, but connecting it with gastronomic pleasure, the experience becomes truly unforgettable.
Contact: +(420) 257 011 213
Address: The Golden Well Hotel, U Zlaté studně 166/4; Prague 1.
Beware of the restaurant’s hidden location in a cul-de-sac cobbled street behind the Czech Parliament. If you see the British Embassy, turn back and take the latter road, further from the Malostranske Namesti.


Aromi: Authentic Italian seafood in Prague

Aromi inside
Aromi had been crowning the Italian dining kingdom in Prague for many years. In 2005, the year of its opening, it was recognised as “The best new restaurant in the Czech Republic” by  Condé Nast Traveler magazine. What is even more striking is that it also got into “The Top 10 new restaurants in the world” as it proudly claims on its website. No wonder then that Aromi was my favourite Italian spot to eat at in Prague during the years I lived there (2006-2007). Today, the situation is different though. There have been so many new restaurants openings bringing new rivals and my move to the Mediterranean made me a harsher critic of fish, so for me Aromi is not the best any more. It still remains though a great place to go when you want something authentic and for a Central European city you can get a pretty good fish here.
Atmosphere: Rustic, casual and welcoming. An attentive service makes the experience very enjoyable. They all know their stuff well and advice you on anything. Whether you agree later with their recommendation or not they seem to try their best. Wooden furniture, a cheese table in the middle of the restaurant and wines lined up on the shelves along the back wall create a very casual and accommodating environment. The  newly designed cubism-inspired long bar is a great spot to have a glass of wine or one of the 100 or so grappas (Italian brandy). Wear anything from jeans to a jacket, yet go for a more casual attire. After all, you are in Prague and this cobbled city is not fluffy and too concerned about its inhabitants’ dressing manners.
Food: The chef and owner Riccardo Lucque remains true to his Italian roots as he cares about the ingredients. His direct relationship with Italian producers and farmers ensures the authenticity of the products from mozzarella to seafood. Starting with a Sword fish carpaccio, red oranges with chunks of creamy burrata sprinkled with green radish leafs and olive oil I knew the ingredients are of a high quality here. It was a refreshing dish with lots of matching flavours like a mosaic creating a colourful yet fitting concept on a plate. The fish was light, but cutting it in thicker pieces added on volume matching thus the juicy and slightly sweet oranges while not contrasting with the creamy burrata too much so it all reminded in harmony.
White fish carpaccio
Another tasty appetizer in which the classic recipe of  Tomatoes with mozzarella gets a facelift in the form of Burrata with parma ham and tomatoes is not only innovative but also very good. Burrata is a type of mozzarella made from a buffalo milk, it is more creamy, rich and for most of the people it is more tasty than its more firm sister made of cows milk (mozzarella). Using the green zesty tomatoes with this creamy cheese balanced the fatness of the burrata and the ham added depth and salty touch so you do not need to add much seasoning.
From the main courses I preferred a Grilled Octopus and vegetables lasagna to a Grilled fish of the day. The octopus had a meaty texture, crisp skin and was full of flavour. The fish was quiet disappointing as for my palate it did not taste as if it was just caught in the morning. But, it is a very demanding request for a restaurant located far from any salt water source. I believe, that if I lived in Prague I would have appreciated this fish more.
Burrata with parma ham and tomatoes
Cuisine: Authentic Italian, specialised in fish and seafood.
Visit: September 2012
Price: Medium (for foreigners) to high (for many locals).
Drinks: There are many wines from all over Italy. You can choose either from a wine list or pick a bottle from the shelves along the fall. A wine waiter will be eager to assist you. We were not lucky with his selection though. Asking for a more elegant and lighter red wine he recommended us a Barolo and a Dolcetto. It did not sound right to me, but I have not tried these wines from the producers he offered and they were both an older vintage so I decided to trust him. What a mistake! With the first sip I knew it was a bit stronger than we wanted with the food we selected, yet the waiter assured me that it will open up and mellow later. Unfortunately, right the opposite happened! The wine was showing its strength more with the time so it absolutely did not match any of our dishes. Next time, we will rather choose the wine ourselves. With such a great wine list it was a shame to go wrong.
The restaurant has also a wide selection of grappa so if you feel like something stronger to drink then go for it, yet not this month as the Czech Republic was stricken with an alcoholic beverages prohibition, when all alcohol with 20% and more cannot be sold anywhere. The reason for this was serious enough, so I agree with the Czech government reaching to such a stringent solution. When over 20 people die and many get blind from consumption of methanol-tinged alcoholic beverages, then any government has to step in and protect its citizens.
Opening hours: Mon-Sat: 12:00 – 23:00; Sun: 12:00 – 22:00
Address: Mánesova 1442/78, Prague 2 – Vinohrady, 120 00, Czech Republic
Contact: Tel: +420 222 713 222; email: info@aromi.cz


CottoCrudo restaurant: where top Italian ingredients meet Four Seasons service in Prague

Reopened in March 2012 and refurbished as a more informal dining spot at Prague’s Four Seasons hotel, CottoCrudo was an adventurous step by the hotel’s management. Its former restaurant had been for many years the only gourmet place in the Czech Republic holding a Michelin star. Every time I dined there though it was half empty, rarely hosting local connoisseurs, therefore it seems that switching to a less formal and fun environment was a smart idea. Quality and top-notch service still remain the code while one does not need to worry about what to wear and how to behave after entering the premisses of the luxurious Four Seasons.
CottoCrudo meaning “Cooked and Raw”, with its fresh and quality concept filled the gap on the city’s restaurant scene. There are other Italian bars offering great wines and snacks, but there is not a single place where you can sit at a comfortable table and choose either raw or cooked meal. Moreover, you will be served here, no need to pick a tray (like at a school eatery).
Modern interior of Cotto Crudo
Cuisine: Modern Italian
Visit: September 2012
Price: Medium (for European capital city); high (for Prague; despite offering a two-course lunch menu for about $US 20; you find plenty of restaurants in Prague having the same – not quality, but two-course lunch – for half of that price)
Chef: RICHARD FUCHS worked under the previous Michelin awarded Italian chef and took over as an Executive Chef at the newly established CottoCrudo.
Atmosphere: Modern urban, sleek and fresh. The restaurant’s terrace offers a lovely view of the charming Prague castle and the river. You feel almost the opposite atmosphere of the cosy and packed Italian tratoria. At CottoCrudo you know that you are in the midst of a booming city as the design is very modern. It is an ideal place for an informal lunch meetings (despite it being located inside the elegant Four Seasons hotel) as well as for a cup of a frothy cappuccino with a friend. There is a lounge, bar and as you move to the restaurant part you see the ingredients including ham hanging and teasing your taste buds together with the cooled cheese bar. At the end, seeing all these delicacies in front of your eyes, it might be hard to resist to one of the cold cuts on the menu.
Food: Modern, fresh and creative. The restaurant embraces a philosophy “Some like it hot… Some like it cool”, thus you can select from a wide variety of cold dishes and cuts (Crudo Bar) such as the mozzarella bar, raw cut meats and raw seafood (Italian sashimi). The selection is tempting and perfect for an afternoon snack with a glass of wine or a refreshing starter.
From the antipasti I highly recommend the refreshing and tasty Beetroot & smoked ricotta salad with pistachio. The red beet is delicate and not sour as some of its pickled forms. The ricotta melts in your mouth, fresh greens add zest and pistachios crunchy texture and depth.
Goats cheese and beetroot salad
You can start with the Italian staple of Vitello tonnato with anchovies & caper dressing. I love this dish and I rarely disappoints me.
The chef recommends trying his Piedmont beef tartar, but I prefer the thinly diced French version to the chunky pieces of beef usual in this Italian take on tartar, so I have not tried it here.
From the fish starters I loved both the Sea bass, wild fennel, Taggiasca olives and Lobster, pink grapefruit, chives. The raw bar is excellent and the quality of the fish and seafood is high so you do not need to worry to get any disturbing aftereffects in your stomach. These dishes are refreshing and ideal with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Morava or Pinot Grigio from Italy.
White fish carpaccio
Another fish starter with an Italian twist is the Salmon, rucola pesto, tomato confit, lemon zest. The fattier nature of salmon makes a richer meal and with a combination with an oily pesto it might be a second course for some light eaters. It is well-thought out dish – refreshing and satisfying at the same time.
Salmon carpaccio with pesto and tomato puree
The pasta selection is wide and if you feel like doing it today really like a true Italian, have a plate of them just before your main course – (that is a dinner time I am talking about though!)
As I had to conclude my lunch with a cup of frothy cappuccino I ordered Biscotti tipici Italiani as my dessert. Dipping crunchy almond cantucci into my cappuccino is my favorite pastime remaining from a teenage years spent in Italy.
Drinks: As I mentioned the cappuccino is delicious here, so if you do not have time for lunch or dinner just get a cup of this frothy coffee speciality. There are many wines by the glass, 26 wines will be available by mezzo (Italian carafe) and an extensive wine list of over 300 labels including Italian as well as Czech wines. Just ask the wine waiter which wine he would recommend for each of your dishes. I got a very helpful advice during lunch there.
Address: Four Seasons hotel; CottoCrudo restaurant; Veleslavinova 1098/2a; 110 00 Prague 1; Czech Republic
Contact: Tel: +420 221 426 880


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