Marek Bartos

Over the past decade, Prague’s food and drink scene has boomed: just ask writer and photographer Marek Bartos who has dedicated his entire career to documenting food stories from the Czech Republic. Although the capital’s classic addresses still have a place in Bartos’s heart, he’s most excited about what new-wave chefs and restaurateurs have created in such a short time. Welcome to the new Prague. 

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What Is Czech Food?

When referring to pure Czech food, don’t expect anything light. Our cuisine is intricate and very filling with minimal vegetables. Prague is full of good restaurants that offer classic Czech dishes that follow traditional recipes. A good restaurant for that is U Matěje by chef Jan Punčochář. It’s not exactly in the centre of Prague, but it’s worth the trip. When I go, I usually have carp fries as a starter and boar in cream as main course. If you want to experience something that’s quite ordinarily Czech – something  more like a folk canteen without gastronomic experiments – go to Havelská Koruna. For very reasonable prices you can try classics of Czech cuisine such as beef goulash, dill sauce, roast sirloin in sour cream sauce with dumplings, roast pork with dumplings and sauerkraut, and pork schnitzel with potato salad.

The New Czech Cuisine

In recent years, establishments driven by chefs who want to push Czech gastronomy forward have opened and I admire their work and love to support them. Mostly these people are newcomers in the industry or young chefs returning from internships abroad. I have a special spot in my heart for Krokitchen which mostly does pork and chicken. Its smoked pork knuckle with potato pancakes is an unforgettable dish. The meat literally falls apart and the combination of horseradish coleslaw and plum sauce works a wonder.  

A Classic Pub Serving Not-So-Classic Food

At the moment I’m in love with Výčep, a place reminiscent of classic Czech pubs that serves modern local cuisine and respects traditions in Czech gastronomy. I really enjoy how it combines flavours and takes basic ingredients to a different level. The kitchen works with caraway seeds, lovage and dill which, for me, are the heart ingredients of Czech cuisine, plus it also does things like chive oil, smoked mayonnaise and fermented vegetables. Its thick sauces are just divine. My favourite is this concentrated, reduced broth that is as thick as syrup. In a recent menu, there were things like Cognac sauce and wild mushroom sauce. You can’t go wrong at this restaurant no matter what you order. Craft beer from the town of Dalešice is also served.

An Introduction to Prague’s Pop-Up Culture

There are people who don’t have their own restaurant that opt to do pop-up events instead. The Ze-Mě project is a great example. The guys behind it work a lot with venison and ingredients that they gather themselves in nature. I’m a fan of their soups and strong broths: that’s my favourite kind of meal during the fall and these guys absolutely nail it. Their popups and events take place in different spots around Prague and are always a great opportunity to explore different areas while enjoying good food. 

The Rise of Czech Natural Wines

The rise of natural wine in Prague’s drink scene is worth celebrating. There are many great producers of natural wine in the Czech Republic, especially in the Moravian region, and I am glad that the wider public now has the opportunity to try them. Among my favourite winemakers are Jára and Pavlína Tesařík from Mutěnice winery Dlúhé Grefty; Ota Ševčík from Bořetice; Petr Kočařík from Čejkovice; and Milan Nestarec from Velké Bílovice. Indigenous Czech varieties include moravian muscat, an aromatic white grape, but grapes such as veltliner, riesling, Müller-Thurgau, frankovka (blaufränkisch), St. Laurent and cabernet sauvignon are also grown in Moravia. 

Where To Drink Natural Wines in Prague

I recommend visiting Winegeek, a wine shop where you can taste some exceptional wines and chat about them with owner Marko Jelic who knows absolutely everything about his winemakers. He is a passionate lover of natural wine who promotes it not only for its taste value, but also as an important change in agriculture as natural winemakers tend to be much more driven by environmental consciousness. I also recommend visiting 0,75 [Sedmička], a wine bar near my house that I frequented during the lockdown. It had an open service window and always gave me great advice on what to drink. It has a selection by natural Czech, Austrian, German and French winemakers, but I usually buy the Czech ones. 

Beautiful Dining Rooms

Although I prefer to go and discover new places with friends and colleagues, I enjoy taking people out to one of the restaurants by Ambiente, an F&B group led by restaurateur Tomáš Karpíšek. Thanks to Ambiente, the scene in the Czech Republic has been incredibly enriched. My favourites include Cafe Savoy and restaurant Kuchyň which are both in beautiful locations. Cafe Savoy is close to Petřín Park and the Vltava River, and restaurant Kuchyň is by the Prague Castle which has a beautiful view of Prague. I love the long, lazy breakfasts at Cafe Savoy, and its steak tartare with fries. In Kuchyň, there are tasty Czech dishes such as dill sauce with poached egg and boiled potatoes.

A Historical 110-Year-Old Palace in the Centre of Prague

During my studies, I used to go to the Lucerna cafe that’s in the Lucerna Palace, a beautiful historical building built in 1911 in the centre of Prague. The cafe doesn’t offer anything special – it has a nice interior and view of the Art Nouveau shopping arcade – but it has a specific genius loci thanks to its high ceilings and huge shop windows that lead into the arcade. I have spent a lot of time there, made important friendships and met my life partner. The building also houses a cinema that hosts premieres of independent Czech films. I recommend a walk around the Lucerna Palace: it really is beautiful and has a wonderful atmosphere. A short walk from the palace is the Myšák pastry shop where you can go for a good cup of coffee and something sweet.

A Pub Serving Great Pilsener and Beer Cheese

In Czech pubs, a foreigner must be properly equipped with patience, as it is often difficult to get along with the staff and it takes a while for them to notice you. U Zlatého Tygra in the centre of Prague is a pub with plenty of tradition. It has great pilsner and a kind of beer cheese that was never served in pubs. It’s a slightly smelly cheese served with bread, butter, mustard and onions. Newer pubs – where you can still experience the local scene and culture – are much friendlier to foreigners. A nice example is the U Bílé kuželky pub in Mala Strana. It has great beer and serves delicious Czech cuisine. I like to go there for pork schnitzel fried in butter and a side of potato salad. Sometimes I’ll have fried cheese with boiled potatoes: a typical menu item in the Czech Republic.

Where Butchers and Chefs Work Side by Side

One place I love to go to in my time off is Kantýna which is located in a former bank building. The space is absolutely incredible. It specialises in Czech beef and pork, and butchers and chefs work side by side. Čestr beef and Přeštík pork is cooked on an open fire and you can watch and eat standing up or seated while you enjoy a unique beer. The beer is stored in tanks and does not come into contact with any gases. The outcome is a super balanced beer with a perfect body. It is always at the right temperature and the whole process is kept absolutely clean. Housed in the historic Ringhoffer Palace, the restaurant is divided into several sections. The central part – the self-service canteen – is dominated by a marble table and a counter. The butcher’s shop is where guests can buy meat to take home or have it grilled on-site by the chefs. 

A Celebratory Seafood Feast Inside the National House

Even though we are in the middle of Europe and are far from the sea, I like to celebrate with seafood. Belgian restaurant Bruxx in the Vinohrady district of Prague offers fresh mussels and seasonal seafood dishes. The restaurant is in the National House, a historic building, and has a large children’s corner so guests can enjoy their meal undisturbed. As a father of a three-year-old son, I welcome this with open arms.

Why I Love Czech Bakeries

If I’m away for a while, I always look forward to coming back and having Czech sourdough bread for breakfast. The bread at Alf&Bet is my favourite. The place also has its own coffee roastery and serves good coffee. The branch in Palmovka, Prague 8 (where the bakery is), is in an interesting industrial space with large windows and skylights, so the space is very bright. I also buy bread from Praktika Bakery, which offers alternatives to French pastries made from whole-grain flour from its own stone mills. My favourite Czech pastry there is kobliha which is a cream-filled doughnut. 

Smashing Stereotypes 

During the pandemic, guests did not turn their backs on their favourite restaurants and supported them as much as they could. In the beginning of the pandemic, ordering takeaway was very difficult for everyone. A lot of good restaurants had never offered a delivery service before and some refused to work with delivery companies, mainly because of their high service charges. It took them a while to develop their own e-commerce site or delivery system. They literally built it all from scratch. I was mostly ordering dinners to support my favourite restaurants and always tried to make sure the food I chose was varied. The worst thing is to allow a lockdown to trap us into yet another stereotype. I ordered a lot from two restaurants in Prague 7, Bistro Pipca in Letná which specialises in grilled poultry; and Big Smokers in the Holešovice district, which makes southern American BBQ with local touches. 

Chefs Showing Appreciation for Essential Workers 

Chefs Zdeněk Pohlreich and Jan Punčochář started an initiative called “WE COOK FOR THE INDISPENSABLE!” during the lockdown. They cooked up to 1700 meals a day and delivered them to ambulance workers, firefighters, police, hospitals, sanitary stations, the material reserves administration and sampling points for population testing. To rescue workers, it was not only about the assurance that a tasty, hot meal would be waiting for them at least once a day, but knowing that people were thinking of them and that their work was really appreciated. Both Zdeněk and Jan are known here from TV shows, so it was not difficult to gather money to cook that many meals. 

The Best Farmers’ Markets Around Prague

In Prague’s Holešovice district is the historical area of the former slaughterhouse. Today it is mostly used for cultural activities and markets. The Prague Market is called Holešovická tržnice and is in Hall 22. There you can find a multitude of stalls selling fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products. Another important market is Trhy na Jiraku on Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad in the Vinohrady district of Prague. I like to buy my dairy products from Krasolesí and Farma U svaté Anny.

Seasonal Ingredients and Dishes

I love asparagus and wild garlic season in the country (end of April to the end of June) as well as wild mushroom season (August and September). Dill is an interesting ingredient in Czech cuisine and is often used in sauces and soups. The most famous soup with dill is kulajda: a soup of mushrooms, sour cream, potatoes, dill and quail eggs. Poultry is also typical in autumn, mainly duck and goose. If you get to Prague in November, there are four restaurants I recommend trying, none of which will disappoint you: Café Imperial, Červený jelen, Výčep and Vinohrádský Parlament. The goose menu is available mostly on St. Martin’s Day (November 11) and duck is on the menu all-year-round in all of these restaurants. You should try the roast duck with cabbage and dumplings.

Czech Sweets and Guilty Pleasures

I have memories of sweets from my childhood that have a history in communist Czechoslovakia. My favourites are spa wafers Kolonáda: crisp and thin wafers with a hazelnut and cinnamon filling; and Hašlerky which are licorice and herb hard candies that my grandfather always had. My guilty pleasures, however, are Jesenka and Pikao. Jesenka is condensed cream and Pikao is condensed cocoa milk. Both come in a can or tube.

Beyond Prague

Not too far from Prague is Southern Bohemia which is a beautiful part of the Czech Republic  where you’ll find lots of ponds and beautiful historical towns. The town of Tábor is 75kms from Prague and home to a restaurant called Thir. There, the chefs only cook with local ingredients, work closely with farmers from the surrounding area, and with their fishermen to control the quality of the fish they source. Their main emphasis is on carp. Another restaurant with a similar philosophy is Sůl a Řepa in Strakonice. It puts a lot of weight on fresh, local ingredients. I really recommend its pickled vegetables.

One Final Stop Before You Leave 

If you have some time before your flight, I recommend stopping in the Dejvice district of Prague, which is on the way to Prague airport. There are lots of nice places there that I wouldn’t miss  such as La Forme bakery and cafe, and Místo which does light lunches.

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