Caveat: Lot of pictures so keep scrolling down
Yesterday I was chatting with K and realised that it has been a month since we were at Prague. Time does fly.
Prague seems like such a lovely dream. The word poetic doesn’t appeared that clichéd when you are in Prague. We stayed at the wonderfully located Maximilian Hotel in Hastalska Square in the heart of Prague’s Old Town. Whether it’s the astronomical clock and the old square, the beautiful Charles Bridge, the cobbled streets, the cheerfully painted and well maintained old buildings, the Jewish Square and the ghosts that haunt it, every bit of old Prague is as pretty as a picture and July is a great month to visit it. The people are extremely friendly and most folks that we interacted with spoke English making it a very easy city to travel to.
We did a couple of off city trips. One was to Terezin, formerly used as a concentration camp. We did the tour with the Jewish company, Whitman Tours and would strongly recommend this for their fantastic guides. What we would not recommend unless you are ok with a nine hour drive with a blundering guide in a cramped bus to eat schnitzel is the Vienna tour with Viator. Within the city Eating Prague took us on a fantastic food tour which I had written about here. Then there was a tip based Free Walk that we went for with a very earnest gentleman called Mikhail which was a great way of seeing the city.
We ate some truly fabulous food in Prague. It is a meat lover’s paradise and we got the best of it here. We were in Prague for a week so there were some restaurants that we managed to return to as well. The spend in an average mid level restaurant was similar to what we would spend in a Salt Water Cafe in Mumbai for example. There we no street food of note though so if you put it together our food spends over a week it was fairly high. Imagine eating at high end Mumbai restaurants every day for seven days for every meal and you will get what I mean. But then food is our thing. Some people spend on balloon rides and carpets and wines when they travel. We spend on food.
I thought I will share some of the places that we ate in which might be of use if you head to Prague. A Google search will give you the addresses.
My favourite spot in Prague has to be Nase Maso. This is owned by the very enlightened Czech restaurant group, Ambiente. It is a new shop. A butchery. The Ambiente group rears its own meat from what I understand and supplies it from Nase Maso. We discovered the place during the Eating Prague tour and went back to it again, and again. The idea behind setting up the shop by Ambiente was to encourage super market loving Czechs to return to butcheries to buy their meat. We bought some fantastic bacon stuffed smoked sausages from there and brought it back to India for a sausage party among friends.
You can also choose your meat and have them grill it for you at Nase Maso. They have a few tables there. Or, if you are like K, you can skip the grilling and have steak tartare every time you go in. I had two steaks guided by the very knowledgeable young lady at the counter. First day she suggested what was hind cut and the next day the neck. You can choose portion sizes so I went for 100 g each times. Both the meats were wonderful and were down medium rare and seasoned perfectly by the young chef there. Starved as one is for a proper steaks in India, Nase Maso became my favourite pleasure ground in Prague.
Lokal is the place where we had the most number of meals. Like Nase Maso, this too is owned by Ambiente group and is again like NM not too heavy on the pocket either. It was recommended, first by the lady who drove our cab from the airport to the hotel. Then the folks at the hotel and the Eating Prague guys too.
It is a new property, deep and cavernous and made to resemble an old Czech tavern with the graffiti giving it a modern touch. It was packed with locals whenever we went there. Imagine someone in Mumbai doing the same based on an Irani cafe.
The food is simplistic here and they have different menus for lunch, dinner and in betweens. We had some lovely tripe soup here and black pudding sausage. K loved the steak tartare here too (she had it for every meal in Prague, regardless of where she went!) and on the first day we had butter fried carp which reminded me of its cousin, rui bhaja. The Czech favourite of boiled pork knuckle was a bit too bland but went well with the mustard and horse radish that came with it. The other Czech favourite, Fried cheese was a bit too unidimensional for my tastes.
They have a Czech menu as well as an English one and the meats come from Nase Maso.
This hundred year old cafe that we discovered at the end of our Vienna trip thanks to our boisterous and monotonous but food loving guide turned out to be the setting of a beautiful lunch the next day. We met there a couple of nights later again when we met my uncle, aunt and cousins who were holidaying in Europe too.
The entrance is pretty non-descript but once you go up you will realise that the place is really picturesque and takes you back to Europe at its most regal and yet is very warm and inviting. We loved sitting by the massive windows which looked down on to a KFC (!). The lamb goulash there is pretty out of the world. My cousins who had tried a goulash in Hungary a couple of days before they met us preferred the one at Louvre. As probably did Einstein who was once a regular here. We also tried the Czech pasta, spatzle though that was a bit dry though the bits with ham were delightful. The lemonade was a work of art too. The pastries old school.
Definitely a feel good place and a must visit.
This patisserie opposite the James dean cafe and near the modern art statue of the yawning naked lady is a place we stumbled upon on our first evening in Prague and revisited quite a few times. It’s a lovely place to sit by the window, sip on a cappuccino, munch on a cookie or a macaron and look on to life pass by on the cobbled streets. In absolute terms the macarons that Pooja Dingra of Le 15 Patisserie in Mumbai makes are better but hell, where can she get the view that the Bake Shop offers?
Talking of bakeries, the outlet of the Prague based chain, Krusta, at the end of the Charles Bridge was a wonderful little place to sit and have a coffee by once you have walked across the bridge and its musicians. While they have a range of bakes, what you should first try is the trudlo, the Czech sugar donut like roll which they make fresh here. Sipping on a cafe, nibbling on a trudlo, looking on to the Charles river is pretty much as close to heaven one can got for the price of a flight ticket to Prague.
There is another Krusta outlet near the astronomical clock but that doesn’t have seating. The one I am talking of has a couple of tables and chairs in the open outside the shop.
French, and not Czech, located beside the Maximilian hotel, Chez Marcel was the setting for one of my favourite meals in Prague. I liked it so much that I went there for a last bite after breakfast before we headed out at noon to catch our flight back.
Chez Marcel has some outside seating too but we loved the cream coloured walls, chequered table cloth and the very French Cafe like feel inside. The lady who took our order on the first evening, possibly the owner, was very articulate.
We zeroed in on the foie gras which we heard had just been banned in India. We had it two ways. As a terrine and as grilled with an orange sauce. Both brought alive the phrase ‘bursting with flavours’ from being a cliché to a reality. I preferred the terrine more and when I returned chose that. I would take little bites of the foie gras and savour every bit of its fatty goodness and my facial expressions with each bite would make Nigella seem like a prim nun.
We had some lovely warm crusty croissant with this. And tried the pork pate that was pretty divine too.
Cestre is a posh Ambiente run restaurant that we went to. It was there in the folder Eating Prague gave us and I saw it recommended online too.
This is a fairly large restaurant with a modern, minimalistic decor. The focus here is on serving good fish and steaks and keeping it simple. K had a trout here and, of course, a steak tartare which she found under flavoured.
I chose a tenderloin steak and a 150 g cut. I asked for my steak to be done medium rare and it was served delectably juicy and succulent. Was under seasoned though and that’s where the chef in the simpler kitchen of Nase Maso scored and of course at a lot lower price.
Talking of Ambiente, its Degustation was recommended to us by many as a Michelin starred place. We found it too expensive and skipped it.
Kalina near the Bake Shop is another place we stumbled onto on our first day at Prague. It’s a slightly premium and small fine dine restaurant. From what I gathered, they are recreating traditional Czech dishes here. It was a bit cold the evening we went there and I had an intensely flavoured beef clear consommé to counter the cold.
At the risk of this getting repetitive, K had a steak tartare and found it to be delightfully flavoured. For my mains I want for a roasted rainbow trout with mash which was understated and yet very heady and retained the natural flavours of the fish.
Sisters is a little shop opposite Nase Maso and was set up by, well, a couple of sisters. The sell open face sandwiches which is a big thing in Prague. However, the traditional Czech open faces sandwiches, I am told by Mirka of Eating Prague, who recommended Sisters, are heavy on mayo and cream. At Sisters you get a modern and delicate, feminine take on the Czech open sandwiches. Mirka’s recommendation of the mayo and goat cheese sandwich was bang on and we also love the herring sandwich and the ham and boiled egg ones.
The Stalls near the Astronomical Clock
There’s not much street food in Prague. There are a couple of stalls near the old square which serve delicious sausages, hunks of fatty Prague ham, potatoes and ham and trudlo. For street food, the ham can get very expensive as they cut you a half kilo portion which two people can’t finish and cost close to a 1000 Rs (300 kroners). The sausages are a lot cheaper.
The Maximilian Hotel Buffet
Our hotel, The Maximilian, which K found through Tripadvisor, had a lovely location. The room was small and cosy and the big window looking onto the quiet street livened it up. The bathroom was big and nice. The highpoint was the little gold fish they gave us in the room in case we missed our pet!
I am not big on eating in hotel buffets while travelling but breakfast was included in our deal. Loved going down to the coffee shop with big windows here. I would start with muesli every day to atone for the meat and then soon move on to great sausages and cheese and then pancakes and egg benedicts and salmon omelettes to order followed by nutella smeared croissant. Yes, I did have breakfast like a king!
Apart from these you can look at my Eating Prague post for some more Prague restaurant ideas. For those interested in that sort of thing, we did see quite few Indian restaurants around.
For a city as poetic as Prague, its food did offer many a pretty verse.