Atelier: Laid-back luxury
Written by: John Letzing
Photo by: Dorothea Bylica
A band of young Czechs has been set
loose with the tools to bring local diners a more accessible, yet
still delectable, version of haute cuisine.
After closely studying the tricks of the fine dining trade, L'ubo
Mikuš and friends have created an experience with a hint of the
luster of their former employer, La Perle de Prague, yet served
up on a far more humble scale. Many a visitor to Atelier have made
the first visit donning tie and evening wear, only to find it more
like a lounge in appearance than a fine restaurant, and make successive
appearances in more appropriate jeans and t-shirt. But a glance
at the menu (or more specifically, at the wine list) makes it clear
that the goal is comfort on a level far more refined than hum-drum
food and drink. Situated in a leafy but rather undistinguished corner
of Prague 10, the young restaurant has had to rely upon word of
mouth and good press to bring in diners during this, its debut year.
Mikuš, manager, and former host at La Perle de Prague, together
with friend, chef and former La Perle cook Rudolf Doležal, have
combined with another friend, wine importer Vladimír Strnad, to
form a young (Mikuš is 26) team with a solid set of credentials.
"You can't even make a comparison," says Mikuš of his
new restaurant's place among other local French eateries. "It's
a totally different strategy." And so far, quite a unique one
at that. Though dishes such as chicken with crayfish sauce and squid
ink spaghetti, and duck confit with buttered French turnips are
sprinkled across the tasteful but diminutive menu, prices for entrées
hover around the very reasonable CZK 200 range. The wines, however,
all 60 varieties of which are strictly French, offset the bargain
value scale. Having lived for years in France, Strnad is a well-connected
and independent importer who has taken pains to not only bring in
the good stuff, but also the stuff that no one else in town has.
Though the result is a price list slightly out of proportion with
that of the food, those in search of a champagne that may amaze
colleagues at the water cooler the next day will be rewarded with
a Pierre Gimonnet blanc de blanc (CZK 1,850).
The smart and economical interior design at Atelier takes the form
of urban-hip provocateur de.facto; picture elastic-banded patio
chairs, Spartan shelving with scattered white statuary, and defiantly
moody artwork that all somehow combine to form an attractive environment.
The developing clientele is currently about 50% expat and 50% local,
and those that have become inducted tend to visit frequently. "A
regular client at the other more formal places is someone that comes
once a month," says Mikuš, "but we have regulars that
come once a week. So we always need to let them find something new
on the menu." This calls for rapid variation - the Atelier
menu is liable to be reborn (at least a third of it, anyway) every
month. Fresh seafood finds its way in to the changing rotation,
and while seabass and cod filet are regular items, others such as
mullet often surface as specials. "It's really only a question
of how much you care about the fish," says Mikuš, who avers
that seafood need not be feared in our land-locked city, given that
it simply isn't neglected while in storage.
Meals can be crowned with a flurry of desserts, including a cre`me
brulée custom-steamed for you as you look on, and a scrumptious
mound of chocolate mousse. What will surely prove to be the decisive
factor in one's happiness at Atelier is the personal touch - Mikuš,
co-owner and operator, also serves as a host and waiter, doing so
with a sophisticated and gracious touch likely to convert the uncertain
to satisfied regulars.
Atelier, Na Kovárně
8, Praha 10,
tel.: 7172 1866,
Open: Mon-Sat 11:45 - 24:00
No credit cards accepted
FARTHER AFIELD: U Nouzů
On the main crossroads in this village just off the main road from
Pardubice to Hradec Kralové stands U Nouzů, long one of the gastronomic
wonders of the Czech provinces. Here manager Pavel Vlk and chef
Rudolf Žiak preside over an indoor/outdoor restaurant with a heady
list of interesting dishes.
On the open-fire grill a fine selection of fresh specialties such
as venison, tiger prawns, trout, carp or pike-perch are prepared
- with the sea-food being fished out live from the aquarium.
The wine list boasts over 220 wines from Bohemia and Moravia to
vintage ports, and includes such gems as a 1987 Pétrus from Pomerol.
The best of these live in a climate-controlled wine cellar, which
is accessed from the garden, while the intimate setting of the Stone
Cave (Jeskyně) next to it hosts groups from two to a dozen.
Hradiště na Písku 22
Tel.:/fax: 040-66 450 05
Open daily: 11.00-23.00
LIMELIGHT - Be there,
or be square
OSLO-BORN Nils Jebens has brought his eye for unique
décor and fine dining to bear on Old Town with his
latest venture, Malostranská kavárna Square. The name
reflects the avant-garde interior, which Jebens had
specially constructed according to the designs of
Czech architect Bára Škorpilová, who describes the
setting as "baroque minimalism".
While an original hearth is accompanied by steel lamps
and marble tables on the inside, guests can also enjoy
the outdoor garden, or one of the cellar rooms with
vaulted ceilings and "alchemists' trappings".
Perhaps most importantly, Italian head chef Riccardo
Lucque prepares Mediterranean cuisine that includes
fresh seafood and tapas. Evenings, the venue's main
area becomes an inviting cocktail bar.
Malostranské náměstí 5, Praha 1 Tel.: 5753 2109, www.squarerestaurant.cz
Dan Frolec, member of the board, Unilever
Where do you like to go for business lunch in Prague?
"We like to go to restaurant U Sádlů at Vinohrady, especially
if our guests are foreigners. It is an old-fashioned Czech restaurant
and they mostly serve typical Czech dishes such as smoked knee or
svíčková, but they can also prepare a great beefsteak. The interior
is interesting: middle-age arches, wooden furniture, period decorations.
The service is pleasant, and throughout lunch-time they make ready
meals, which means you don't have to wait too long for your order.
Reservations are not necessary, but parking your car in the neighborhood
will definitely be a problem."