Written by: John Letzing
Photo by: Dorothea Bylica
Markéta Zelenková can recall from childhood that Střelecký Island, a patch of dry earth in the Vltava, was a fairgrounds set amid the ruins of an old fort. Not any more.
That old fort was rebuilt from the bottom up and reborn in 1999 as Ostroff, a culinary vessel where Zelenková is employed as marketing manager. There is a seductive aura of detachment and buoyancy here, giving diners the sensation of eating on a remarkably stable barge cast adrift. Tables are set against a swath of large windows perched just above the water and the National Theater, which viewed up close on the east bank never seems quite in proportion, here suddenly becomes a picturesque landmark in perfect perspective. And the rooftop terrace, recently refurbished, is shrouded just enough by the island’s flora to offer the thrill of isolation while perched in the center of town.
Ostroff has been the subject of glowing reviews around the world, yet has largely gone unnoticed in local media. Which may be why when a local journalist approaches him, the restaurant’s owner prefers to remain behind the scenes, and lets his most prized employee to do the talking. That employee is Manuel Amorini, a doe-eyed head chef with an infectious smile and a wedge of black hair that evenly divides the chin beneath it. That his appearance resembles more an artist at his own gallery show than a chef makes sense when one becomes familiar with Amorini’s delightfully unorthodox approach. A pleasing mix of intellectual curiosity and bold experimentation keeps his kitchen turning out anomalies that somehow work. His current challenge to the white-wine-for-seafood rule is a tuna filet with a red marsala wine from Sicily – a mix Amorini proudly deems “a little bit strange, but an excellent combination.” Delving into the dusty shelves of historical archives, Amorini has produced another favorite on the Ostroff menu – a casoncelli (similar to ravioli) made from a recipe 300 years old. “Of course I make it a bit lighter now,” the chef says with a laugh, “because you know, times change.”
Zelenková is quick to highlight the chief difference between Ostroff’s cuisine and the sometimes immobilizing, painfully heavy local fare – all of Amorini’s ingredients are brought in fresh from Italy, including parma ham, oils, tomatoes, and a thrice-weekly delivery of seafood. And the necessity to coordinate his cuisine with a proper wine is never overlooked – Amorini describes the relationship between the two as “like the way women are important for men, white or red, the food cannot live without the wine.” The wine list is entirely made up of Italian vintages, ranging from a bottle of Chardonnay del Veneto I.G.T. for CZK 600, to the likes of a bottle of Tuscan Solaia Antinori for CZK 9,950.
According to Zelenková, one of the primary challenges for Ostroff has been a tendency here to associate Italian cuisine with the legion of cheaper pizzerias that dot the Prague landscape. The no-frills, Trattoria-style fare those places churn out is a far cry from Amorini’s artistry, yet Ostroff has to get people in the door before they can find out for themselves. “If you say ‘Italian restaurant’, you have to add, ‘not just a pizza place’,” Zelenková says, “but once people come in here and sit down, it’s not so difficult to make them see the difference.”
Open: Mon-Fri 12-14, 19-23:30, Sat 19-23:30, Sun 11-15, 19-23:30
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FARTHER AFIELD: Villa Golfista
It looks like a private villa, and feels a bit like home: decorated with angels and items related to golf – including a real indoor golfing simulator. The upper floor features a very nice attic appartment, which is perfect for a dining party of four. But the most outstanding thing in this cozy venue is the quality of service. The managers and staff are extremely kind, courteous and helpful. Although it’s located on the outskirts of Mariánské Lázně, it’s very easy to reach.
Americká 782/1C, Mariánské Lázně
tel: 0165-623071 (621 357)
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How to get there:
When approaching Mariánské Lázně from Prague, there is an Aral gas station at the edge of the city. Turn right just before the station and take the second street right again. The villa is 300 m from there.
Eva Janoušková, fashion designer, E.daniely
Where do you like to go to have a drink and a bite of light meal in hot summer?
“During the summer time I enjoy sitting and eating in the garden of restaurant Století. It has unusual cuisine, a nice salad bar and a good selection of wines. Throughout the year I like Universal – it’s not far from my house and I love their salads. In cre`perie U slepiček in Průhonice they make wonderful pancakes. If time is not an issue, we like to visit Spálený mlýn restaurant near Prague. It is located in a beautiful natural setting, and offers an unbelievable and unique choice of meals from around the world. Just reading their menu is a literary experience as well.”