|Written by: John Letzing
Photo by: Dorothea BylicaA 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 ČR
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.”