Written by: John Letzing
Photo by: Archiv
If you give a pizzeria an expensive makeover, is it still just a pizzeria?
The premise sounds more than a little absurd. A swanky pizzeria? Don’t we already have enough pizzerias in this town to keep the populace eternally steeped in melted mozzarella? And how in the world do you dress up a pizza to make it resemble something worth over 200 crowns?
At Hergetova Cihelna, a massive food and music experiment that appeared in Malá Strana earlier this year, answers to these questions are: “yes”, and “we do it by having a really talented Neapolitan pizzaiolo on hand”. A pizzaiolo, by the way, is not a topping, but a trained pizza chef – in this case an Italian transplant named Vincenzo Sellitto. And anyway, says Cihelna’s general manager, David Clark, despite being tagged as a high-class pie purveyor, pizza is really a secondary focus for the restaurant. “The focus is on a wide range of different food at different prices,” adds Clark, and this is reinforced by a glance at the menu. One can drop CZK 400 for a good lunch as easily as he can drop CZK 1,500 for a better dinner, and on a broad range of dishes. Apart from the 15 different pizzas on offer, there is seafood, including grilled salmon and tuna tempura, as well as Czech dishes adorned with a modern sheen. Of the svíčková, Clark says, “It’s like I never see around here, svíčková that you can actually cut and eat, not just a thin shred of beef.”
Drink-wise, Cihelna’s bar is a majestic monument to smoking and alcohol, with 24 meters of wrap-around bar and an IMAX-like view onto the adjacent river, neatly framed by Charles Bridge. The large outdoor terrace occupies a broad swath of riverbank, and occasionally host DJs and live music. It’s true that the view and proximity come with a price – Clark must surely tire of talk about the possibility of a second round of flooding. In fact, Cihelna was a week away from opening last August when the flood of the century struck (its opening was then postponed to the following January). The newly installed flood barrier on the west bank of the Vltava, however, is reassuring.
Clark estimates his current clientele to be two thirds Czech – an observation not supported by a visit on a random Monday night when, even taking into account the long-legged dates on the arms of German bankers, natives were grossly outnumbered. “The idea is that tourists will at most just fill in the gaps, and locals will get to have first pick (of tables),” says Clark. A bold statement from a businessman situated in tourist central, but Clark doesn’t avoid bold gestures. It was his idea to place massive, illuminated playing card symbols on Cihelna’s roof in January, a symmetrically kitsch compliment to Havel’s neon heart on Prague Castle – and a stunt for which the city threatened a million crown fine (no fine was ultimately levied, and an illuminated red spade remains in Cihelna’s lounge).
Having managed the nightclub Roxy at the end of the nineties, Clark also brings a defiantly meticulous approach to music. Cihelna’s dining room is situated astride an imposing DJ perch, a complex hive of knobs, switches, and turntables that pumps House or similarly-styled music through the 22nd-century sound system (a network of mounted speakers pulling MP3s from PC stations). The steroid-ridden outfit is necessarily extensive, as seating capacity here (lounge, bar and restaurant plus twin patios) can theoretically accommodate an astonishing 420 people. Indeed, the gluttonous ambition of Cihelna is startling. It’s as if a group of well-funded, tuned in, thirty-something men decided to build the ultimate chick-magnet clubhouse in vintage Playboy bachelor-style. Actually, this may not be far from the truth. Nils Jebens, Cihelna owner and well-heeled restaurateur, fits the description pretty well, as does Mr. Clark. In any case, the food can be diversion enough. And those fancy pizzas? They’re money well spent.
Cihelna 2b, Praha 1
Tel: 257 535 534
Open daily 11:30 – 2:00
All major credit cards
FARTHER AFIELD: Family Hotel
Photo by: Hana Hamplová
The village of Okoř is a popular destination for excursions, with its ruins of an old castle and beautiful hiking. Catering to visitors in the neighborhood are two restaurants, the traditional Dělová bašta (Cannon Fortification) and the cosmopolitan Family Hotel. The light, wood-furnished spaces are reminiscent of a French provincial restaurant, although the owner, Simona Eloy, describes the interior as more of a hodge-podge. The building in which the restaurant is located was built at the end of the 19th century, and was formerly an inn. Eloy designed most of the furniture herself, and even did the finish work. The most popular specialties are soups and steaks (for around CZK 200), and at lunch time the restaurant also offers ready-to-serve classic Czech meals. On weekends Okoř acts like a magnet, attracting people and festivity. The restaurant is twenty minutes from Prague by car, but the adjoining hotel has seven rooms, so if you don’t want to drive back, you can spend the night there. Reservations are a good idea.
Okoř 23, tel.: 737 411 673
no credit cards
How to get there: By the main road that goes through the village of Okoř, parking in front of the restaurant.
Petr Vinš, managing director, CRA Rating Agency
“Quite often I invite my business partners for business lunches to Zahrada v opeře in the Radio Free Europe building. The restaurant’s interior has an interesting design and the food never fails me. The cuisine is international and you can get such exotic dishes as Nepalese tomato soup or coconut soup. I personally prefer the salmon steak with basil sauce or, if I’m more hungry, the pork steak in bacon with truffle sauce. Mainly because of my foreign visitors, I appreciate that the servers are not only pleasant, but also speak some languages other than Czech.”
Zahrada v opeře, Legerova 75, Praha 1, tel.: 224 239 685