Felice Brasserie: Kafka never ate this well
Written by: John Letzing
Photo by: Dorothea Bylica
The concept behind Felice is unrequited love. But diners will inevitably feel they’re getting more in return for their money than they deserve.
At first glance, Titus Eliáš seems more likely to brandish a hockey stick than a saucepan. The strapping young Czech, whose father randomly picked his unorthodox name from a newspaper’s front page, has the build and understated poise of an accomplished athlete. In certain respects, that’s exactly what he is. At 28 years of age, Eliáš, executive chef at Felice, has already achieved more dexterous skill at the helm of a kitchen than most of his countrymen.
Having developed his craft at Hotel Savoy and Circle Line in the late ’90s, Eliáš later refined it while working in Australia, where he took an unpaid position at the feet of an esteemed Spanish executive chef in Brisbane. With newly acquired skills in tow (including a more solid grasp of English), he then returned to his native Prague. The key to his cuisine, says Eliáš, is simplicity. “You cannot play too much with the products on the plate. It’s not the most important thing to put so many truffles on there, together with all of the most expensive ingredients. If you are honest with your products, you just do a very nice steak for example, using the proper quality cut of meat, then you’re a king.”
The original Felice, for those unfamiliar with Franz Kafka lore, was the famed Prague writer’s muse, whom he was ultimately unable to wed when his health deteriorated at an early age (the association is not as random as it seems – the restaurant sits in the same building where Kafka toiled as a clerk at an insurance company for 14 years). Layered on top of literary nostalgia is a distinctly French feel, that of a Parisian Brasserie. The brasserie is a cultural cornerstone, what a cozy hospoda might be to Czech culture, albeit French – so substitute fine wine and a touch of elegance in place of beer and dusty corners. Though the aesthetics at Felice are as yet a trifle cold to be on par with what one might consider a traditional brasserie, warmer touches are planned for the future (including replacing much of the pallid white decor with a deeper hue).
Eliáš’s boss, Hotel Mercure manager Robert-Jan Woltering, describes Felice as sitting somewhere between the Michelin-rated refinement of La Perle de Prague and the more earthy bonhomie of a Chez Marcel. The clincher may be the wine list; through a decades-old pricing program, Mercure Hotels manage to bring top vintages across borders with minimal mark-up – adding a mere 15%, or maximum EUR 10 (CZK 300) – by purchasing and distributing in bulk. This means that a bottle of Chablis Premier Cru can be had at Felice for CZK 1,050, or a bottle of Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Classé for a very reasonable CZK 1,550. Another key advantage: these wines are also available by the glass, something rarely seen elsewhere in town. The menu at Felice is fairly simple, with few surprises. It’s heavy on meat dishes, key among them being the savory lamp chops resting on a bed of spinach and polenta cake, and duck medallions sliced and served to immaculate perfection. Duck foie gras is another highlight, served with raisin sauce and a fig. For vegetarians, there are a few salads on offer, as well as soups, quiches and goat cheese. When it comes to desserts, Eliáš himself strongly recommends the apple tart, a resounding exclamation point for any meal – it quite literally melts over the palate.
Felice is still young and suspended in a state of under appreciated half-life, but when word of its curiously-named chef’s talents begins to get around, it currently could well blossom into the vibrant brasserie its founders intended.
In Hotel Mercure
Na Poříčí 7, Praha 1
Tel.: 221 800 840
All credit cards
FARTHER AFIELD: Hospůdka u Petra
A mere six kilometers from the Loket exit on the D1 Prague-Brno highway is the village of Zahájí. Here, in the idyllic setting of his family home, Petr Vlk and his wife Alena have built a little gastronomic oasis offering excellent home cooking. Those turning up ‘on spec’ will be offered a basket so they can head to the forest for mushrooms for an hour or so until a table is free.
Specialties include: baked snails, carp in batter, goose, potato pancakes and, of course, seasonal game and mushroom specialities. Advance orders must be made for items such as wild boar, turkey or pheasant. In summer a garden grill is in use, and the establishment has become popular for families and groups with gatherings for country-music evenings and company dinners. In winter they cater for a maximum of 30 guests
The wine cellar includes some very decent Moravian offerings, as well as an impressive international selection from such producers as Rosemount of Australia and even a famed Pétrus from Bordeaux.
Hospůdka u Petra
Zahájí 12, Ledeč nad Sázavou
Tel.: 603 338 653
Marek Rosenbaum, partner, Tacoma
“I go to restaurants quite often for both private and business reasons. I often choose a different place for different occasions: lunch, dinner, business or private company. But there is one restaurant where I go back to no matter when or with whom – the Zahrada v Opeře in RFE building. I am attracted by the spirit of a place where they managed to combine a modern interior with beautiful stone vases and floral decorations with great cuisine. This environment is completed by pleasant music and lighting. It all creates an ambience which will make you want to come back again and again.”
Zahrada v Opeře, Legerova 75, Praha 1, tel: 224 239 685