Written by: Tim Gosling
Photo: Dorothea Bylica
The joker in the pack on the Prague dining scene, Magická zahrada aims to entertain guests through a combination of the unusual, the unexpected and the downright bizarre.
The fairies at the bottom of this “magical garden“ wear a mischievous grin as they frolic amongst comically grotesque sculptures and a giant fountain made from radiator parts. Entering amid a set of Brobdingnag cutlery whilst serenaded by songbirds, one confronts cartoon gargoyles guarding the passage through to the winter garden, terrace and greenery beyond.
The chief jester of this buffoonery is manager and co-owner Michal Janáček. Trained in catering and service, he opened Magická zahrada in the summer of 1999 having worked at numerous high-class eateries across the city. Preferring to allow his creations to do the talking for him, he shrugs when asked the fundamental motivations behind opening the restaurant: “I don’t know how to do anything else,“ he laughs, while squeaking the red plastic dog toy that lights the table from above.
He slams a hand down with a loud bang, nearly lifting diners out of their seats in surprise. The dessert menu is now stamped on the pastel blue paper in the center of the bright orange table. Thankfully, none of them is engaged in cutting their own steak from a slab of raw meat at the time. Having stepped from the much-travelled and somewhat worn Nuselská, the sleek design of the dining rooms is found welcoming by the business people and overwhelmingly Czech clientele that attend in numbers.
Janáček says that there were plenty of restaurants in Prague with good food and good service – he wanted to do something different. Magická zahrada certainly is different, and not just for the reminder of a funhouse at a carnival that some of the décor provides. Restaurants with this standard of international food, service and, indeed, prices are few and far between in this neck of the woods.
Surely Magická zahrada got lost down in Prague 4, when it should be in the center of town. Janáček responds that he would have a restaurant on Old Town Square if he could afford it. As ever, his answer should be taken with a liberal pinch of salt. There was a Magická zahrada II on Národní, but it closed a year ago following “problems with the lease.“ The manager is keeping his eyes peeled for another location in town.
The jester turns serious when asked about the menu. All his holidays are spent in restaurants around Europe he says, keeping tabs on trends in the culinary trade. He returned from Madrid recently with 40 cooking pans. He’s also keen to be part of the evolution of cuisine in Prague and says that this is reflected in healthier eating habits, smaller portions of meat in particular, and imaginative presentation, using artful tableware for example. Janáček designs the menu, which features many Italian representatives and a multitude of steaks from the grill. He insists that the ingredients come from the original sources, buffalo mozzarella for instance, and are extremely fresh: this is one of the few places where you can personally interrogate your lobster.
Having trained as a waiter, Janáček also drops the japes when it comes to service. He demands that his staff be acutely aware of clients’ needs, he says, and even makes them sit an exam every time the menu changes. Service will adapt according to the client and occasion, remaining formally attentive towards a business lunch or letting their guard down at your birthday celebration.
Should a suitable location be found, another Magická zahrada II will be established. However, there’s no plan for the second establishment to attempt an exact copy of the Prague 4 forebear. The sense of fun will remain, but the features will be different and the cuisine definitely so; the restaurant that was on Národní offered Mexican food. Back in his original joke shop, Janáček says that he is always looking for ways to get better. “Once you think there’s nothing to improve,“ he announces with customary grin, “that’s the beginning of the end.“
Nuselská 114/159, Praha 4
tel.: 261 214 252
Open: Mon – Sat: 11:30-24, Sun: 11:30-23
FARTHER AFIELD: Prague’s “Little Italy“
Photo: dorothea bylica
This recently opened venue is a sophisticated cut above your average vinárna, offering not only “the wines and tastes of Italy,“ but aspiring to become a “cultural and gastronomic meeting place“ in Old Town. In addition to cheeses, chocolates, cakes and other delectable goods of Italian persuasion, VINOdiVINO boasts the largest selection of labels from the 20 Italian wine-making regions. Finally, the owners will also be providing regular courses, taught by experts, for wine-lovers who want to learn more about wine and other products from Italy.
VINOdiVINO, Vězeňská 3, Praha 1, tel.: 222 312 999
|Photo by: archiv
member of the board, MAFRA
“I don’t have to visit luxury restaurants to have a fabulous dinner. My big weakness are good, medium-done beef steaks, and I eat them with relish mostly in Titanic restaurants or Cart Centre Radotín. I recommend trying them with blue cheese sauce. Apart from steaks, I love Mexican cuisine, and in this case my favorite restaurant is Cantina on Újezd, where I usually order the Enchilada de Pollo. And when I start to long for an exclusive atmosphere, I go for outstanding French cuisine and wines to Le Bistrot de Marlene.“
Titanic, Štěpánská 615/24, Praha 1, tel.: 296 226 282
Cart Centrum Radotín, Výpadová 1335, Praha 5, tel.: 257 910 515
Cantina, Újezd 430/38, Praha 1, tel.: 257 317 173
Le Bistrot de Marlěne, Plavecká 4, Praha 2, tel.: 224 921 853