La Scène: Spotlight on expression
Written by: Tim Gosling
Photo: Dorothea Bylica
The slick minimalist lines of haute-cuisine newcomer La Scène are softened and warmed by chocolate brown furnishings, shelves sprouting daffodils and the enthusiastic welcome of Richard Vrzal, chief of service.
The hearty reception could surprise a casual entrant expecting to find the ice-white floor patrolled by the cool gaze of hipper-than-thou waiters. There are depths within La Scène, however, that the post-modern stage it’s set upon does not necessarily prepare you for.
For a start, according to owner Zoran Kovačevič, it’s not a restaurant, bar and champagne club at all, but a theater. “We are actors on stage everyday,” he announces. The Sarajevo native is adamant that it is the central members of staff which are the stars of the show. “They all have special roles to give people an experience,” he adds. Regarding the “experiential” concept of his new project, Kovačevič is unhesitant about what La Scène aims to offer diners. “We want people to forget where they are for three hours. Like when you go to the cinema and watch a great film – you get lost in it,” he says.
Three years ago Kovačevič met Georges-André Rognard, a French chef, ideally type-cast for his role in his passionate approach to his profession. After decades spent cooking in his homeland and New York, he arrived in Prague to work at Le Patio and Hotel Hoffmeister. Kovačevič says that he has wanted to work with the famed Gaul ever since.
Rognard is the headline act. Kovačevič points out that in the centers of gastronomic gravity such as France and Italy, restaurants are known by the chef, whereas in Prague, it’s the owners that hog the spotlight. “This restaurant is run by Georges Rognard,” he is at pains to repeat. “His personality, his expression is at the core.”
Thus it is that Rognard designs the menu, and even sets the prices, in between plying his craft in the kitchen and regular appearances in the dining room to discuss the finer points with diners. A little reticent at first about his star-billing, Rognard soon warms to his role when talking about his menu. Simplicity is his watchword; he scorns “fusion cuisine, where you find 10 different tastes on the plate and you don’t know what you’re eating”. On a short menu, Rognard’s explorations – from snails ragout “my style”, with tomatoes, basil and cream, to the fillet of lamb with gingerbread crust – are based on classic French gastronomy.
When is a magret duck not a magret duck? Often when it’s a regular duck sold under the elite banner, Rognard complains. This is no joke for the Frenchman. He is forceful in asserting that great cooking relies primarily on great produce, and sourcing first class ingredients in Prague is one of his major headaches. Apart from basics, he says that all his produce comes from France – which presents its own problems in terms of price and quality control.
Whilst Rognard struggles, he says, with the knowledge of Czech importers, sommelier Aurélien Hinsinger says that his contacts have helped him build a strong wine list and “probably the biggest choice of champagnes in Prague.” Then again, he did work as an importer here and as a sommelier at the Renaissance Hotel and La Perle de Prague, as well as running his own restaurant – Vas-y Vas-y.
Enthusiastic as he is about the extensive wine list, ninety percent of which is French, Hinsinger toes the party line that his part is to support his fellow countryman’s cooking, “to help educate people as to which wine should accompany their choice from the menu”. He says he is currently looking to introduce Czech wines to the list, conducting a thorough search for candidates with the quality to grace the dining room.
After 10 years as a restaurateur in Prague (his Art Diogenes venues being well-established), Kovačevič is excited about his new project. Yet true to his word, the owner is happy for Rognard to have the last word on the show: “To offer a great experience you need the whole team; all the elements in combination can make the perfect moment,” he offers in modesty.
U milosrdných 6, Praha 1 · tel.: 222 312 677, www.lascene.cz
Open: Mon-Fri 8-02, Sat 19-23 · Visa, MC, Maestro
FARTHER AFIELD: Brabander
In June 2003, a new star called Brabander appeared in the culinary skies over Brno. Almost two years after its opening, it’s clear that it was no comet, it’s a pole star, of which until then there had been only one in Brno, U Kastelána, where Brabander’s founder, Michal Prachař, was gaining experience. The menu is based on French-Mediterranean cuisine, so fresh seafood figures prominently and the pasta is made on the premises. The menu isn’t overly extensive, and any attempts to dazzle is done with quality instead of quantity. The menu is changed seasonally, four times a year, depending on the availability of ingredients. The spring version, with asparagus and young vegetables, is currently in the works. Wine lovers won’t come up short here either – Brabander’s wine list includes 200 Moravian and imported wines.
Joštova 4, Brno, tel.: 542 211 922
Open: Mo-Sa 11-24, Su 12-22
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managing director, Partnership Films
“My appetite, which determines which restaurant I choose, depends a lot on my mood and the occasion. If I want something good and don’t have much time I go to Kogo, but for business lunches I like Le Café Colonial, Barock, or Pravda. For romantic dinners I choose Pálffy Palác on the Malá Strana. I take foreign visitors to Kampa Park or Hergetova Cihelna. I also like Creole cuisine with mojitos at the Cuban La Bodegita Del Medio, where I usually completely lose track of time. When I want a pizza I go to Rugantino, I drench it with garlic oil, and my day is complete.”
Barock, Pařížská 24, P-1, tel.: 222 329 221
Le Café Colonial, Široká 6, P-1, tel.: 224 818 322
Pálffy Palác, Valdštejnská 14, P-1, tel.: 257 530 522
Pravda, Pařížská 17, P-1, tel.: 222 326 203
Rugantino, Dušní 4, P-1, tel.: 222 318 172