Written by: Klára Smolová
Photo: Dorothea Bylica
Feelings play a main role at Červená tabulka. A cozy feeling, the feeling that you know the place well, even if you’ve never been here before, the feeling of time passed pleasantly, or simply the feeling of a fine dining experience.
Unobtrusive on the outside, inside an inspired restaurant lurks hidden in a small house not far from Petrské náměstí. You enter through a gate into an internal courtyard where, weather permitting, there are tables with wooden chairs. You then go through glass French doors and find yourself in a poetic realm that is difficult to classify.
The restaurant is a tableau of sorts, presenting the world of the artist Kamil Lhoták, whose works were the inspiration for the entire interior. The paintings on the walls depicting his three favorite subjects – bicycles, motorcycles, and balloons – as do the various items representing his peak creative period in the first half of the 20th century. Chairs, mirrors, candlesticks, model airplanes, and many other decorative items found in various used-goods and antique stores create the atmosphere, while even the restaurant’s name is derived from Lhoták’s “Fence with Red Placard” painting.
” It was the idea of my partner, Milan Hofman, a great fan and collector of Lhoták’s works,” explains co-owner Marek Smolík (34), who sees to the restaurant’s daily operation. Chance brought him together with the older-by-a-generation Hofman; Smolík had the desire and know-how to open his own restaurant, and Hofman had the real estate and the capital. While the interior bears the hallmarks of Hofman’s hand, Smolík’s domain is the kitchen. “Our cuisine is international, reflecting current gastronomic trends,” is Smolík’s brief description of the menu.
The restaurant, which seats about 50, has the ambience of a French bistro. The menu intentionally contains only about 15 dishes, predominantly meat – beef, lamb, pork, duck, and fish – and is constantly being changed to reflect what’s in season. While vegetarians will find the pickings slim here, it’s undoubtedly a great place for wine lovers. “We combine wines with dishes, and a sommelier, who tends to our Club de Vins vault, is there for demanding clients,” Smolík notes. The wine vault was set up in a separate part of the ground floor and holds about 130 varietals; it’s used mainly for private tastings, presentations, and parties.
According to Smolík, Červená tabulka’s clientele comprises mainly people with an interest in gastronomy who want to try new tastes and combinations. How about a light salmon mousse with cucumber tartar, saffron sauce, and ragout of fennel and oranges? Or lamb chops with a grilled vegetable ragout and purée of young peas, and thick lamb stock? Or baked filet of perch with purée of honeydew melon, dried fennel slices, and a thick fish sauce? If you’re still unsated, finish it off with cold coconut milk soup with nuts purée and chocolate ice cream with a slice of dried coconut. If tasting a little bit of everything sounds good, you’re far from alone. Chef Jan Horký tries to accommodate such diners with a so-called “tasting menu” comprising seven to eight courses, which allows customers to try things they wouldn’t order otherwise (but be sure to order it in advance).
Smolík is proud of his kitchen staff’s skills and confides that his original intention was to teach customers to follow the chef. “This is completely normal abroad, but it hasn’t met with a good response here yet. 90% of the people don’t recognize the quality of the ingredients – instead they’re preoccupied with prices,” he complains. This is also one reason he decided to accommodate all types of clients. “I wanted a restaurant that wasn’t entirely ordinary but that wasn’t exorbitantly expensive, either. We aren’t striving for the highest category, but we try to incorporate some of their features,” he explains.
Smolík is currently trying another concept – a restaurant that specializes in duck – in a new establishment called Perpetuum located in Dejvice. “Duck is an ingredient you can play around with,” claims the restaurateur, who believes that gourmets will soon find their way to this venue as well.
Lodecká 4, Praha 1
Tel.: 224 810 401
Open from 11:30 – 23
FARTHER AFIELD: Knížecí dvůr
Photo: Ivo Goldbach
There have long been many Švejk pubs throughout the republic, but the one in Hluboká nad Vltavou stands out among them. Not only is the cooking great, but thanks to its location in the old stone Knížecí estate right under the famed neo-Gothic castle it beckons all passersby. There are already plenty of restaurants in tourist-heavy Hluboká, and the off-season competition is truly fierce. But Švejk has rightly earned a prominent position, with its concept of providing very fine food while remaining a “people’s restaurant” with attentive and speedy service. You can enjoy classic pork with dumplings and sauerkraut or Chaplain Katz’s Goulash or Baloun’s Good Grub. Oddly enough, the specialty of the house has the least alluring name: Hluboká Stench. It really does smell, but it tastes great – a proper piece of pork collar baked with aged cream cheese, garlic, peppers, and other spices. A well-poured Pilsner Urquell is just the thing to wash it down.
nám. Čs. armády 26, Hluboká nad Vltavou
Tel.: 387 965 529
legal representative, O.T.E.C. ČR
“Today individual restaurants are distinguished by their ambience and service. That’s why I like going to the Vyšehrad restaurant, as they have mastered both. They offer international cuisine with French elements, but I always enjoy the beef and steaks, which I think are the best. Unlike other restaurants, they serve generously cut slabs of meat that you can order as small, medium, or “maxi” sizes. Their specialty is Bahia Steak, prepared with pepper, beans, and bacon. But the atmosphere here is best enjoyed in the summer, when you can sit on the terrace surrounded by historical buildings that are beautifully illuminated in the evenings. It’s magical.”
Rio’s Vyšehrad, Štulcova 2/102, Praha 2, tel.: 224 922 156, open daily 10-24