Written by: Tim Gosling
Photo: Dorothea Bylica
Alberto Courne unveiled an Italian restaurant on a sunny Prague 2 street-corner in June of last year. After a two-month restoration and “attitude adjustment”, Artyčok is again welcoming diners with a new menu.
The original Artyčok met its fate around Christmas, on the return of the owner-and-manager from a two-month sabbatical. He explains that the staff was not performing, so he closed the venue immediately. Service and the approach of his team is a crucial point for the French-Spanish restaurateur; beyond his enthusiasm for food, his greatest passion is people.
Admiring that in gastronomic countries such as France or Italy the waiter is “your friend, your confidant”, Courne says that he is trying to introduce a similar atmosphere in Prague. “We have a lot of single people coming here in the evenings with a book for example. We make sure that they feel at home,” he continues. During our conversation, Courne breaks off to say thanks and bid farewell to every patron as they leave.
He says that ensuring people feel relaxed entails understanding psychology, knowing when people are in the mood to talk and when they want to be left alone. His care about hiring and integrating new employees into the team is also why he insists on having a small staff. “They’re not waiting for someone else to take responsibility, plus I can pay them more and they share good tips at the end of the night”. His method bears obvious results – the average waiter spends four years with Courne.
In March he re-opened the venue with a new menu. “You have to change something in order to avoid confusion,” he claims. A few Italian selections remain on a menu that includes selections from Spain, Mexico and Thailand.
The emphasis is on light dishes. It’s hard to miss the entrance of the salads onto the terrace, mountainous as they are. They form the perfect accompaniment to starters like tuna carpaccio with parmesan and black pepper. For hungrier diners, the fajitas offer a sizzling alternative.
Courne exhibits a passion about the whole package. He designed much of the restaurant (although he’s “not a designer”) and works in close cooperation on the menu with chef Yoann Sirvent, who has been with him for ten years – despite only having just reached his 30th birthday.
Again, Courne refers to relationships, admitting that “any couple” will have arguments within that time, but remarking that there is great respect between the two. He sees his own passion reflected in the young chef, who will often tell Courne that what the owner envisages is unlikely. “I have the ideas and he brings them to life,” says Courne. “I can cook at home, but I don’t have the technical knowledge to work in a professional kitchen,” he admits.
This symbiotic arrangement enables Sirvent to prepare the wide range of cuisine found on the menu at Artyčok. Has this been successful in attracting a wide range of customers? Courne responds that his aim is simply to create a restaurant that he can feel happy to spend time in. Indeed, far from aiming for universal appeal, the restauranteur explains that Artyčok aims to satisfy the tastes of Prague 2 residents specifically. “In the center you can write the entire menu in French and people will think it’s exotic. You try to do that here and no one will come,” he laughs. He maintains that he does not miss the French approach to food at all, asserting that he enjoys his life immensely in central Europe and appreciates the need to adapt to local preferences.
If he ever does leave, Courne says it will be for a destination some distance from Europe, definitely somewhere with better access to fresh seafood. In recent months he has made it as far as Vinohrady, where he has recently launched the Planet Sports Bar. “When you’re a collector of sports memorabilia you realize one day that you have no more space at home,” he laughs.
Londýnská 29, Praha 2
tel.: 222 524 110
open daily 11:30am-11pm
no credit cards
FARTHER AFIELD: Alchymista
For many years the medieval restaurant Alchymista has had a good name in České Budějovice, and not even the flood of 2002 – after which the owners restored this unique cellar space to its original condition quickly – changed that. You certainly feel like you’re in the center of the world of alchemy as soon as you enter. A stylish interior, an accommodating staff in period costumes, and a menu that could come from the days of Emperor Rudolf. Dishes are prepared in an open-fire oven located in the middle of the restaurant, and given names like Copernicus’ Pocket or Sharp Devil’s Tongue. For dessert they serve Tastes for Picky Virgins or Herbalist’s Greens. During summer you can enjoy the gourmet offerings in a covered garden, and when you pay the Alchymista staff will bid you farewell with a sweet drink – after which you shouldn’t drive immediately.
U Tří lvů 10, České Budějovice, tel.: 386 356 545
Sun-Thu 11-24, Fri-Sat 11-01
All cards except American Express
general manager for CR and SR, Steelcase
“Because I spend a lot of time in modern interiors, I like to dine in informal, relaxed restaurants, where there are more locals than tourists or business people. For less formal business lunches I choose proven venues where they not only serve good, quality food, but where you can also find a suitable atmosphere. One such restaurant is Potrefená husa in Vinohrady, with its very accommodating and pleasant staff and excellent cuisine. My favorite dishes there are garlic soup and steak with pepper sauce and potatoes. The menu is also regularly updated with some novelties.”
Potrefená husa, Vinohradská 104, Praha 3, tel.: 267 310 360