Another year to savor
A look back at the stars and the trends of 2012
Posted: January 2, 2013
The past year has been a good one for those in Prague who cherish food for substance and not just sustenance, and, at this rate, 2013 is going to shape up even better. The year 2012 has proved that the Golden City is firmly on the food map.
Prague chefs have made inroads in developing a local scene specific to the city - and not just in fine-dining terms, although there have been plenty of new openings and accolades to back that up, as well. But the biggest movement in 2012 was toward being local and determining what that really means for both restaurants and quality-obsessed home cooks.
In one strain, this manifested in the opening of Nota Bene in Vinohrady, which has a menu that changes daily, sources all of the ingredients for its winning Czech-centric recipes within a close radius of Prague, and which, perhaps most excitingly, has a daily changing beer menu with a focus on smaller, regionally produced and specialty brews. The response has been enormous since it opened in February as diners appear to be just as enthusiastic about finding locally sourced conscientious cooking in restaurants as they are in increasing numbers about giving their loyal custom to the spectrum of farmers' markets around the city, which, since opening in 2010, have become even more of a staple for the weekly shop as a source for fresh produce, meats, milk and cheese, bread, honey and countless other items.
This preference has bridged the chasm between such low-key eateries as Nota Bene and up to the ritzy glamour of CottoCrudo in the Four Seasons, which applies this same seasonality dedication to the high-quality Italian cuisine conceived by Executive Chef Richard Fuchs. The restaurant opened in February after the closure of the hotel's Michelin-winning Allegro, and Fuchs maintained in a December 2011 interview with The Prague Post that, despite offering a foreign cuisine, CottoCrudo takes to heart the wealth of natural products available throughout the seasons in the Czech Republic, and the restaurant's menu reflects that.
In other 2012 upscale dining highlights, Prague scored two Michelin stars in March, with La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise and the Alcron in the Hotel Raddison Blu scoring one each. Oldřich Sahajdák, the executive chef and driving force behind La Degustation, spoke with us in April about the honor of being recognized internationally, not only for excellence in cooking but, uniquely, for being a restaurant dedicated to modernizing 19th-century Czech recipes.
Another turn that reflected the precedence of local pride was the mushrooming number of Vietnamese bistros opening up around town, taking the passion and know-how of the large Vietnamese ethnic minority here and spreading the love among Czechs, who have taken to pho and Bun Cha like a duck to water. One of the most popular eateries, Pho Vietnam Tuan & Lan, opened up a sit-down restaurant close to náměstí Míru in July and has barely seen an empty seat since.
The Vltava was also a big player in 2012 as people sought to make the most of the embankment. Food stalls and hip beer huts took over the Náplavka embankment project in the summer, packed out most nights with people cooling off with a few beers and snacks off the Balkan grill after sundown. The tapas restaurant La Terrassa, located on Dětský ostrov, opened this year, boasting hard-to-beat views of the National Theater and the river, and quality seafood and tapas. Farther downstream, Občánska plovárna reopened as a Thai restaurant with an equally appealing spacious terrace right on the water.
For patient lovers of Mexican food, the options are expanding every year, and early 2012 saw the opening of El Paisa, the city's first taco-dedicated spot. Run by a former staffer of the always-packed Las Adelitas in Vinohrady (which itself opened a new joint close to Old Town Square in August), it has delivered on tiny tacos, albeit for a price.
All in all, 2012 was a great year for finding well-executed higher standards of quality and range of options. Let's all toast to another year of more of the same - and perhaps a few welcome surprises.
Fiona Gaze can be reached at