Published on February 7, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Wall we need is love
A guided tour of Prague transports Alastair Gilmour to food and beer heaven
Here in a historic part of one of Europe’s most beautiful cities I’m about to commit a crime. I’m in Prague with an aerosol paint can in my hand and I’m going to “tag” the wall in Grand Priory Square that belongs to The Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
Nervously, I scrawl “Nice Wall” and step back to admire my burst of creativity.
It’s all OK, though. We’re at the John Lennon Peace Wall where since his death in 1980, young people have sprayed “love and peace” messages, poems and flowers – at first to the annoyance of the authorities, but now a blind-eyed tourist attraction.
We’re on a food tour of Prague (www.eatingpraguetours.com) with hugely entertaining host Jan Macuch who guides us down tiny picturesque streets, steep stairs and “art” parks to discover some of the city’s hidden gems – little-known wine bars, backstreet bistros and tiny, family-run cafés, in a four-hour quest to savour the city’s best food and drink.
Art, history, geography and opera are thrown in – from David Cerny’s renowned sculptures to a rendition from Smetana’s The Bartered Bride (with Jan doing both tenor and soprano with great aplomb) and a treatise on sugar versus honey.
We’re on the trail of authentic Czech food and drink, far from the tourist hot-spots, but still surrounded by glorious architecture. The whole idea is to have antipasto in our meeting place, starters in another, wine and cheese in the third, the ultimate goulash in venue number three, then divine desserts and digestifs in a classy restaurant complete with grand piano player.
The family-run Kafe U Zelenych Kamen (Green Stove Café) is a handsome, cosily wood-panelled delight, set in the former Italian quarter of the city.
The food is home-made by the proprietor’s family with his wife responsible for cakes and desserts. It’s difficult not to think of the word “continental” but that describes it well – a front bar area with steps up to small seating gallery. We drink beer from Zatec (Saaz in German, where the legendary hops come from) and pick at a selection of “beer” cheeses with cold cuts, gherkins and pickles. Surely sharing plates and clinking beer mugs is the ideal way of getting to know your fellow diners.
Then it’s a short hop to St Martin, a bistro-style establishment quite starkly decorated in its white walls and tiles where we’re waited on like we were in a friend’s home. Sauerkraut soup is served with a dollop of crème fraiche which one imagines would be perfect for hangovers and ancillary ailments. And then we have more beer. The owner, via Jan’s translation, gave us a lesson in mushrooms.
“It’s important to know your winemaker,” says our guide as we settle into Vinoteka U Mourenina, a delightful wine bar staffed by knowledgeable staff who simply gush with Czech wine.
Our Rosé Na Zahrady 2016 Vino J Stavek is followed by Sauvignon 2015 Hermes Vinarstvi Gala (white), then Maharal 2013 Vinarstvi Tanzberg – all Czech – as astonishing as any from France or Italy.
There are paired with a Czech Gouda, Czech blue cheese and Czech jam and pickles. It’s worth returning if only to buy some classy wine glasses from t large selection.
U Krise Restaurant is part of a swish hotel going by the same name. It’s a classic, early 20th Century dining room with an air of decadence about it. The goulash that Jan has ferreted out is wild boar liberally doused in a paprika-spiced sauce, served with dumplings. There are so many flavours going on that it’s impossible to describe them all. More beer, too.
Our final destination is the famous Slavia Café, a traditional café/restaurant that offers Czech and international cuisine. It’s where our desserts are presented – an amazing array of chocolate confections; fresh fruit, whipped cream, caramel sauce, truffels, cheesecake and marzipan ice cream – all under the gaze of a mural depicting the horrors of absinthe, “the green fairy”, which we’re encouraged to try as a choice of digestifs.
Interestingly, Czechs throw away the least amount of food in the EU. This has evolved through centuries of invasion, persecution and subjugation and now people have it in their DNA to be careful with everything, particularly what’s on their plates.
Armed with that knowledge we didn’t dare leave a morsel – nor would we want to anyway.
With thanks to Czech Tourism UK for their generous hospitality.