Prague is famous for its stag-dos and beer that costs less than water, and with return flights for under £50, it was the perfect New Year mini-holiday for me and my three friends. Gloves, scarfs and beer hats at the ready, we set off for a few days of sightseeing, beer drinking and beef eating in the capital of the Czech Republic.
Typical Czech food is meaty, carb-heavy and lacking in fresh vegetables. Vegetarians, fear not, because there’s plenty of apple strudel, and who needs their veg fresh when it comes perfectly pickled instead? Here is a rundown of some culinary highlights from the trip.
Our first day in the city saw us breakfasting at Kare cafe – half cafe, half trendy interior shop. Given it was the day following Shrove Tuesday, I nodded to Pancake Day with these oatmeal pancakes served with vanilla cream. The chopped fruit served on top was mixed with fresh mint which worked well in cutting the rich vanilla-specked custard.
There was also the lighter option of yogurt, granola and compote – all homemade and a fantastic combination, prettily arranged in an appropriately fashionable mason jar.
After working up an appetite on our walk up to the top of the funicular railway, we lunched at a friend’s recommendation, the popular spot Lokal. Serving typically Czech food, brain, pickled herring and at least five types of sausage featured on the menu.
Changing the phrase ‘when in Rome’ to fit the Czech capital and you end up with something like ‘when in Prague, eat all the goulash and drink an awful lot of beer’. At Lokal, we ordered some goulash and bread dumplings, along with a mixed sausage platter to share.
The vast mound of bread dumplings and my poor photography skills mean the goulash is lost, but alongside these carby bread pillows was a smooth beef shin stew – the perfect plate for a cold day and a large appetite. The trio of sausages came accompanied with some mild mustard and horseradish cream.
When unsure of what to order for dessert, a tried and tested approach is just to get it all. The top two plates here are chocolate and caramel eclairs. The chocolate eclair was just far too rich, replacing any custard for an overly dark chocolate ganache, but fortunately the caramel variant was a dream. The caramel was not just mixed in with the icing but also the whipped cream sandwiching the two eclairs together.
What looks unfortunately similar to a nut-crusted turd is actually a hazelnut biscuit topped with chocolate ganache, covered in dark chocolate. Despite its uncanny physically similarities to poo, it tasted fantastic and was essentially just a large dark Ferrero rocher chocolate.
Prague is famous for having beer that’s cheaper than water, and as someone who loves a pint but not the £5 London price tag, this was music to my ears. After having tried, and failed to see the Jewish Museum (because it obviously closes early on a Friday for sabbath), we thought we’d do another museum instead.
The Prague Beer Museum is not a museum at all, although its title may allow you to believe you’re involving yourself in Prague’s rich cultural history while you sink several pints from their 30-strong collection of beers and ales. An overwhelming amount of choice and subsequent confusion as to what to actually order is all remedied in the option of the ‘taster platter’, where you can sample up to 10 different beers.
Another great Prague watering hole is the slightly more upmarket Bugsys Bar, a swanky cocktail bar serving up expertly mixed drinks to Prague’s well-to-do. Checking out the fancy interior and dolled-up customers, upon arrival we started to worry drinks would cost more than our return flights. Currencies converted, it seemed most cocktails were around the £5 mark, which for the quality of the drinks was a real bargain. I tried a classic Negroni, followed by a rum-based long drink and then finished with a sweet and fruity iced-tea of some sort. Clearly, three drinks in and my attention to detail waned slightly.
Not letting any cocktail induced hangovers hold us back, it was out bright and early to continue seeing Prague’s sights. Walking around the centre of town and a smell of sweet pastries filled the air. Trdelník, or chimney cake if you’d like a name you can actually pronounce, is a traditional Slovak cake which is extremely popular in the Czech capital. Soft, sweet dough is rolled around a stick, grilled and then topped with sugar and filled with chocolate or fresh strawberries.
For more sweet cakes and treats, Bake Shop is a cafe based in the old Jewish Quarter. Serving some of the best coffee in town, this cafe is extremely popular with tourists as it features in every guide book – with good reason too. Beautiful looking cakes sit alongside savoury tarts, sandwiches and a whole host of small biscuits and bakes. We popped in on more than one occasion to sample some of the goods on offer, with these pretty Valentine’s biscuits being a favourite.
Before we knew it, our brief holiday was drawing to a close. To bid farewell to the city we had enjoyed so much and had kept us so entertained (not to mention well-fed), we had our final meal at Pivovarský dům. A local place serving the best of traditional Czech food, it was beef, bread dumplings and goulash galore. I eyed up the interestingly named ‘Knights Platter’. With duck, beef and pork all on the same plate, served alongside yet more bread dumpling, and of course some pickled cabbage, this seemed like an awful lot of food for just one person.
Despite my impressive appetite, I was relieved to learn this was a two-person platter. I was even more pleased when I realised I actually had a friend who wanted to share it with me. We got stuck in and did a sterling job of finishing it off. The pork ball dumplings were particularly good although I prefer not to spend too much time thinking about what combination of animal parts they actually contained. Post Knight’s Platter and there was even some room left for dessert.
A classic Apple Strudel cake is one of my favourite desserts, and eating it in this traditional Czech diner felt as authentic as it gets. The soft, buttery and flaky pastry encased the delicately spiced apples and raisins perfectly, and despite having consumed three animals in the main course, this went down a treat.
All to soon and we were on our Ryanair flight back to blighty. Prague was a perfect 4-day mini break, and I’m now incredibly keen to check out more central and eastern European cities. I may go steady on the pickles beforehand though.