PRAGUE, Czech Republic – Because self-respecting foodie travellers need to at least take a quick look at the culinary traditions of their destination, and because the Czech culinary tradition is a monument to the remarquable resilience of this Central European country, the aforementioned self-respecting foodie travellers need to reserve a meal – lunch or dinner – and spend it at the Cafe Imperial of Prague.
In this series of articles, Cédric Lizotte visit some of the best restaurants in Europe. From France to Switzerland via the Czech Republic, here are the best places to sample the delights of some of the best chefs on the planet. Follow it with the hashtag #CedricInEurope.
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In the Czech Republic – just like in Germany, Poland, Hungary or the Baltics – meals are on the heavy side. Potatoes, cabbage, pork, flour-based preparations. If there’s common ground between all these places, it’s probably the fact that they belonged to the « Eastern Bloc », this group of countries that were invaded by the Communist USSR between 1945 and 1989. And this common Communist heritage is bizarrely parallel to the utter destruction of the culinary heritage of all of these countries.
This is probably another reason to visit an institution that survived all these years.
Architecturally speaking, it’s indeed a French brasserie, with its high cielings, columns, bas-reliefs and mosaics. When Nazi Germany settled in Prague, its generals made Café Imperial – and the hotel that hosts it – their dinner headquarters, which in turn meant that Czechs stop visiting the Café. Once the Nazis gone, the restaurant hosted various communist organisations. In the 80’s, the Café fell in disrepair. It’s only been a few years since the restaurant is back to the look and feel of its glory days with its splendid art deco attitude.
Cafe Impérial : The Dishes
To give this café back to the Czechs also means to serve grand-ma’s dishes. Achieving a true nostalgic restaurant doesn’t mean only having good food, it needs to mean something too!
Chef Zdenek Pohlreich is a star in his own country and the menu of Cafe Imperial has much more than only classic Czech dishes. But since we’re visiting for touristic and nostalgic purposes…
Let’s start with a wonderful rabbit terrine made in-house. A thin layer of animal fat covers the meat and acts like a seal for the dish in which the mixture was cooked, helping it keep fresh longer and adding an onctuous texture to the meat. Perfection.
The super-classic kulajda, a soup that combines aneth, cream, potatoes, a poached egg and some butter, is not only ultra-creamy, it’s also perfectly seasoned. The portion is big enough to make it a lunch in itself!
For the main, two choices stick out. On one side, a French classic: braised veal cheeks, glace and potato purée, Robuchon style. On the other: a Czech classic: svíčková. It’s braised beef, a creamy sauce that reminds of a good veggie soup, and homemade knedlík (these big dumplings that are so popular in Central Europe) and cranberry sauce. In borh cases, the dish is flawless, and the portion is huge!
Other course, other classic : Czech-style apple strudel. To look at the picture is to be convinced of it’s tastiness…
Cafe Imperial – Na Poříčí 15, 110 00 Prague 1, Czech Republic
Thanks to JayWay Travel for hosting C&C in Prague! If you need help to plan your trip anywhere in Central Europe, they’re the ones you need!