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Sunday, 20 July 2014

SPECIAL: Prague (Part I)

Prague has been on my go-to list for too long now, but with the ascension of long-haul adventure clouding my Euro vision for the past 7 years and the louts of the yesteryear branding it the pre-nuptial destination of choice, it has until now, sadly evaded me (long gone are the onsie-clad drunkard revellers though, in favour of, I suspect, alternative hotspots where the beer to ££ ratio is somewhat more forgiving!). Quite bizarrely, I will find myself in this fair city not just once, but thrice over the coming 3 months, so here’s hoping that the combination of jaunts can adequately equip you for a splendid visit of your own soon…

A city of a thousand spires, the cobbled heart of Prague is a delightful mix of trams, riverboats and pedestrians, with tourists bringing it to life every which way you turn. Now, one would love to complain about the average tourist (hopeless ambling, random stopping in the midst of flowing foot traffic, maps larger than your arm span can cope with and backpacks even larger…need I go on?!), but when you set about on foot with your very own giant map and all-weather permitting outfit, who cares?! Actually I had a tiny pocket map, but I certainly did give a hoot! Being a tourist rocks when you’re not on the receiving end of hundreds of them battling the escalators at Leicester Square (sometimes I just want to get home people!).

Henceforth I should move then, to the more pertinent practical points of food and shelter (the very core of any self-respecting holiday-maker or business traveler, as highlighted by a very wise German friend of mine not so long ago!). I should warn you though, that if you want to read about Pilsner-guzzling dive bars and the best duck/dumpling combo vs. street-based sausage carts, you’ll have to wait until my next trip in August with the girls!

Prague is brimming with restaurants, bars and special venues, so everyone can find something to suit them I suspect. 
  • Cotto Crudo at the Four Seasons literally translates as cooked or raw, which is represented in their very Italian menu; there is a small but delightful terrace overlooking the river outside or a very classic open plan and spacious dining room inside, the latter of which is home to a marvellous fridge stocked with hanging cheese and cured meats (otherwise known as my happy place!). If I didn't have to worry about my ever-expanding waistline, the aged and supremely sweet balsamic vinegar should be served to me with bread every morning while the Amedie chocolate Lingotto & Bronte pistachio dessert could easily slip into my every afternoon, served with a cuppa or a gin!
  • Hergetova Cihelna has a terrace ideal for eating right on the river! Recommended to me by the very helpful concierge at Four Seasons, it sits next to the Charles Bridge and offers yet more Italian cuisine. Tonight is the night I braved a night of solo dining (never an activity that I've gotten used to), but I was equipped with a loaded inbox, a carton of inextricably cheap cigarettes, and a steely determination to show a very dear man in Northfield, Connecticut, that he was right - I can either relocate my balls and enjoy a very nice meal or I can get bored and miserable in a hotel room, with soggy room service!. I ordered their signature sashimi pizza as a starter and while it was something I neither expected nor previously tasted, I ate the entire thing trying to work out whether or not I liked either it or the idea (I'm still not sure!). The octopus main course was to die for and perfectly cooked, with the largest set of tentacles I've ever seen, while the creme brulee dessert was tasty, but decidedly anticlimactic I'm afraid - by that point though, I was just thankful (and tipsy from the demi bottle of Chablis!) that I'd made it to the 3rd course alone without imploding. Fabulous setting, nice food!
I also would love to recommend some other places that I visited because they looked remarkable, but be warned because looks can be deceiving sometimes and I have not yet eaten in them (not even my belly can cope with too many restaurants in just 2.5 days!). Watch this space though, I will be back in August to sample more...
  • Villa Richter is perched high up by the largest castle I've ever seen and is very easily accessible by tram, though unless you're walking down from the castle, be sure to prepare yourself for a steep climb up from street level. Once you've arrived, you'll see that the gardens, views and dining rooms are all worth it! I've not yet eaten here, but the food comes highly recommended by locals in the know and I will be going there on my next this space. 
  • Bellevue is across the street from the river and only a stones throw from the Charles Bridge, with a very large but inviting dining room; elegant but not decadent, sophisticated but not intimidating. Highly recommended by everyone I spoke to!
  • Palffy Palac is a very traditional restaurant at the bottom of the Prague Castle and is known locally for being a romantic hotspot, popular with many! The garden terrace is colourful and lush, especially in the sun, while the dining room is the epitome of Czech traditional opulence. It's sister restaurant U Maliru is only a stones throw from the outrageously fabulous Mandarin Oriental (a converted monastery, with unmistakable 5* luxury finishes!) - it is an ancient and very charming place, probably best as a warm winter haven because it's small, cosy and erring on the dark side.
  • Ginger & Fred is only recently opened in last 6 months and is a bright and funky restaurant, with a quirky touch of risqué in the décor (check out the toilets!), located on the 7th floor of a architecturally impressive structure overlooking the river.
  • Letansky Zamecek is high up in the park and more of a grand special venue for private occasions, but they have an informal cafe attached, which is ideal for a cold beer and munch outside in the summer, with views over the entire city.
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Charles Bridge
Charles Bridge
Prague street art

Ginger & Fred inside

Ginger & Fred entrance

Hergetova Cihelna: sashimi pizza (starter portion)

Hergetova Cihelna: Octopus 
Hergetova Cihelna: my view!

Palffy Palac
Letensky Zamecek

Palffy Palac entry by stairs!

Palffy Palac: stunning garden terrace
Letensky Zamecek: the view!

Villa Richter

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