If your idea of Czech food comes from The Good Soldier Švejk – beer, goulash, sausages and dumplings – you should probably think again. Prague is now a major international city, open to travellers, food and influences from all over the world. It’s also a city surrounded by rich farmland with great produce, so you will find food of many types and at every price bracket. Here are some ideas of what you can expect, from the experience of my own most recent trips augmented by that of some helpful locals.

Patisserie at Černá Madona © David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd
Patisserie at Černá Madona
© David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd

If you’re reading these pages, there’s a fair chance that you’re also taking in some classical music, so here are some ideas for eating out near the main venues, starting with the Czech Philharmonic’s home at the Rudolfinum. You’re truly spoilt for choice in this area, because the Old Town is packed rigid with restaurants. Our favourite amongst the upmarket places was La Finestra, a 5 minute walk from the Rudolfinum, Italian-owned but with a Czech chef trained in several countries. The menu looks Italian and contains lots of fresh fish which comes in from Italy, but the dishes each have modern and individual twists which make them excitingly different. If you’re looking for something less expensive, they have the less formal La Bottega di Finestra next door, or you can walk a little further to Mincovna in Old Town Square, which, in common with many restaurants here, serves a mixture of traditional Czech favourites and international dishes.

Pasta with deer ragú at La Finestra © David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd
Pasta with deer ragú at La Finestra
© David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd

The National Theatre is only a 10-15 minute walk from Old Town, but you also have some nice cafés immediately across the road (the Kavárna Slavia and Smetana Q). My first choice is to walk across Legion Bridge to the fine Art Deco surroundings of the Café Savoy, where they serve excellent food which includes some Czech dishes (they also bake their own memorably good bread). Next door, the Kolkovna Olympia is somewhat less pricey and has a greater variety of Czech specialities.

Patisserie at IF Café at Werich Villa © Alison Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd
Patisserie at IF Café at Werich Villa
© Alison Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd

Finding somewhere interesting near the newly reopened State Opera House is harder, because of its location by Wenceslas Square, where the shops and restaurants are mostly geared to mass tourism. So the tip I’ll give is for a glass of wine and a snack after the opera: the Vinograf wine bar, across the park and past the Jerusalem Synagogue. A note on timings: Czechs eat dinner early (6pm or 6:30 is typical), so most kitchens close at 10pm, which means you’ll have a hard time finding a full dinner after a show. Vinograf, however, will serve you with various deli goodies to accompany your wines, of which they have a wide selection. We also very much enjoyed Bokovka wine bar (a stone’s throw away from the Rudolfinum).

Bokovka wine bar © David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd
Bokovka wine bar
© David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd

By the way, while Czech beer is justly celebrated, it may surprise you to hear that Czech has a major wine growing area in Moravia, between Brno and the Austrian border. In communist days, the production was focused on quantity, but places like Pálava now create high quality wines both from Austrian-type grapes like Sylvaner and Grüner Veltliner and from international ones like Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. My favourite white was a Sylvaner from Plenér in Mikulov, dry and full of different flavours as your sip progressed; I drank less red but enjoyed a Moravian Frankovka barrique for its intense flavour and long finish.

Fruit dumplings at the Café Savoy © David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd
Fruit dumplings at the Café Savoy
© David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd

But what, you will ask, is “traditional Czech cuisine”? Most of it, unsurprisingly for Central Europe, is meat-based. There are sausages, of course (which are really good here) and there is Goulash (which, strictly speaking, is Hungarian, but can be considered Czech by adoption). My personal favourite is roast duck leg which is usually served with red cabbage; another frequent dish is beef in cream sauce, which is a lot less heavy than it sounds; beer places often offer knuckle of pork; rabbit also features as well as venison (when in season). And yes, there are dumplings of many types: wheat dumplings, potato dumplings, bread dumplings. One of the more unusual dishes is fruit dumplings: the Café Savoy does a nice version filled with plums and served with a fruit sauce, curd cheese and crushed poppyseed (Czechs eat these as a main course).

Lokal Dlouhááá © David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd
Lokal Dlouhááá
© David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd

You can eat good Czech food at a wide range of prices. For a very inexpensive lunchtime sausages-and-a-beer, we thoroughly enjoyed the improbably spelt Lokal Dlouhááá, one of six Lokal branches in the city. Tip: the portions are generous. The “starter” sizes made a perfectly adequate light lunch, so I can’t imagine tackling a full main course unaided. At the other end of the scale, there are now two Michelin starred restaurants in Prague, the first of which is La Dégustation Bohème, which is owned by the same group as Lokal, Café Savoy, Bokovka and a dozen other restaurants around the city. We visited the city’s latest starred restaurant, Field, which did not disappoint. The venue is a tad on the austere side, but the food is of extreme complexity and inventiveness, while remaining discernibly based on Czech ingredients and traditions. The surprises started with an amuse-bouche created from beetroot, sheep’s cheese and smoked plum and ended with a dessert of sea buckthorn (which was a new one on us), juniper and bergamot, passing by way of a dish made almost entirely of celeriac but confected with great skill to be delicious and entirely distinctive. No restaurant at this level is a low cost option, but Field compares very favourably to its London equivalents both in price, in pure taste and in exceptional balance of flavours.

Next Door © David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd
Next Door
© David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd

Between those extremes comes the place recommended to us by most locals, including Mahan Esfahani, which happened to be adjacent to our hotel: Next Door. This is discernibly Czech cooking with ingredients like wild boar on the menu, but with obvious modern touches like a very refreshing beetroot and citrus starter. Another upper-mid place we enjoyed last September, with a similar standard of food but somewhat more “cheffy” in presentation, was Ungelt, in a quiet courtyard around the back of Our Lady before Týn and thus a 10 minute walk form the Rudolfinum. One thing we noticed on our trips here is that the food is more likely to be seasonal, for home cooking as well as on restaurant menus: the Czechs don’t seem to go in for air-flying their fruit and veg in the extensive way the British do.

Beetroot Salad at Next Door © David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd
Beetroot Salad at Next Door
© David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd

Our hotel’s main restaurant, the Café Imperial (run by the same chef as Next Door) is a famous breakfast venue. We particularly saw this in everything they baked, which was sumptuous, whether the bread (rye, seeded or nut-laden), the croissants and other viennoiserie (the wholewheat croissants are particularly wonderful) or the cakes. It turns out that the Czechs are serious bakers: when asked whether their restaurant’s bread was home-baked, more than one waiter looked seriously offended that we even imagined that it might not have been. Even the street kiosk by Masaryk Station was packed with enticing breads; patisserie at the IF Café in Kampa Park and the Černá Madona Restaurant (Black Madonna) was gorgeous (and pure eye candy).

Bakery stall outside Masaryk Station © David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd
Bakery stall outside Masaryk Station
© David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd

Coffee and cake is as much a part of life in Prague as it is in Vienna: there are hundreds upon hundreds of cafés. Alfons Mucha, the defining artist of Art Nouveau and Czech’s favourite artistic son, made his career defining the style that would evolve into the Art Deco stereotype of the Parisian café; his legacy lives on in cafés like the Café Imperial, the Café Savoy, the Café de Paris and countless others. But if you’re worried about being stuck in a 1920s time warp, don’t be: more modern styles of café abound. Across from Smetana House with its Mucha interior, Cacao (a branch of a small chain) serves more hearty chocoholic fare in decidedly modern surroundings, or you can try the cosy Cukrkávalimonáda in Malá Strana (the name means “sugar, coffee, lemonade” and comes from the rhyme for a children’s clapping game).

Café de Paris © David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd
Café de Paris
© David Karlin | Bachtrack Ltd

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t all about Czech food and French baking. Prague is a thoroughly modern and cosmopolitan city: I came across restaurants majoring on Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Nepalese, Japanese, Korean, Brazilian, Argentinian, Mexican, American and Turkish food, not to mention bagel joints, burger bars, salads-at-lunchtime places and a wide variety of Italian eateries at all ends of the market from La Finestra down to humble pizza and pasta places. The biggest struggle will be for vegans – this is a meat city and most menus have very few vegan options – but an increasing number of restaurants are opening to cater for them specifically and Asian restaurants can be a good option for mixed parties of vegans and omnivores.

With prices noticeably lower than their London equivalents and with all this variety on offer, Prague isn’t a city in which you’ll go hungry.

This article was sponsored by Prague City Tourism