About 10 years ago, I landed my first design job. I wasn’t having a great time in Edinburgh, one of my closest friends had just died, and I’d found myself flunking out of all my classes because I had zero coping mechanisms. When I was offered a chance to go to Prague for a month to overhaul someone’s newly inherited home, I basically jumped at the chance. I would have been on a plane by the end of the day if I’d known where the hell my passport was.
Since that first trip, I’ve been back at least once every couple of years. I absolutely love the Czech Republic, and my boss is happy to send me over to work with clients there rather than go himself. My linguistic skills are questionable, but I can get by. I’m just as much in awe of the food, the architecture, the art and the friendliness of the locals as I was when I first came almost a decade ago.
Green Spirit Vegetarian Bistro (Malá Strana)
I decided to head towards Green Spirit for breakfast because I’d never really been to the Malà Strana area and fancied a walk. This is very much a neighbourhood cafe, with a chilled out low-key hippie vibe; I would love to come back in summer when the patio is open. Being a total weirdo, for me breakfast is just “anything eaten before noon”, and on Thursday morning that just happened to be a Czech take on miso soup and vegan paella.
What arrived was a warming & surprisingly hearty miso soup with whole sweet cloves of garlic and brown rice. I’m often wary of “fusion” food, which usually turns out to be a haphazard mishmash of flavours that probably shouldn’t be mixed, but somehow Czech chefs seem to have mastered the art. This interpretation of miso had distinct elements of traditional Czech broths with a nod to Asian flavours. Authentic? Maybe not, but absolutely delicious in its own right.
The vegan paella with shiitake, vegetarian tofu “chicken”, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes and onions was so filling, and perfect for a (slightly) cold winter morning. The flavours were fresh, the rice was perfectly cooked, and it was the best start to my first day in the city. If you’re planning to walk all the way to the other end of Prague and back, this is exactly what you need to keep you going.
Green Spirit Vegetarian Bistro & Cafe: Hellichova 14, Praha 1
Church of St Nicholas (Malá Strana)
Amidst candy coloured Baroque buildings and archways at Malostranské Náměstí, tourists sit eating lunch in the the town square just under the Church of St Nicholas (Kostel svatého Mikuláše). I’m not even slightly religious, but I have a weakness for gothic arches and a good flying buttress. Grand displays of stained glass leave me weak in the knees. I can’t help it, I love a well-built dome.
The Church of St Nicholas is the most famous Baroque church in Prague, and stands below Prague Castle smack dab in the centre of the Lesser Town Square. It was consecrated in 1283 and has stood at this site since 1743; it took no less than a hundred years to build with the help of three generations of Baroque architects. Today this church is considered one of the most valuable Baroque buildings north of the Alps.
I’m not a huge fan of walking when I’m in Edinburgh, maybe because it’s cold and wet. I somehow got an urge to trek across Prague. It was worth the over 20k steps I clocked up just on my first day in the city, to see this piece of architectural history. Even if I never made it inside.
St Nicholas Church: Malostranské náměstí, Praha 1
Moment Cafe (Vinohrady)
Almost every vegan food blogger who’s travelled to Prague has mentioned this place; the last time I was in the city for work, this was where my design clients took me for breakfast my first day. My boss loves to tell the story of how they’d made reservations at a traditional Czech restaurant the night I arrived, and when he mentioned I was vegan they panicked. I’d worked for them before when I still ate meat so they’d assumed I’d be up for a big ol’ duck-laden feast; though it wasn’t their fault at all, they felt so guilty that they basically fed me constantly at a different vegan restaurant or cafe every day that week, searching online for the best places to take me. This place was one of my favourites.
Moment just serves perfectly executed good food. Stuff that will fill you up, burgers and quesadillas and soup, fresh as fuck, but nothing overly “frilly”. There’s no unnecessary excess. When I was last here I couldn’t get enough of their bagels and robi shawarma. Robi is a plant-based protein similar to seitan that’s used in a lot of Czech vegan cooking, and dare I say it, is tastier than a lot of similar products we have in supermarkets in the UK.
I started off with the daily special “cheesy” vegetable soup. Creamy, hearty, even felt a little healthy. The pasta puttanesca I’d had my heart set on was all finished, so I went for a good ol’ mushroom burger w roasted cumin mushrooms, caramelised onion, soyannaise, lettuce and tomato. Oh and an almond cappuccino, because I’d just walked up a fucking hill. These guys make a very good coffee. I rarely drink the stuff and even I would gladly trek up that hill every day for one of theirs.
Mushrooms? Roasted? How boring, right? Not if you use witchcraft, which I’m almost positive was involved here because I’ve never had mushrooms this firm and meaty in texture. It was incredible. They had a bite to them that I’ve honestly never tasted before. And now I’m going to wreck multiple punnets of mushrooms trying to recreate this at home. I’m not sorry. Not even a little bit.
Moment is arty, bohemian, and exactly the kind of cafe I wish existed in Edinburgh. I’d be here every day. I would eat that roasted mushroom burger every single day. You can keep your dry falafel burgers and bland lentil patties, this is a thousand times better.
Moment Kavárna & Bistro: Slezská 62, Praha 2
Polagraph/Polaroid Love (Vinohrady)
The last time I was here, some friends told me about Polagraph/Polaroid love. You probably can’t tell from my shitty iPhone snaps but I’m really into photography. Especially retro shit. I’m a sucker for a lornographic, and don’t even get me started on instant cameras.
I used to refuse to wear a proper camera round my neck. If you have boobs, it’s massively uncomfortable, and I hate looking like a tourist! Maybe it was because polaroids seem kinda quirky, maybe it’s because I’m in a city where I’m unlikely to bump into someone I know. Or maybe I ran out of fucks to give and don’t really care if I look like a dork, because polaroid pictures make me happy. For a small deposit, Polagraph will lend you an old-school polaroid camera to take some very loud, very arty snaps as you wander around the city. It’s almost painfully hipster but so much fun.
I spent the rest of my afternoon blissfully wandering around the Old Town (Staré Město), snapping polaroid shots with my rented retro camera in one hand and my trusty iPhone in the other. Some people love to take candid shots of people, some are partial to a colourful sunset; I’m the one in the corner photographing baroque architectural details on residential streets. I could spend days just admiring the colourful exteriors, Art Nouveau shop signage, and graceful turrets that are so characteristic of Prague.
Maitrea (Staré Město)
I decided to ask the concierge at my hotel for a dinner recommendation, because even if you come armed with extensive lists, sometimes it’s just nice to ask a local where they would eat.
Maitrea is located within the House of Personal Development in Prague’s Old Town, in a fluid zen space with principles of feng shui incorporated into every element of its design. Even the tables and chairs have no sharp edges. Everything on the menu is comprehensively labelled, so whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, nut-free, or garlic and onion-free, you’ll find something to eat here.
I’m not usually in the habit of ordering the same dish from different restaurants on the same day, because wouldn’t life be boring if food bloggers just ate the same damned thing for every meal? It was a difficult decision but I really couldn’t resist Maitrea’s Paella a la Barcelona with sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, shiitake, onion, diced “chicken”. I couldn’t help myself. I haven’t had paella in years and I just really wanted it. Twice. In one day.
A good paella has layers of flavour. No single element was overpowering, but every single bite was unique. One mouthful was sweet and tangy with morsels of sundried tomato, another savoury with pieces of marinaded tofu “chicken”. This is all real food. No processed alternatives, just skilfully treated whole foods.
For dessert I decided to try the raw strudel of apple dough with poppy seeds, plums, cashews and agave because I was feeling “adventurous”. For some, that would mean eating crickets or feasting on churros whilst skydiving, but for me it’s eating some uncooked fruit. Move over Bear Grylls, ain’t nothing more daring that munching on raw cake.
I’m not usually a fan of the raw food movement, because I often feel that just recreating a food’s aesthetic appearance isn’t *quite* enough. Raw cheesecakes rarely have the distinctive texture or taste of the real thing, and sometimes presentation isn’t the only thing that matters. Oh, and I’m a renowned salad dodger.
Here the apples were mixed with psyllium to form a “dough” and filled with the nuts, seeds and fruit. If I hadn’t known this was a raw dish, I would have thought it was a baked dessert. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill raw “cake”, and both the flavour and texture were spot on.
Maitrea: Tynska 6, Praha 1
After all that food and all the walking, I was ready for bed by 10pm. I hope y’all have enjoyed hearing about my Prague adventures as much I had eating them. I mean experiencing. Let’s be honest here, most of my life revolves around food, so why should my holidays be any different?
Tomorrow I’ll be meeting up with a Twitter friend for lunch, gazing at buildings, and hugging the Fred and Ginger. Join me then for more Prague fun times!