Ready to meet the ever so divine Michelin Star La Degustation in the heart of Prague? Centrally located, but conveniently away from Charles Bridge and even the Charles itself, there’s no noise on the streets around you as you find your way there. Rather than Uber or tram it even though I was running a little late, I decided to walk, old fashioned map in hand. Despite taking a few wrong turns, I managed to get there easily enough from my river walk in about 15 or so minutes. There’s no real prominent marking and it was dark when I arrived (note: a 9:30 pm seating — it’s not easy to get a reservation here, so book well in advance) . Even after asking a few people who worked in nearby cafes, they didn’t quite know where to send me. After noticing a bit of graffiti on a building wall, I assumed I must be on the wrong street, but sure enough at the very end, on the corner with very little else around, lies the home of La Degustation.
Once you walk through the doors, your mood will be transformed and that’s even before you make it to your seat. They happily and efficiently offered to take my jean jacket which I was discretely trying to hide given that I stupidly left my black cashmere sweater at the hotel. “Let me check on your table,” the manager said after I quietly pushed my jean jacket into my purse so no one could see, preparing for the walk to my table. As luck would have it, they had me right next to the open kitchen and I mean right next to it….if I stood up and took two steps, I could have been on the preparation line.
The ambiance wasn’t that old world warm that I was expecting with a French name in Prague of all places, however the feng shui was just right, so it “felt” good the moment I sat down. I looked around and read through my notes I had taken from their website. I read quietly aloud to myself: “Our focus is on arousing “all of your senses,” through carefully prepared ‘thought-provoking meals, that awakens your curiosity, enflames your emotions and lastly, leaves you with the feeling of an unsated appetite, and the desire for the next dish.’ OKAY, I thought to myself, I’m ready to get curious, and have an unsated appetite. BRING IT ON please! After all, it was 9:30 pm after all!!
The above is a 4/4 brussels sprout with cabbage, caraway seed and pork belly, which I decided to show you since it wasn’t on my six course pre-fixed menu. (credit: La Degustation)
Let’s start the evening, shall we? The waiter wasted no time bringing me a Prosecco (or if it wasn’t Prosecco, it was a bubbly something that was welcome after my confusing walk). I was ready to devour the wine menu however there were no prices by the glass and you see, they pair everything here, so your favorite wine could be your choice, however they prefer that it’s not. They take great pride in their pairing and oddly enough (first time for me anyway), they give you the choice of either a wine or a juice pairing in both of their pre-fixe menus (the only way to dine here). When I say it’s the only way to dine, I mean that you don’t have an ala carte choice to embrace. You’re either going with the six course with drink pairings or the eleven course with drink pairings and while the more decadent one had some exquisite dishes on it that didn’t exist on Menu 1, I couldn’t have signed up for that much food regardless of how oh so yum the dishes looked zipping past me.
Why do they take their pairings so seriously? In their words (below) Frankly, I couldn’t help but agree! I get it and was thankful for the guidance, especially with so many unknown Czech wines on the menu.
The drink with which you wash this harmony down can raise it to unexpected heights,
just like a virtuoso’s solo, or destroy it, like someone singing out of tune.” — La Degustation
And so my meal didn’t “sing out of tune,” a 2014 Sauvignon Blanc Palavou Jaromir Gala was brought to the table to perfectly match the first offering (not on a public menu): A Czech Quail egg with elderberry mayonnaise and garden herbs, sorel leaves, dill, marinated trout and celery with truffles and onion chips. “The front egg with the garnish is the only edible one,” the waiter said with a coy grin as he set it down in front of me. I guess a few people might have tried to eat the other eggs, I thought, otherwise, it would be a tidbit you’d leave out non? Either that, or it was a polite gesture to make sure none of their guests made a fool out of themselves, myself included.
Next up was a Beef Tartare with crispy bread and we stayed with the Sauvignon Blanc. It was oh so tender and oh so scrumptious!
This was followed by presumably the official first course (but my third), a Bell Pepper, curd, defrutum. This was made with bell peppers, oil and paprika juice (paprika is very common in Eastern Europe – be sure to read up on our Hungary food section). Then, they brought out tomatoes with Dijon mustard and thyme. This should have been paired with their 2013 Sonberk Riesling, except we ended up staying with the Sauvignon Blanc I still had in my glass.
On both the six and eleven course dish is above tomato dish as well as the SO wow chicken, corn and truffle dish which they select a 2013 Chardonnay to pair with it (Vinarstvi Pialek and Jager). If you don’t drink alcohol, they apparently pair this with a cherry juice. It wouldn’t be a Czech-influenced restaurant if horseradish wasn’t somewhere on the menu, even if French is infused throughout. They serve a Beef Heart with Prague Ham and horseradish and pair this with a 2013 Pinot Noir + a Frankovka (Jakub Novak).
There was a whole lotta wow going on here and rather than a Pinot, he brought out a Cuvee Quatre instead. It was served with fried onion and smoked, shaved egg yoke as well as cracklings from a butchery in Prague. I asked. “It’s all local,” she said as it wasn’t my waiter who came back with this data. I am always curious about the farms and farmers – it makes me wonder if I wasn’t a farmer in a past life — am only half kidding here. She said that they try to get all their food from farms that are 250 kilometers away or less if possible, except for their truffles, which she explicitly said they get from Italy. A big clap clap for their attempt to support local sustainable farms in the area.
I absolutely loved the next dish, which was old world influenced — the Pigeon with pumpkin, hazelnuts and hazelnut cream. How can that combo not have anyone at hello? They paired this with a Cuvee Skate Pavel Springer, which I learn is a family reserve. It was aged for two years in a French oak barrel before they released it (why am I not surprised I liked this ‘pick’ so much)! An unusual blend, it is about a third Cab, a third Merlot and a third St. Laurent (the kicker). Okay, let’s just say it worked for me and was a great pairing with Pigeon.
Before they moved onto the next dish, I was brought a “cucumber” cleanser. Oh yes!!!
Imagine after such a clean refreshing moment, a lovely Beetroot is presented to you, with Goat Kefit and Svickova of course. The menu says this is to be paired with a 2013 Slatnik – Radikon although I could have sworn we stayed with the Cuvee Skate Pavel Springer. Somewhere along the way, they surprised me with the real kicker, largely because the blend was so unusual. My waiter had me try the 2014 Cuvee Quartre Dobra Vinice, which is a blend of (wait for it), Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (yes really). I absolutely loved this combo!!
Lastly, they brought me a Sheep Cheese Arnika with potatoes and Rowanberries, served with oil and a potato foam of sorts — so much wow here! You could have opted for a Yogurt, Blueberries and Juniper instead, which they paired with a 2012 Lokus Cerveny – Jan Stavek or a Grape Juice Soda if you’re not a wine drinker. Other creative juices they offered throughout the menu include currant, leek, cherry, tomato, sea buckthorn, kohirabi (with the above dish in fact), walnut (for the pigeon with pumpkin and hazelnuts), sour cherry, asparagus and cucumber. You might be as curious as I was about the sea buckthorn inclusion — they paired the tomato starter with mustard and thyme with this unusual juice. Amazing, right?
Okay, it wasn’t last after all. Soon thereafter, a strawberry, plum and poppy seed pancake came out with forest berries, rosenberry, red currant and homemade marshmallow with honey. OMG!
Michelin star experiences aren’t for everyone but quite frankly, given the exchange rate in the Czech Republic right now, if you’re traveling with dollars, trying a Michelin star if you never have is a doable option, even if you’re not a foodie or a luxe traveler. Don’t you want your mouth to pop? Finding the best chefs in the world and sampling some of their wow moments is something you don’t want to miss in this lifetime or any lifetime for that matter.
The current pre-fixe six course menu (a couple of weeks later is similar but with a few tweaks), starts with tomatoes with mustard and thyme, followed by trout with asparagus and almonds, egg with dill sauce and potatoes, chicken with corn and truffle, a beef heart with ham and horseradish and sheep cheese Arnika with potatoes and Rowanberries. They also offer an eleven course if you don’t think six is enough as mentioned above. The first course is the same, but followed by a Sorrel, with currants and strawberries, the same trout with asparagus and almonds and then before the egg with dill sauce and potatoes, they bring out zucchini with yeast and honey. Sixth up is onion with tvarůžky cheese and bay leaves, followed by the chicken, corn and truffle, then duck, beetroot and cranberries, the beef heart, ham and horseradish, and a main fallow deer with chestnuts and lard (can you say divine?), ending with the same sheep cheese grand finale as the six course menu.
Since there are a few concoctions I didn’t have, here are a few more visuals to make you even hungrier than you already are after reading this far….enjoy!
Photo credit: Taste of Prague
Below, their 3/4 trebon trout with apple and dill
Below, 1/4 beef tongue, pear, mustard and poppy seeds
Above two photo credits: La Degustation
Below are a few shots I took from my table (on an iPhone), to give you an idea of just how close I was sitting to the preparation table.
The restaurant ceiling….
Okay, so I stood up to shoot these!!
Behind the scenes is executive chef Oldřich Sahajdák who is also a co-owner after spending ten years spearheading culinary efforts at Ambiente Restaurant — apparently, he remains a big supporter and promoter of Czech cuisine. Managers are Tomas Brosche and Katerina Phillips.
Photo credit: pragueeventery.com
Below, inside the restaurant with no guests…
Photo credit: pragueeventery.com
The restaurant only seats 40 and reservations are required — I’d recommend booking well in advance, as it wasn’t easy to get mine. As I mentioned above, with preparation and a local calling in advance on my behalf, I was only able to get a 9:30 pm seating. Note that I was not rushed in any way and I went slowly savoring each course. That said, there were tables still dining when I left close to midnight — it was a Saturday night.
Below is a short video I shot to give you a snippet into the action in the kitchen.
La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise
110 00 Prague 1 | Czech Republic
[email protected] | +420.222.311.234