Plate With A View: Hanavsy Pavilon, Prague
Saturday 16 February 2008
High above the Vltava river stands a remarkable pseudo-Baroque, cast-iron pavilion built in 1891 on the orders of Prince William of Hanau. The German aristocrat wanted to show the wonders that could be achieved by workers at his factory in Komarov at Prague's Land Jubilee Exhibition.
After the exhibition, the prince gave the Dutch-style pavilion to the city of Prague and in 1898 it was transferred to the Letensky Park, a wooded plateau overlooking the Jewish Quarter. Here it became an immediate success as a restaurant and café.
In the 20th century, a gigantic stone statue of Stalin was the pavilion's near neighbour. That was blown up in 1962 and replaced during the Velvet Revolution by a giant metronome, which was never popular. Today, only the Havansky graces this spectacular skyline.
The restaurant caters for 36 people inside and more than 80 on its terraces during the warmer months. Food is suitably sumptuous, recalling Prague's Hapsburg heyday, with international starters like caviar blinis and duck foie gras and mains like sturgeon or crayfish in port wine sauce. Some of the Czech specialities are worth the climb up alone here but watch out for the ubiquitous dumplings. Start with Becherovka, a traditional herbal bitters made in Karlovy Vary. Kulajda soup from South West Bohemia is so thick and creamy that sliced hardboiled eggs float on the surface while sticky Olomouc cheese has an aroma that will excite die-hard fromage-aholics. Desserts are less flamboyant – crêpes, sorbet, carrot cake – but the wine list offers a good range of Czech, Italian, Spanish and French vintages.
The restaurant is popular with locals (who come here for wedding receptions) and the place is often booked out for entertaining visiting VIPs. One look at the view and you can see why. Immediately below lies the bend in the Vltava river on which Prague was built and the seven bridges that link old and new Prague with Mala Strana (Lesser Quarter) and Prague Castle.
Unmistakable among these is the turreted Charles Bridge, heaving with pedestrians, buskers and artists selling their works. Beyond that, the green dome of the baroque Church of St Nicholas dominates the Old Town. Key music venues such as the Rudolfinum and the National Theatre are also clearly visible across the river, as are the distinctive ochre walls of the Smetana museum. It's also possible to make out the green onion dome of the Sitka tower, built 1495, to pump water to the new town and the baroque and medieval spires that surround the stunning Old Town Square. There is no better introduction to Prague. Walk off lunch with a pleasant stroll down from Letensky Park to Mala Strana with its Kafka Museum, tiny shops and palatial old houses which have been taken over as foreign embassies and residencies.
Three courses with one of the cheaper wines costs around 1,200 koruny (£29) per person.
Hanavsky Pavilon, Letenské sady 173, Prague, Czech Republic (00 420 233 323 641; www.hanavskypavilon.cz). Open daily 11am-1pm.
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