According to chef Raymond Blanc, pot-au-feu, a French beef stew, is “the quintessence of French family cuisine, the most celebrated dish in France, it honors the tables of the rich and poor alike”. You’d be forgiven, then, for expecting that a restaurant named after such a dish would be a modest, homely sort of place. But while it is cosy, there’s nothing at all modest about this particular Pot-au-feu.
The tiny restaurant oozes understated elegance. Hidden away on Rybna Street in Old Town, it’s easy to miss. There’s no big sign advertising its presence, and the entrance is tucked away, but a large picture window facing onto the street advertises the warm and inviting dining room within.
Pot-au-feu opened two months ago and it seems it hasn’t been widely discovered yet. The restaurant seats just 35 across two small rooms, but even so, when we visited on a Friday evening the place was less than half full.
Though a little quiet, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. Care has been taken with the interior design, with wooden furniture and dark gray walls providing a simple backdrop for eye-catching features like cloud-shaped ceiling lamps and original paintings by Prague-based surrealist artist Viktor Safonkin, who is apparently a regular customer. The futuristic bathroom is just one of the unexpectedly luxurious, even over-the-top touches that make this little place stand out.
Shelves holding wine and champagne line the walls, with the majority of the all-French offering coming from the Burgundy region including both of the house wines available by the glass. As for food, the menu is reassuringly short with just ten starters, seven main courses and four desserts.
Before the starters arrived we were treated to some fresh, crusty bread with a silky pork pate, which had the fatty appearance and texture of schmaltz, or pork dripping, but tasted mild and almost creamy.
This was soon followed by another unexpected delight; an amuse-bouche of aubergine caviar – a smoky, textured aubergine spread – with fresh goat cheese, flavors which worked wonderfully together. This is available on the menu as a starter and I suddenly wished I’d ordered it.
I’d instead gone for the restaurant’s namesake dish, which is offered only as a starter. Though thousands of variations of pot-au-feu can be found across France it’s usually composed of cheaper cuts of beef slow-cooked with vegetables, garlic and bouquet garni, with various additions.
This version was a decidedly luxurious one, garnished with white truffle shavings and tiny, bright green florets of romanesco cauliflower. Underneath was a generous amount of slow-cooked beef, tender, silky chunks of beef liver, carrot, cauliflower and plenty of fresh parsley in a rich broth. Though the meat was tender, the vegetables had presumably been added to the pot later as they still had plenty of bite. Even this small portion was quite filling.
A Burgundy-style poached egg came in a bowl, the egg on top of button mushrooms, pickled onions, croutons and pieces of smoky bacon in a delightfully rich and thick Burgundy red-based sauce, the flavours of which dominated the entire dish.
Several seafood dishes feature on the menu, some of them changing daily. A fairly small pan-fried fillet of sea bass came with a crispy skin, simply prepared with garlic and served on a bed of vegetables sous-vide and a green pea puree, the plate garnished with cherry tomatoes and a little beurre blanc sauce.
The beef rump steak came perfectly medium-rare as ordered, and as tender as rump steak gets. Though lean and not particularly juicy, it came with plenty of flavourful red wine-based truffle sauce. Despite also being on the small side, along with a beautifully smooth, creamy potato purée and a small amount of the vegetables sous vide, this was a well-rounded and very pleasant dish, accompanied well by a glass of the house red, a 2011 Burgundy Hautes Cotes de Nuits with a full, fruity taste.
For dessert, crème brullée was a classic well done, while the the Crêpe Suzette was light, delicate and pale gold in color, with frilly, browned edges and apricot marmalade on top of the beurre Suzette, made with apricot rather than the usual orange.
The Czech chef, who has worked in France, clearly knows what he’s doing. Meanwhile, our Czech- and English-speaking French waiter and sommelier was professional, friendly and attentive. Prices were reasonable and represented good value for money, especially in this Old Town location.
Their online reservation system, in English at least, wasn’t working properly yet. Our reservation turned out to be unnecessary anyway as there was plenty of room, but with such a high standard of food and service this dining room is unlikely to stay half empty for long.
Pot-au-feu is well suited to sophisticated business lunches or a romantic dinner for two. With its good food and wine, attentive service and inviting interior, it’s a cosy little place that encourages plenty of joie de vivre.
Pot au Feu
Rybna 13, Prague 1
Tel: 739 654 884
Open Mon.–Fri. 11–3 -and 6–10
Sat. 4–11; Sun. closed