U Modré Kachničky is a popular Czech restaurant in Prague. Its name is often translated as The Little Blue Duck; though some call it The Blue Duckling, or simply The Blue Duck restaurant, and there are two of them. The original Little Blue Duck restaurant is located on a quiet and narrow street in Malá Strana (Lesser Town), and many believe that this is the best Czech restaurant in Prague. This location was convenient for us as it’s on the back street of the first Prague hotel we stayed at. Being so close and having heard of its reputation, we had no excuse not to give it a try. And we were lucky enough to secure a table for two through our hotel on our very last night’s stay in Lesser Town.
The facade of this Czech restaurant was painted in two different shades of blue. An oval plaque with a relief sculpture of a duck on a pond above one of its two doors assured us this was the right place. We stepped through a blue framed door to a room of traditional European home-style decoration. Herringbone parquetry floor, Persian rugs; antique cabinets with vases, tureens, and lots of china ducks. Paintings, together with decorative plates on the walls. Jacquard curtains and jacquard fabric on the backrest of dining chairs… We were greeted by friendly staff and we followed our waiter through the main dining area on the ground floor upstairs to where our table was. From what I saw, the upstairs was divided into a series of small dining rooms, each decorated slightly differently.
Our secluded dining room was right next to the balcony of an atrium. Potted indoor plant, greenery reaching from ground level grew all the way up past the balustrade – a contrast to a tall bunch of decorative dried branches in the corner. A round dining table with two tablecloths – blue over white. Behind our table, a sizeable carved wooden framed mirror. We settled in our rounded armchairs with lovely cushions, a coat stand with hangers, and found ourselves beside peach walls and a beautiful antique cabinet. Next to this cabinet was a possibly even older stove, a resting place for a large framed map of Bohemia! Kent and I immediately felt at home. I could now easily picture some of the restaurant’s high-profile guests, Sean Connery, Tom Cruise; Gérade Depardieu, Roger Federer… in their own private, cosy rooms. With the candlelight on our table, the atmosphere was even more intimate.
We loved this old Bohemian world we found ourselves in. So, how about the menu? Well, what’s worth mentioning was the thread-bound menu book and wine list. The end-papers of the wine list were covered with striped brocade fabric. The food menu had a historic illustration of a cutlery canteen of elaborately embellished knives and forks. Little details like these were all in line with the ambience of our surroundings. Chef Michael V. is well known for loving to look for new ideas in old cookbooks and gives long-forgotten Czech traditional meals a fresh modern touch. The menu is heavily focused on duck, which is the house specialty; along with an array of Bohemian wild game. Although I’m not a big meat eater, the duck has been my favourite, and so I was pretty much in food heaven!
Kent and I decided to go for the Old Bohemian Baking Pan for Two Persons. It’s among one of the Traditional Specialties. So, what’s in this Old Bohemian Baking Pan? Roast duck (I’m in!), veal roast with truffles; Prague ham, wild boar roast; red and white cabbage, mushroom cholent (a kind of stew), and traditional side dishes. We also asked for our helpful and knowledgeable waiter’s recommendation for a suitable bottle of red. As we wished to keep it as local as we could, a quintessential Czech dish and a bottle of local red seemed ideal.
From the sound of ‘Old Bohemian’, I imagined it would be a large portion of rustic food served in a sizzling pot bathed in sauce. Instead, it arrived on a boat-shaped ceramic baking pan, with a separate gravy jug. A sophisticated oven-to-table style presentation. The traditional side dishes on the menu turned out to be vegetables and various types of Czech dumplings. By then we had experienced quite a few Czech dumplings from different restaurants already. Like rice in Asia, here they eat dumplings and bread.
‘Save the duck leg for me!’ Needless to say, it’s our deal.
So I started with roasted duck, a bacon dumpling; barley, peas, and red cabbage. My duck was tender, juicy, meaty, and its crispy skin won my top marks. Kent picked the same side dishes to go with the wild boar roast and Prague ham. He had happened to have wild boar the night before at a local bar-restaurant, which gave him a recent comparison. And he thought that the wild boar roast here was more tender and tastier. The Prague ham, although Kent found it a little firmer than he would have expected, the piece I had had much more fat on it, just the way I like my meat, so I rather enjoyed it.
The veal roast was sliced up and wrapped in bacon. Truffles turned out to be truffle oil, not truffle slices. Kent had most of it as he loves young meat. I did try a mouthful or two and liked the texture of veal and bacon combined. When I asked Kent which baked item he enjoyed most out of the pan, it was between the veal roast truffles and the roast wild boar. Both, could be the winner.
The portion of this shared dish was more than enough for two. Dumplings and bread (with fancy butter) were very filling too. We took our time to enjoy soaking up the space, the food, and lovely Czech wine. I looked down from the balcony next to me and saw a long table of eight in the high-ceilinged inner courtyard, and understood right away why the former president Václav Klaus hosted his important dinners for visiting leaders here… ‘What better place to showcase authentic Czech food in a luxury yet homely Bohemian setting!’ I thought.
Before we called it a night, we asked for a glass of cognac each to extend our time here, to celebrate our meal a little longer.
‘I need a fringed, colourful velvet shawl to complete the picture!’ I said to Kent as he took some shots of me and I wished I was more prepared to look the part – like a Bohemian.
Just recently I was re-watching Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown travel and food show and heard Chef Marco Pierre White states: ‘There are three important things to a restaurant. The most important one is the atmosphere, then service, then food.’ Yes, it was all here, especially the atmosphere. The character of this place, the nostalgic setting, the home-style charm… the mood it created that I couldn’t get enough of. It cast some old Bohemian spell the moment we left, I knew I would have to come back.
Next time, hopefully before too long, I would order the degustation menu I think. Or, perhaps I might feel adventurous by giving Grilled Fallow Deer Saddle or Roast Pheasant Breast a go.