After experiencing some superlative new restaurants in Prague, I should have expected that the Czech Republic’s second-largest city would also contain its fair share of notable dining establishments. Nevertheless, as I explored what Brno had to offer, I couldn’t help but be surprised by the high quality of the cuisine. Unsophisticated provincial fare this was not.
All the restaurants below serve food in a contemporary manner, but their roots in the Czech tradition and the use of local ingredients give them a strong sense of place. Dining in Brno is one of the great pleasures of the city. The capital of Moravia also makes a good base for forays into Czech wine country, most of which is just to the south.
This friendly restaurant has decorated its courtyard and vaulted dining room with colorful Pop Art-style paintings and midcentury-modern furnishings. Since Atelier prides itself on its cocktail program, we elected to sit at the bar, in view of the surprisingly compact open kitchen (just two burners, a griddle and a prep counter, really). From this little kitchen comes pretty but unfussy cuisine with big flavor. We opted for the six-course tasting menu, a startlingly good value at about $40. Things began promisingly with a bowl of celeriac cubes topped with nutty toasted oats, a sweet purée of red beets, crunchy walnuts and pumpkin seeds. It was a delightful mix of flavors and textures. Another vegetarian dish also impressed: a chunk of breaded cauliflower accompanied by mashed potatoes flavored with pungent “beer cheese” and smoked almonds. A Spanish-inflected dish of crispy-skinned Moravian trout with creamed lentils, apple and chorizo came next, followed by a plate of tender roast wild boar with red cabbage, chard and fingerling potatoes. And I enjoyed a dessert of ginger-cinnamon parfait with gingerbread chips and tart plum jam. Nor did the cocktails disappoint: A “Negroni Speciale” came topped with fragrant orange espuma, giving it the appearance of a small beer, and the “Dark #Worldclass2020 Milan,” a mix of scotch, sweet vermouth and housemade tonka bean bitters, was redolent of cherries, smoke and citrus. Atelier is the most casual restaurant on this list, but it takes its food and drink very seriously.
Kobližná 2. Tel. (420) 731-199-434
Hidden down a side street off busy Pekařská, the entrance of Borgo Agnese in a banal modern building looks unpromising. But this Italian-Czech fusion restaurant proved to be a wonderful spot for lunch after a tour of Špilberk Castle, which is perched on a nearby hilltop. Inside, we discovered a quiet upscale dining room with a bright expanse of windows at the back. On another side of the restaurant, a semicircle of glass encloses the remains of a 13th-century church. Three tasting menus are offered, as well as à la carte options. We chose the shortest menu and added a pasta dish to it, resulting in a rather extravagant six-course lunch. It required a strength of will to refrain from indulging in the basket of homemade breads and crostini that arrived first. Standout dishes that followed included a pumpkin cream soup with curry, fried arugula and pumpkin seeds; grilled foie gras with peaches, marinated raisins and Piedmont hazelnuts; ravioli filled with shredded beef and topped with homemade fresh cheese and beurre blanc; and tender wild boar flank in a rich Czech cheese sauce with roasted Ratte potatoes and pork cracklings. Dessert, too, was well worth the calories: a deconstructed Sacher torte of apricot sorbet, cake and whipped cream atop some salted chocolate cookie crumbles. The helpful service lived up to the fine food and elegant setting.
Kopečná 43. Tel. (420) 515-537-500
This welcoming wine-themed restaurant occupies a contemporary space in the cellar of the House of Art, set in a park across from the ornate Mahen Theater. We ordered the shorter tasting menu (four rather than six courses); I couldn’t resist doing the wine pairing as well. I requested all Czech wines, about which our waiter was very knowledgeable. He started things off on the right foot with flutes of 2014 Sekt Volařík, a classy sparkling blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. He then poured an orange (intentionally oxidized) Welschriesling with a floral, powdery aroma. Its acidity worked well with the pickled shallots and pickled carrot-apple-ginger slaw that accompanied some moist and flaky cured carp. I also very much enjoyed my main course of medium-rare duck breast with white bean-celery purée, edamame and deeply flavored duck jus. And the “Mulled Wine” dessert was delicious: gingerbread topped with cinnamon ice cream, plums in a clove and berry glaze, and grated gingerbread crumbs. A fortified blend of Zweigelt and St. Laurent was an ideal pairing. Although this restaurant offers numerous traditional wines, dining here will be especially fun for those interested to try some of the more experimental Czech bottlings.
Kohout na Víně
Dům umění, Malinovského Náměstí 2. Tel. (420) 777-904-570
Dining in a functionalist building has never ranked near the top of my must-do list, but Brno was a center of the architectural movement in the early 20th century, and the structure that houses Pavillon is a faithful recreation of the former Zeman Café, a fine example of the style. (The original building was demolished in 1964.) The striking restaurant comprises a set of interlocking white cubes, with large red-trimmed windows. Inside, the décor is simple, focusing attention on the park outside, as well as the silver-tiled glass walls that partially enclose the kitchen. I started with a bowl of chestnut cream soup topped with Jerusalem artichoke foam and garnished with bright-green pine oil. A barrique-aged Somberk Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend, which had a seductive popcorn note and a zing of minerality, was a sensational pairing. The wine also managed to stand up to a saddle of venison with fondant potatoes, parsnips, carrots, turnips and a venison demi-glace. I succumbed to a dessert of hazelnut parfait with slightly sour skyr (Icelandic yogurt) granita and truffle-shaped chocolate truffles infused with truffle flavor. The sweet, tart and earthy notes were a delightful and unexpected combination. If you have the chance to try only a single restaurant in Brno, make it this one.
Jezuitská 6, Brno. Tel. (420) 541-213-497