The Dish: Eat It Raw

Trawling for the best sushi in town

Sushi is one of those rare globalization-resistant foods. It would be a surprise to find a restaurant in Prague specializing in food from, say, Namibia, but if you wanted to start one, you probably could. And if you tried hard enough you could make the food just as good as it is back in Namibia. You might have trouble finding an importer of good Kalahari truffles, and you might have to start your own springbok farm, but it could be done.

Sushi, on the other hand, is of a by-gone era. Barring the emergence of a local restaurant serving fresh-killed fish from an on-premises tank (you’ll be the first to know, but don’t hold your breath) or a slightly less likely seismic cataclysm that rearranges Europe’s geography, you’ll never find top-quality sushi in Prague; the sea’s just too darned far away. No amount of improvement in “just-in-time” delivery will change that.

Or so they say. Logistics aside, let’s get real for a moment: Anybody who comes to the Czech Republic, or any landlocked country, and complains about the quality of the sushi should have his rod bent, especially after the explosion of decent sushi outlets over the last two years.

Expect to pay a bundle relative to other cuisines in Prague, but few local sushi places are outright rip-offs. Sushi, like many overseas commodities, is more expensive than local offerings. While some imports attempt to adjust their prices for local budgets, sushi hasn’t deigned to dine with the natives. Still, there’s expensive and there’s expensive, and at most places, sushi makes for a reasonable Saturday-night splurge. Stick with these recommendations, and may your dining be bacteria-free.

The Sushi Bar
Zborovská 49a, P5 (bordering Malá strana)
Tel. 603 244 882
Open daily noon-10 p.m.

Let’s say atmosphere, location and price are of no consideration. You’re simply looking for The Best Sushi in Prague. Make your way to The Sushi Bar, a sleek, miniature spot in Smichov that takes a commanding lead in quality and presentation, scoring excellent marks in most other categories as well.

A good sushi chef approaches his or her work with measured artistry, arranging the colorful slices of raw fish, salmon roe, the green dab of wasabi (or imitation wasabi), and pickled ginger enticingly just so. The enjoyment of sushi, above all other foods, relies on more than just stuffing and swallowing. At The Sushi Bar, aesthetic ensembles are the norm. Its nine-piece sashimi set is almost as enjoyable to look at as it is to eat. (But not quite.) The wait staff (there’s usually only one waiter; he and the chef are brothers) is helpful when asked and invisible otherwise. And with a restaurant the size of a crab cage, they’re never far off.

The appetizer always consists of breaded fried fish, the selection of which changes daily, sprinkled with sesame seeds and served on a small bed of salad with exquisitely nutty dressing. Expect to pay a reasonable 50 Kč couvert for this worthy starter.

Preparation can often take some time – a drawback. The best sushi chefs are quick with the knife, as sushi lovers do not suffer delay gladly. For the best catch, ask the staff what’s freshest. High-turnover items such as tuna (maguro) and salmon (saki) are always decent bets; a recent visit yielded exceptionally tasty servings of sea bass based on the staff’s recommendation.

Oddly enough, this is probably the most “Czech” of Prague’s sushi dens. The owner, manager, waiter, and chef are all Czech, and guests consist mainly of well-heeled natives ready to shell out 700 Kč and up for a meal. The Sushi Bar and the neighboring Seafood Shop (a wholesale distributor and retail store) are the property of Lukáš Pospíšil, who last year added to his portfolio of piscine businesses by acquiring and reconstructing the Café Savoy across the street. Savoy now specializes in fresh seafood, giving this corner the largest concentration of fresh fish of any in Prague.

Two-piece sushi a la carte starts at 170 Kč and shoots up to 480 Kč for the rare sea ear or abalone (awabi). If you’re on a budget, the sets offer good value at 395 Kč to 690 Kč, but don’t be tempted by the Kirin beer. That novelty alone adds a whopping 130 Kč to the bill. Reservations are recommended, but weeknights appear to be slow, perhaps a product of the season.

Hanil
Slavíkova 24, P3
Tel. 222 715 867
Open Mon.-Sat. 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. – 11 p.m.

With a good seating area and large Korean-Japanese menu devoted to more than sushi, Žižkov’s Hanil makes an ideal choice for a large group. In terms of décor and atmosphere, Hanil is likely as close as you’ll get in Prague to a tasteful, run-of-the-mill Japanese restaurant in a bigger Western city. Its wooded interior, marble tables and comfortable banquettes could lie off a major street in New York or London.

The range of specialities is wide, with Korean dishes prepared mini-barbeque style on a grill at the table, warm starters like chicken wings, cold starters like kimchee (pickled cabbage), hot-pot soups and Japanese mainstays such as vegetable and fish tempura.

On the whole, prices are above average in terms of Prague restaurants (above 300 Kč for most entrees, but with a number of less expensive appetizers), but the sushi section offers exceptionally good value, with items like a 12-piece avocado maki roll for only 145 Kč. A maguro cut perhaps fell too much on the lean side, but quality and freshness are reliable and consistent. The drawback is the lack of variety; the sushi menu is limited compared to the other places on this page.
Small sushi sets go for 330-400 Kč, while chirashi sushi makes a good lunch or light dinner at 450 Kč. Cleanse your palate with a dab of pickled ginger and a 60 Kč ginseng tea.

Millhouse Sushi
Slovanský dům Na přikopě 22, P1
Tel. 221 451 771
Open daily 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.

Millhouse wins a mention for its unbeatable location, just inside the courtyard of the Slovanský dům shopping mall in the center of Prague, site of the city’s busiest cinema. Millhouse’s fare is unspectacular but safe, with the quality of items consistently in the fair-to-middling range. The restaurants’ gimmick is a conveyor belt, a staple of sushi bars around the globe.

Judging by the freshness of some items, I’d guess Millhouse does not have adequate business to support the concept. The staff assured me that nothing stays on the belt for more than 10 minutes; if so, then the customer pays extra for wasted food. For the record, I observed one tekka maki circling untouched for 15 minutes. Ideally, sushi should be eaten immediately after it’s cut. Recent staff recommendations included salmon and red snapper. The latter – from the menu, not the baggage claim – had the exceptionally fresh taste of the ocean. The salmon was on the fatty side, with a thin layer of flab around the edge, making for a full, none-too-subtle flavor.

It may surprise some that Millhouse Sushi did not get its name from Richard Nixon (himself an avid fisherman, but his middle name had only one “l”). Rather, it came from an actual mill that once served as a prop and leitmotif at the company’s first location in flood-ravaged Karlín. Owing to the recent disturbances, the first Millhouse will be closed until later this year.

READERS' COMMENTS
"The Sushi Bar: This little unassuming restaurant offered superb sushi and good service. (Ladies get a rose as they leave and a bell is rung -- nice touch.) Prices are pretty high -- but hey, that fish has gotta come a long way. When you just have to have your sushi fix, this is definitely the place!"
Kelly McCall Branson
June 14th, 2007

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