Zdenek’s Oyster Bar: Oysters, Caviar & Champagne

Approaching five years of bringing oysters & innovation to Prague’s seafood scene

It’s early on a Thursday evening in a quiet corner of Prague’s downtown, just steps away from Old Town’s Tyn Square. The January night is cold, but in the open kitchen of Zdenek’s Oyster Bar the heat is on. With five chefs, numerous servers, a sommelier and several support staff in place, preparations are underway for the evening dinner service. Head chef Jiří Nosek is leaned over a white plate using stainless steel tweezers to place tendrils of green clover and shemeji mushrooms on a dish of Miso Black cod that’s kept warm under a copper heat lamp. The other chefs stop their own preps for a moment to watch Jiří work. Known as the “chef artist” in cooking circles, Jiří works with the precision of a surgeon and the colorful palette of a Picasso.

In a land-locked country that’s historically more famous for its game meat and rich sauces than its seafood offerings, some might question whether the oyster bar concept was too adventurous for the Czech restaurant scene. When three business partners started the restaurant back in the spring of 2011, they envisioned a champagne bar with oysters and caviar on the menu as extra novelties. Zdenek’s Oyster Bar had the distinction of being Prague’s first oyster bar, but the original restaurant didn’t even have a full kitchen.

Convinced that the concept of oysters and champagne could work, the owners enlisted the culinary expertise of Jiří Nosek, a 17-year veteran chef with experience abroad in London and in Michelin-star restaurants in Switzerland and Spain. Since those early days when dishes were served on metal plates, the Oyster Bar has expanded its kitchen, hired additional talented staff and cultivated channels for importing top-quality oysters from the finest European oyster farms in Normandy, Brittany and on the island of Oleron.

Today, Zdenek’s Oyster Bar is known as one of the best places in Prague to sample, not only oysters, but also a range of fresh seafood otherwise rarely found in Prague. The restaurant’s winter seafood selection includes oysters from David Hervé’s farm, Brittany lobster and Nigerian prawns as well as snails, clams and mussels. The menu also includes Royal Black caviar and fish, such as Miso Black cod from New Zealand or Brook trout. For non-seafood eaters, there is deer tartar or Black Angus tenderloin.

Dressed in a pair of jeans and white shirt with a chef’s apron on top, Jiří moves through the kitchen giving advice to his chefs, sampling starters and putting the finishing touches on many of the main courses. He wears his dark hair in a short Mohawk and sports a tattoo on his right arm. With fastidious care that contrasts his laidback professional appearance, the Oyster Bar’s head chef serves up colorful combinations of high-quality seafood in a friendly, but upscale dining atmosphere.

Jiří’s latest innovations are fusion oysters, combining unusual ingredients like cucumber emulsion, Foie Gras, juniper and seaweed to bring a new twist to oyster eating. On the seasonal fusion menu you can find a Gillardeau oyster with a lime soy sauce and chili caviar or La Perle Noir with beet-root, sorrel and horseradish snow. Sample his latest creation, a La Luna oyster topped by an edible pearl crafted by emulsion and seaweed. Or try a starter of langoustine with Bloody Mary, sea urchin, fresh apple and celery.

While many of the Oyster Bar’s local customers (and a few of its staff), tasted their first bivalves in Prague, other oyster aficionados from the Czech community and abroad affirm that the Oyster Bar’s offerings match those in New York or London. The staff at the Oyster Bar assure me that getting fresh oysters to Prague is no harder than getting them to Paris, except during the winter holiday season when oysters are in extra high demand throughout France.

At the Oyster Bar, the restaurant’s selection of 180 different kinds of champagnes and wines combined with the presence of their knowledgeable sommeliers, make the dining combination a win-win for gourmands who want their seafood paired with the most appropriate beverage. If you like stories, request to speak with Jakub Šebela, the head sommelier. Jakub speaks excellent English and can tell you the origin of every item he brings you – from a glass of Brut Rose Champagne to a Cadoret oyster crate filled with homemade breads and butter seasoned with herbs and served in an oyster shell.

On the night of my visit, the Oyster Bar fills up with a blend of locals, business clientele and tourists. The restaurant is decorated with dark wood and dimly lit by wall lamps and two chandeliers. A disco ball hanging from the ceiling adds a quirky twist. A Czech couple dines at a table to my left while four Japanese businessmen are seated in front of me. An English-speaking couple shares a large seafood platter at a table for two to my right. Later in the night, friends of Jiří’s arrive and walk straight to the kitchen to greet him. An older Czech man, wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, meets his wife for a weeknight dinner out. They order oysters and seafood platters, the wife taking notes after every course.

From my vantage point at a high bar table facing the kitchen what I see of the food preparation is every bit as impressive as the food I taste. Lobster bisque is a multi-step process involving king crab, Jerusalem artichokes and tetragon prepared by three chefs with Jiří adding the final cappuccino froth. When I sample my soup, the green, brown and white layers each carry their own distinct flavor. I savor the individual layers before I stir the soup and taste the combination.

Whether you’re a famous Czech celebrity, a tourist passing through Prague, a business traveler or a long-term resident with a hankering to taste some quality seafood, Zdenek’s Oyster Bar is a good choice. It’s not a cheap meal, but if you have the budget for a splurge, it’s an excellent place to try your first oyster, indulge in Brittany lobster or share a Deluxe seafood platter with a date.

Check their website for an upcoming Valentine’s Day special.

Zdenek’s Oyster Bar: www.oysterbar.cz
Zdenek’s Oyster Bar on Prague.TV - Living Like a Local!
Facebook: www.facebook.com/zdeneksoyster

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