Chef Riccardo Lucque on his new Aromi Ristorante & Bistro
And why dim sum with an Italian flair may soon be on his menus
Lucque’s restaurants run the gamut from fine dining establishments specializing in fish and seafood (Aromi) or natural and organic meat (La Finestra) to bistros like La Bottega di Finestra, a restaurant and shop concept with its own butchery, selling top end Italian meat, prosciutto, fish, cheeses and other hard-to-find Italian delicacies. In recent years, the concept of the bistro has become a popular trend in Prague, thanks, in part, to Lucque and his forward thinking.
Lucque relocated to the Czech Republic from London back in 2002 when the restaurant scene in Prague looked much different than it does today. “Back then, there was no good quality Italian restaurant that served fresh fish. There wasn’t much competition either,” Lucque remembers. Initially, Lucque worked as a part of the Kampa Group, running their Square Restaurant at Malostranske Namesti. Even during his early days at Square, Lucque was already looking for a place of his own. As a chef in Italy, Lucque had worked primarily in restaurants that sold exclusively fish, and he dreamed of bringing a fish restaurant to his new home in the Czech Republic. From previous trips to Prague with his Czech wife, he realized that investing in a fish restaurant in the Czech Republic could be a great opportunity, particularly for a chef who liked to be ahead of his time.
In 2005, Lucque made his dream a reality when he opened Aromi on Mánesova Street in Prague’s Vinohrady district. From the beginning, Lucque aimed to cook what he knew – simple, tasty dishes using quality ingredients. Traditional Italian staples, such as Caponata, a Sicilian sweet and sour dish of roasted eggplant became local favorites. Lucque balanced fish and seafood with homemade pastas, gourmet cheeses and desserts. In order to ensure that he had a steady stream of fresh fish, Lucque contracted with fish suppliers in his hometown, the seaside village of Fano, located in the central Marche District. Soon, a truck carrying fresh fish was making weekly deliveries from Fano to Prague, serving Aromi as well as a small network of other restaurants.
Aromi soon won the hearts (and stomachs) of Prague locals as well as international recognition from the Michelin Group in their “Bib” Gourmand category which awards restaurants serving fine food at moderate prices. As the market for authentic Italian products in Prague grew, Lucque expanded his deliveries to include Italian meats, sausages, olives, cheeses and wines. He opened his first “bottega,” a gourmet Italian shop and eatery called La Bottega di Aromi, just a few doors down from his restaurant. The shop was a hit with locals who came for a taste of Italy they couldn’t find anywhere else in the city.
Once he had established Aromi as a leading Italian restaurant in Prague, Lucque looked for a different angle to appeal to locals. In 2009, in a partnership with Aromi manager, Ondřej Rákosník, Lucque started La Finestra in Cucina, a restaurant focused on serving fine meats and Italian wines. At La Finestra, meats come from organic farms in Italy, Spain and the US (and recently even from the Czech Republic). Chef Tomáš Černý runs the kitchen. With the success of La Finestra, La Bottega di Finestra came into existence next door.
A cooking school called Laboratorio, Scuola di Cucina was Lucque’s next project in 2012. Located in Prague 1, Lucque’s cooking school showcases his own expertise preparing fish and seafood as well as the talents of the head chefs at his restaurants. Amateurs and foodies can prepare steaks with the well-known Zdeněk Pohlreich, or try their hand at traditional Chinese dim sum dumplings with the well-traveled chef Láďa Dvořák. During the first half of April, Michelin chef Frederico Delmonte will prepare his favorite seafood dishes at Laboratorio and perhaps divulge the secret to his Michelin success. Lucque’s cooking school also offers courses for children.
In the past few years three new bottegas have sprung up under Lucque’s ownership, La Bottega Bistroteka (P1), La Bottega Gastronomica (P3) and Tusarova in (P7), each serving lunch specials and catering to the neighborhood. In addition to being a shop and restaurant, La Bottega Tusarova is a 600 meter production space where Lucque’s team, including an Italian baker and a patisserie chef, produce the breads, pastries, pastas and desserts for all the bottegas and his catering business.
Lucque’s most recent innovation, however, brings his arc of influence in the fine dining scene in Prague full-circle. At the end of 2015, Lucque moved Aromi from its Manesova location to the corner of Namesti Miru, just steps from the Vinohrady Divadlo (where the Sahara Cafe was previously). Lucque took the opportunity of the new location to bring both a higher end dining experience and a bistro-style café and wine bar under the Aromi name.
The new Aromi Ristorante & Bistro is divided into a front space with a light, airy café where customers can eat breakfast or have coffee and dessert. At night, the cafe turns into a wine and cocktail bar with 15 Italian wines available by the glass for tasting. The restaurant space includes an open kitchen where Lucque’s head chef Robert Loos prepares Aromi specialties. The restaurant is an elegant, comfortable space which opens to a back garden, where the spring season will allow outdoor seating. Although Lucque only acquired the space recently, he was instrumental in designing the open kitchen nine years ago for the Sahara owners who were friends. He knew the space was special, and when it became available, he jumped at the chance to change Aromi’s location.
As part of Aromi’s new concept, on Sundays starting in mid-March, Lucque will offer an Italian brunch called “Il Pranzo della Domenica.” Although there are many brunches in Prague, Lucque wanted to recreate a sense of relaxed Sunday afternoons from his childhood where his parents and grandparents met for food and conversation while children of the family played together. Aromi offers a kids’ corner and during the summer, there will be a baby park outside with free babysitting.
As the owner of multiple restaurants and food-related enterprises, Lucque dedicates the majority of his time these days to supervising. However, he makes sure that whenever there’s a new menu in one of his restaurants, he’s in the kitchen cooking for at least one month. He also regularly gathers his chefs to taste test and fine tune menus in his other restaurants.
Looking back, Lucque says, “The restaurant scene has changed a lot in Prague, now many talented Czech chefs are coming back from abroad. It’s nice. I was the first to open La Bottega and after that, many bottegas were opened. I opened a bistro and now there are lots of bistros.”
For more than a decade Lucque has been a leader in the restaurant scene in Prague, anticipating trends before than they catch on. Now, that’s he’s successfully introduced the “bottega” and the bistro to Prague – what’s next for the chef entrepreneur?
According to Lucque, the next food trend in Prague might be Chinese dim sum with an Italian flair. He’s not joking either. “Dim sum is easy, but it’s something that the people love. It’s kind of like Chinese fast food,” Lucque says. During the month of March, Lucque collaborated with Chef Ladislav Dvořák to create Dim Sum Pop Up events at several of his La Bottegas, just for fun and to give his customers a taste of something different. The events have been a big success. If you haven’t tasted dim sum yet, check out La Bottega Trusarova March 23-26 for their Dum Sum Pop Up.
Ever the entrepreneur, Lucque has plans to open a new La Bottega in Prague 1 in July 2016, featuring a Spanish Josper Grill and specializing in chargrilled meats.
When asked how he measures success, Lucque smiles and said, “A full restaurant is the best measure.”
Riccardo Lucque: La Collezione
Aromi Ristorante & Bistro - www.aromi.cz
La Finestra in Cucina - www.lafinestra.cz
La Bottega di Finestra - www.lafinestra.labottega.cz
La Bottega Tusarova - www.tusarova.labottega.cz
La Bottega Gastronomica www.aromi.labottega.cz
La Bottega Bistroteka www.bistroteka.labottega.cz
Laboratorio – www.laboratorio.cz
Via del Vino – www.viadelvino.cz
Dobroty v Kosi – www.dobrotyvkosi.cz
IL Catering – www.ilcatering.cz
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