Welcome to the vault: An intimate chef’s table opens in Prague’s biggest beer hall

From sweet potato strudel to mushroom pelmeni, Czech chef Marek Fichtner's latest venture serves up autumn on a plate.

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 03.11.2021 18:00 (updated on 03.11.2021) Reading time: 3 minutes

Czech chef Marek Fichtner was born in Adršpach, in a small village near the Polish border. From these humble beginnings, he went on to helm the kitchen of a Caribbean cruise ship, create a 4,000-guest banquet for Saudi kings, and apprentice at Noma in Copenhagen, long considered one of the best restaurants in the world.

This is why Prague diners should be truly excited for Fichtner's latest venue, an intimate chef’s table in a restored bank vault in the sprawling Baroque-era Špork Palace, also home to the Červený Jelen (Red Stag) pub. Open in late September, the 40-seat “Chef’s Vault” represents a triumph for Fichtner and his protégés after a particularly difficult lockdown period.

During a recent tour of the Stag’s impossibly narrow kitchen corridor (which services the 2,600-square meters 700-seat venue) the former MasterChef Česko judge spoke candidly about the devastating closures which saw his restaurant scrambling to save jobs by running a delivery service while losing staff, money, and heart to the pandemic.

Marek Fichtner
Chef Marek Fichtner in the Červený Jelen kitchen.

The down-to-earth Vault menu, which will change seasonally, reinforces the talents of Fichtner’s current team and feels entirely befitting of a Noma grad in its use of woodland ingredients (morel, asparagus, truffles, plum, pumpkin, and Jerusalem artichokes feature heavily) and fermented beverages.

While Noma set out to redefine Nordic cuisine, the Chef’s Vault zooms out toward a wider Central European sensibility. On our visit, we worked our way through mushroom pelmeni with Austrian cheese, black truffles, and garlic puree in a mushroom consommé, goose liver terrine with cocoa, plums, pistachios, and brioche, duck breast with a sweet-potato strudel, and boar in rosehip sauce.

"We tried to choose ingredients and dishes that most of our guests wouldn't necessarily work with at home: sweetbreads, Jerusalem artichokes, morels, soufflés, beef ribs in Rioja,” said Fichtner.

The menu manages to convey both simple comfort food and special occasion fare. A bowl of creamy smoked Jerusalem artichoke soup followed by a foamy Pilsner Urquell šnyt had a particularly soothing effect while serving as a reminder of the venue's centerpiece: a 30-meter-high tower of beer tanks.

Autumn in a bowl: smoked Jerusalem artichoke soup.
Autumn in a bowl: smoked Jerusalem artichoke soup.

Lighter dishes of pike and almonds with gingerbread sauce and a double-baked cauliflower souffle with Gruyère cheese and truffle sauce will please the less carnivorously inclined.

The wine list spans France, Germany, and Italy; the meal ended with a digestif of the house hruškovice.

The Sacher dessert finish (presented by pastry chef Klára Řezníčková) would have been a MasterChef showstopper: a fudgy wreath of chocolate garnished with an apricot-gelatine halo and served with a scoop of dark chocolate ice cream and spoon of apricot "caviar."

sacher
A modern take on Sacher torte by pastry chef Klára Řezníčková.

The upcoming St. Martin's holiday presents the perfect opportunity to relish the flavors and artistry of Fichtner and his team amid the ambiance of a Prague architectural gem.

On the menu: whole roast goose and chestnut dumplings, red cabbage with orange and star anise, Brussels sprouts with bacon, and buns with plum jam, goose lard, and rum sauce. The St. Martin's feast begins Nov. 11 and runs until Nov. 21 (or while supplies last).

Speaking to the widespread shortage of chefs in the Czech Republic, which he believes is brought on by the brutal hours and back-breaking work of running a kitchen, Fitchner says the new menu represents an important step for the culinary arts.

“I put together this autumn menu with my talented colleagues because menu creation is a really crucial part of nurturing gifted culinary talents.”

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