Prague pop-up restaurant to recreate Czech cuisine of Expo 58 pavilion

Taking place later this summer, Ambiente's De Luxe Pop-up Restaurant showcases the vintage flavors of crayfish, veal ragout, and cream of caramel.

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 07.07.2023 15:14:00 (updated on 02.08.2023) Reading time: 3 minutes

The Prague Restaurant opened its doors at the Czechoslovak Pavilion at the Expo 58 exhibition in Brussels in 1958. A single building with two floors and two different concepts -- a ground-floor Pilsen restaurant and a De Luxe dining room upstairs -- it took thirty chefs to operate. Collectively, these dining establishments represented an important milestone in the history of Czech cuisine, advancing the nation's culinary offerings on a world scale.

In a nod to the Expo 58 era, an upcoming pop-up experience invites diners to sample a menu loosely inspired by these transplanted Czech kitchens in Brussels. Taking place on Aug. 15 and 16 at the Czechoslovak Pavilion in Prague’s Letná park, Ambiente chefs Jirka Horák, František Skopec, and Tomáš Valkovič have crafted a 13-course menu that pays tribute to the De Luxe restaurant of the Expo 58 era.

Expo58 pavilion in Prague
Expo58 pavilion in Prague

The chefs first reconstructed preserved recipes from the Brussels restaurant to serve a 13-course dinner in 2022. "Tomas Karpíšek [Ambiente founder] mentioned Expo 58 … and I started to find out more about it, and even then I thought of doing a pop-up," says Chef Jirka Horák. 

The success of the restaurant and the food served therein is well documented. According to culinary historians, Czechoslovak chefs were the toast of Brussels. 

During the exhibition, they cooked up to a thousand meals a day, with most of the ingredients being flown in. In a single month, roughly 1,000 kg of ham, 500 kg of butter, 12,000 eggs, and 1,200 kg of sausages were transported from Prague to Brussels. The bread was baked in a Brussels bakery, according to a Czech recipe. 

The Prague Restaurant contributed to the phenomenal success of Czechoslovakia at the Expo 58 World Exhibition in Brussels. The restaurant received the highest award – the Golden Star. In 1959, the entire Czechoslovak pavilion, including the restaurant, was relocated to Prague. While the pavilion was moved to the Holešovice exhibition center, where it remained until a fire in 1991, the large-glass paned restaurant was moved to the eastern part of Letenské sady. To this day, it ranks among the most recognized buildings of the last century. 

Some of the dishes served at De Luxe included Tyrolean stew with potatoes, tenderloin slices in Béarnaise sauce, steak Pavilion Czechoslovakia, chicken liver on a spit, forest venison medallions, and a lot of veal: Provençal veal thymus, Tyrolean veal liver, veal kidneys, veal skewers, veal chops, and veal steak "Prague."

"Later, I read that the chef from Expo, Florián Zimmermann, worked at the restaurant U Choděrů, which was located near [Ambiente cooking school] Umu na Národní. I thought it was a great opportunity to come up with a tasting menu in his honor and to explore how and with what things were cooked in the 1950s," said Horák of the first pop-up menu. 

Zimmermann's efforts on behalf of Czechoslovakia's Expo 58 pavilion were honored with a Golden Star. Drawing inspiration from surviving recipes and the grandeur of the De Luxe restaurant, the recipes were meticulously recreated to showcase the flavors of the day.

Among the retro dishes served at the first pop-up were beef broth with liver and Tyrolean dumplings, smoked eel in a dressing of lemon juice and parsley oil, and soufflé in a Karlovy Vary cup, aka soufflé made of eggs, onions, cream, and hazelnuts with asparagus ice cream. 

"We chose the dishes at random. We had a notebook with original recipes at hand, but we had never tasted or seen any of the courses, so we had to use our imagination. We are not even sure if these dishes were served in the lower or upper part of the restaurant. Nevertheless, we called the pop-up De Luxe and created food that we ourselves considered luxurious," Horák added.

Set of recipes Expo 58 Brussels, Retro museum Brno
Set of recipes Expo 58 Brussels, Retro museum Brno

The next edition of the De Luxe summer pop-up will transport guests to the Czechoslovak Pavilion on Letná. Each day, a limited group of 26 lucky diners will have the opportunity to embark on an exclusive journey through time. The 13-course menu will feature culinary delights such as caviar toast, pikeperch in the Mělník style, Prague crayfish soup, veal ragout, and crème caramel.

To enhance the overall experience, Ones Concept designers will transform the interior, recreating the ambiance of the original Expo 58 era and setting the stage for a truly throwback culinary event.

Tickets for the De Luxe pop-up restaurant are now available for purchase online. Priced at CZK 3,800, the 13-course dinner promises to transport guests on a gastronomic journey to the Expo 58 era.

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