Profile: Porto Restaurant

Port in a storm: Karlín´s new Mediterranean restaurant is thriving in harsh financial climate.

Lee Croftin

Written by Lee Croftin Published on 10.09.2010 09:31:36 (updated on 10.09.2010) Reading time: 3 minutes

“And then in walked the president of Serbia”, says Branislav Bogdanov. “He ordered the tuna steak and a minute after we brought it over, his secretary came up to me and said, ‘Mr. President likes his tuna steak raw in the middle – just seared for a second on either side.´ I thought – Oh God, this is terrible, the president of Serbia comes to our restaurant and sends his meal back! Then I looked over and saw his plate was empty – he was ordering a second portion. Such relief!”

It´s a sunny morning in Karlín. Light is streaming across the terrace of Porto Mediterranean Restaurant, and a breeze teases the awning until it flaps crossly. Mr. Bogdanov, who started his career as a junior waiter ten years ago, and now runs Porto with his business partner Bojan Hrnjica, leans back in his chair. “We liked restaurants and we liked food – we are both large men,” he confides. “We were always eating together in restaurants and so we came up with the idea of opening a restaurant of our own.”

Two years ago Bogdanov and Hrnjica found the Porto premises. They opened the restaurant a year and a half ago. “People told us, ‘Now is a terrible time to open a restaurant, you must wait,” says Mr. Bogdanov. “We said ‘Well, we´ll give it a try and see what happens.´ People have to eat, even in a financial crisis.”

Their focus is on good-quality, fresh ingredients, says Mr. Bogdanov. Fish is flown in twice a week from Italy. The cooking is seasonal, he says, because taste is seasonal. “Our most popular dishes at the moment are the octopus salad, the tuna and other fish. People like eating fish and salad with a glass of white wine at this time of year, because it feels like summer.”

Now that Czechs are traveling more for business and pleasure, people here know Mediterranean food, and are very discerning, says Bogdanov. “People say to me ‘Ah you have such and such a dish, I tried this in Milan.´ That would have been very rare ten years ago.”

The managers were planning Porto for eight years before it happened.  The genesis of the restaurant was a group of friends who regularly ate together in restaurants. “All of the staff here are friends,” says Bogdanov. “Many of them I´ve known for 10 years.”

Because of its location the restaurant caters primarily for the business market, serving business lunches and dinners to hungry bankers from Karlín.  But with its intimate atmosphere – the restaurant has two little dining rooms plus the terrace – it´s a good date location. There is also a cellar room for parties.

Two years ago Porto was a Czech pub serving fried cheese and goulash. Six months of renovation, black flocked wallpaper, floor-to-ceiling wine cases and a lot of cream upholstery have left the place unrecognizable. It´s obviously the creation of someone with an obsessive eye for detail, and when Mr. Bogdanov says he´s unhappy with the texture of the paper in the menu, I can guess whose eye.

“It´s more than a full time job,” he says. “I´ve been here almost every day, from morning to night, for the last year. Every morning there are supplies to order, something has broken, an ingredient is missing and we have to go to the shops. A new restaurant has its small problems, its baby illnesses, like a child, so it´s been a matter of curing them.”

Despite the growing pains common to all young eateries, Porto is growing steadily.  “We´re cooking from fresh ingredients, offering great service and the prices are good. Despite the financial crisis we have a growing business. I don´t like to talk about myself using superlatives, but I think we´re doing something special.”

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