REVIEW: Prague's first modern Ukrainian restaurant is destined for greatness

The superlative-named Nai offers traditional Ukrainian dishes such as corn porridge (banosh), sweet fritters (syrnyky), and cabbage rolls (holubtsi).

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 14.02.2024 15:49:00 (updated on 16.02.2024) Reading time: 3 minutes

Prague's Ukrainian food scene has recently been enriched by the diaspora living in the Czech lands – from street food vendors to humble cafes, there are plenty of ways to support Czechia’s Ukrainian community while filling up on varenyky and borscht.

Prague now welcomes a new addition to the scene with the opening of Nai restaurant, the second in a franchise by chef Volodymyr Yaroslavsky with ambitious plans to introduce the world to “Ukrainian culture, food, and DNA.”

The Buzz

Red borscht. Photo: Nai
Red borscht. Photo: Nai

Following the success of the first branch in Wrocław, Poland, the Prague establishment was launched by Ukrainians, with support from the Ukrainian embassy.

But anyone expecting excessive folk motifs (Sharovarshchyna) or stodgy platters of potato dumplings, ala famed New York City diner Veselka, will be disappointed. Nai plates up Ukrainian cuisine with a modern twist. The East Village mainstay might want to watch its back, though. Nai’s plans for global expansion include New York and 10 other cities in 2024.

The Venue

Nai interior. Photo: Nai
Nai interior. Photo: Nai

Located in the residential heights atop Prague’s Sacré Coeur park in Smíchov, the quiet neighborhood location is as good a date night destination as any. And yet, there was nothing intimate about the venue, during our Sunday evening dinner. 

Chatty groups of diners huddled amid striking decor – tableware, custom-made vases, and lighting fixtures – all imported from Ukraine and made by Ukrainian craftsmen. Large windows and distant park views created a casual bistro vibe.

The Food

Varenyky. Photo: Nai
Varenyky. Photo: Nai

The menu reflects the flavors and dishes of Ukrainian cuisine served with a friendly flourish by the pleasant bilingual waitstaff. The red borscht, sadly unavailable the day we visited, is accompanied by fat back (salo), a corn porridge (banosh) comes topped with sheep cheese (bryndza), and cabbage rolls (holubtsi) are stuffed with shrimp.

The plating of dishes was gorgeous – artful arrangements surrounded by haloes of vibrantly colored sauces flecked with mushrooms and other forest fare such as fermented black currant. The varenyky’s depth and richness fully underscored the meat’s umami flavor. Generous desserts like the fritters (syrnyky) incorporate rich traditional ingredients of quark and cherry.

The wine selection (predominantly Czech and Italian) perfectly complemented the food. Other libations and beverages included Ukrainian Staritsky Levitsky vodka, and sea buckthorn lemonade and tea.

The dessert menu was a scrumptious stand-out featuring a deconstructed Kyiv cake that combined layers of airy merengue and buttercream, and walnut-layer torte (medivnyk) that will be familiar to fans of the Czech medovník, deliciously illustrating the interconnected nature of Slavic culinary traditions.

The Verdict

Syrnyky quark fritters. Photo: Nai
Syrnyky quark fritters. Photo: Nai

We visited Nai during its soft opening in early February. Since then, the restaurant appears to have added new dishes, and perhaps it will have refined some existing ones. The meat in the Chicken Kyiv lacked flavor, the toast served with the tartare wasn’t crisp, and the pancake with the consommé starter was rubbery. The presentation conveyed a fresh, modern sensibility, even if the depth and identity of some of the dishes we tried haven’t yet fully aligned with the promise.

But the concept is singular for Prague and Nai, which is a prefix expressing a superlative in the Ukrainian language, is definitely on the road to greatness once it overcomes some kinks along the way.

From the menu

  • Tartar of beef with fermented currants CZK 305
  • Red borscht with salo CZK 239
  • Chicken consommé and meat-filled crepes CZK 219
  • Varenyky with meat CZK 391
  • Veal cheeks with celery risotto and smoked pear CZK 465
  • Chicken Kyiv CZK 329
  • Merengue Kyiv dessert CZK 260
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