Café Society

Plush velvet, jewel-toned sofas; polished brass fixtures; long, elegant etched mirrors; women with fabulous floral hats, sipping tea next to men in dark suits, newspapers in hand; intellectuals in heated debates, with waiters in crisp, white aprons serving glasses of champagne is how I envision café society. Even though this scenario was more common a century ago, it’s still alive at the Café Savoy in Prague (well, minus the jeweled sofas and floral head-gear; the waiters, though, are right on cue).

I’ve always pictured myself in this environment, present and past life. I would spend my days, keeping up on current events and trends, while nibbling on delicate pastries, as well as large chunks of Germanic layer cake, oozing assorted cream fillings. All this would take place over endless cups of Viennese coffee poured into fine, bone-white china, before I would switch to a Moravian red, served in a thin, long-stemmed glass at a respectable hour. Seated beside fascinating individuals, I would pretend to read thought-provoking books while analyzing their footwear and topics of conversation with an enlightened, silent critique.

Savoy Pastry Case

When I walked into the Café Savoy near the Most Legii Bridge by Kampa Island, I knew I had found my fantasy European café.

In business since 1893, the most spectacular feature of the Savoy, besides its pastry case, is its neo-renaissance ceiling featuring intricate hand carved molding that wraps around the corners, entwining apples, oranges and pineapples with large green leaves. The inside panels are finely painted with floral and tromp d’oeil patterns in bold shades of green, blue, terracotta and beige. Heavy Bohemian crystal chandeliers, draped with long strands of glistening beads, catch my attention, forcing my gaze upward. The inner dining room, lined with bottles of fine wine with unpronounceable names, has always been home to Prague’s movers and shakers.

Original Ceiling Café Savoy

Housed in a fin de siècle building with stained glass windows across from old town, the Savoy was decorated when Paris and art nouveau were all the rage. Time, two world wars and communism may have temporarily dimmed its glory, but a recent Old World renovation has bought this special place back to life and reestablished it as one of Prague’s most prestigious cafés, and now also, a world-class restaurant.

Seated at a small table by the window I notice the waiter’s station across the room. Beside, the usual silverware and bottles of condiments, the brown wooden table doubles as a shrine to apple strudel. No fancy, frilly cakes and pastries here (that’s at the other side of the room), this is home to serious middle European baking: a long, golden brown strudel, dusted with powdered sugar and bulging with chunks of apple, pecans and raisins, nestled between loaves of serious, grainy dark bread.

Apple Strudel

As smartly dressed waiters in black ties, and starched white aprons scurry past me carrying silver trays laden with coffee, tea and treats, I peruse the menu. I want a traditional meal, even though many of their dishes have a modern, fusion twist. On the authentic side there’s roasted Prague ham with cabbage, juicy Viennese goulash, roasted duck in honey with bread dumplings and the ever-dependable Wiener Schnitzel with potato salad and homemade cranberry jam. I opted for the latter and do not regret it. Made with thin slices of veal, coated with breadcrumbs (leftovers from the waiter’s station) and fried to perfection, it’s a far cry from its Mexican cousin—the milanesa. The cranberry jam is actually the best part of the dish and I caution myself not to ask for more, since missing dessert here would be criminal.

I will be a regular at the Savoy; I will make it my neighborhood café, I tell myself when contemplating dessert choices. This way I can make a solid decision without panicking, which always leads me astray when I think I might miss something good. I choose the fruit dumplings–curd cheese dumplings filled with fresh apricots, sugar and butter, topped with crumbled gingerbread cookies, sour cream, cinnamon and sugar. The fruit is somewhat tart, but mixed with the sweet topping, the combination is just right.

Whether ordering Dom Perignon by the glass, or a simple cup coffee to accompany a leisure look at one of the multi-national newspapers stacked in the corner, the Savoy offers the perfect combination of old and new world elegance.

I say goodbye to my new home, at least for today, and head out to the bustling street. An old trolley passes by, a relic from the 40s with wooden benches and open windows (only operated in the summer) and crosses Legii Bridge with tall, medieval church spires and blue sky in the background. It’s mid August and the tree leaves on Kampa island, situated in the middle of Prague’s Vltana river, already have a golden tone. Even though they are still abundant on the branches, fall is already in the air.

Kampa Island

Paddles boats fill the river around the island. They linger in the sun, wasting away one of summer’s last lazy days, as I do, with the rest of café society.

Wiener schnitzel

Café Savoy


Potatoes, cranberry jam, onion, lemon, celery, Dijon mustard, home-made mayonnaise, flour, carrots, pickles, butter, parsley, black peppercorns, breadcrumbs, salt, veal leg, egg, lard


Potato salad: peel off potatoes (0.4 kg for 4 serves) boiled in skin (at best boiled a day ago) and cut them into small 1 x 1 cm pieces. Boil and chop carrots (0.1 kg), parsley (0.1 kg) and celery (0.1 kg). Fry finely chopped onion (1 piece) in butter. Dice pickles (0.1 kg). Add all the vegetables to home-made mayonnaise (4-5 tablespoons), Dijon mustard (1 tablespoon), salt (3 pinches) and freshly grounded peppercorns. Mix thoroughly.

Cut slices off a leg of veal (4 slices for 4 serves) across the grain, tenderize slightly, add salt and pepper. Then coat in flour, egg and breadcrumbs. Fry in lard slowly on both sides for about 2 minutes and at the end add knob of butter.

Tip: lay fried schnitzel on paper napkin to absorb excess oil. Serve with potato salad, garnish with piece of lemon and cranberry jam.

Apple strudel

Café Savoy


white flour, whole wheat flour, vanilla or vanilla sugar, cinnamon sugar, sugar, sunflower oil, salt, water, eggs, butter, apples, lemon, raisins, nuts, rum or grand marnier


Pastry: make a well into sifted white flour (1/2 kg) and put sunflower oil (2 table spoons), pinch of salt, eggs (3 pieces) and lukewarm water (2 dl) in it. Stir into the pastry and if necessary add some more water. The pastry must be smooth without lumps and should not be sticky. Let stand for about 15 minutes. This dough can be replaced by phyllo dough.

Peel and core apples (1 kg), thinly slice (0,5 cm). Add sugar (a fistful), squeeze juice from a lemon, add cinnamon sugar (1 packet) and soak a fistful of raisins for five minutes in rum or Grand Marnier, drain before using. Stir the mixture carefully so that you do not break the apple slices and mix cake crumbs all over it.

Cake crumbs: mix soft butter (1/2 piece), sugar (2 fistfuls), whole wheat flour (2 fistfuls) and vanilla sugar (1 packet or vanilla from one pod).

Roll out the dough into a sheet 1 cm thick, then gently pull it at the ends with your hands until the dough is thin. Fill the apple mixture and fold the uncovered border of dough over the filling to cover it completely. Brush with melted butter and bake until golden at 180 °C about 15 minutes.

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