The first thing I notice is the framed picture of Action Bronson perched on a shelf. At first, it seems incongruous. How does the boisterous rapper fit this modern, minimalist decor? But after the first sip of my Blood & Sand and bite of beef tongue sandwich, I get it.
In a subtle way, it sums up the restaurant’s M.O. A chill vibe that invites you to kick back and enjoy yourself. To feel at home while you wine and dine on some of the finest food and drink in Brno with no pretence, but maybe a little swagger and decadence.
Atelier bills itself as a cocktail bar and bistro. And it lives up to its billing. Here all options are open. Come for a drink and share a few plates at a table, or go all out with the degustation menu and drink pairing at the bar while watching the chefs do their thing.
First time around, my wife and I went the former route. Besides the meat and mead mentioned above, we also shared duck broth, potatoes, and pork belly. And that beef tongue sandwich? It was simply called “sandwich”. The dishes’ simple names belie their exacting execution while hinting at their playfulness.
The sandwich was reminiscent of a Reuben. The duck broth was prepared “ala Ramen” with alkaline noodles, duck hearts and soft boiled egg. The potato dish was like a deconstructed croquette – melted Romadur cheese topped with crispy thin wafers of potato. And the pork belly was akin to a Central European pork bun, with meat, cracklings, sauerkraut and sauce wrapped in potato lokse.
The kitchen’s approach seems to be to use simple ingredients and elevate them beyond the sum of their parts, applying a variety of cooking techniques and drawing inspiration from and melding both Czech and other cuisines. Everything was mouthwateringly good. Before the meal even ended, I was already looking forward to coming back.
And so I did, this time ordering the full degustation menu with pairing. With so many dishes and drinks to describe (6 and 5), I’ll focus on the highlights.
The meal got off to a fantastic start with lentils “ala risotto”. The dish had a perfect balance of umami and acidity. Each morsel of lentil was soft to the bite but still had its shape. My dining companion, who normally does not like lentils, was more than pleasantly surprised. It was so good we agreed that a second serving for “dessert” as well (rather than the eventual Swiss roll) would have been most welcomed.
This was followed by a salad that would delight even the most carnivorous of diners. In addition to perfectly dressed a delightfully bitter mixed green, baby radish, and pickled red onion, beneath was a sauce of blood sausage and on top the most tender and lean pieces of pork knee you’ll ever have.
Two dishes later came the “Pečenáč”, an ode to Czech Christmas. Fried carp marinated in a sweet and sour brine and served cold was accompanied by charred lettuce and a Viennese-style potato salad. The contrast in textures and temperatures versus the harmony of flavors was simply phenomenal. If every Czech Christmas was like this, I dare say we’d all want to stick around for the holidays.
The final savory dish was a creamy rabbit ragout with a quark dumpling. And what a dumpling it was! If only all Czech dumplings were prepared like this one. Rather than just filler or a carrier for sauce, it had its own delightful taste, creamy from the quark and toasted with butter. The ragout was no less wonderful. Rabbit is a meat that can easily be too dry, but here it was soft and tender with even a few little streaks of fat. While the sauce was richly satisfying. As I commented at the time, it’s a shame it is considered a faux pas to lick your plate.
The drink pairings generally played well with each dish. None overpowered the food, nor did any especially enhance the flavors on the plate. They simply matched them well. The standout performer was definitely the glass of Chardonnay that accompanied the rabbit. It was out of this world, with a richly buttery bouquet and body and a subtle oakiness. Not normally a white wine drinker, I was floored.
As Action would say, “Fuck, that’s delicious.”