Švejk Restaurant U Karla is a restaurant close to the centre of Prague that specialises in traditional Czech cuisine. They also happen to have an entire gluten-free menu full of delicious – and normally gluten-containing – food – dumplings, schnitzel, potato pancakes, beer, you name it.
Having heard that it was somewhat of a gluten-free Mecca, I headed over there on my first day in Prague. It’s small, but not too poky inside, with brown walls, brown furniture and men with brown trousers on.
I was encouraged by the sign outside:
When I got in there was a bit of an awkward wait to be seated (the waiters clearly had a conversation that needed finishing) or I suspect it might be the custom here to just sit down wherever you like. I’m used to restaurants being weirdly specific about seating, so I just lingered until someone gave me permission to sit down.
It was nicely busy for lunchtime, and I guessed that their customers consist of a) local people and b) gluten-free tourists. The first thing I was asked was “do you want the gluten-free menu?”, which was of course met with an enthusiastic nod from me.
There was a great deal of choice on the gluten-free menu, something I’m really not used to, so it took me a looong time to make my decision. I thought a beer might help.
There were two types of gluten-free beer on the menu, both Czech. I asked for a Celia and the waiter replied in stern slavic tones “Bernard much better!”
“OK, I’ll try that then!” I replied meekly.
Well, he was sort of right… the Bernard beer was indeed delicious, although it was very different to Celia. Celia is more of a crisp, light beer, whereas Bernard was a bit heavier (for a lager), a beer more appropriate for winter, I’d say. It went down very quickly.
Assisted by the beer, I made my decision and opted for the garlic soup “with cheese and ham” to start with.
There is no photographer in the world that could make this dish look appealing. It’s garlic soup/broth, with cheese (I think mozzarella) lurking around along with some chunks of ham. It was utterly delicious.
At this point I was feeling a bit drunk on the power of being able to choose from so much, so I brazenly asked the waiter for some gluten-free bread. I wasn’t expecting the pile that was then presented to me:
It even came with a little “gluten-free” flag stuck in it! (As did my main course and dessert)
Don’t worry, it said “free” on the back of the flag! The bread was delicious and it had a very nice flavour to it – I think it had fennel seeds in it.
As a main, I ordered the beef goulash with gluten-free dumplings. I really regretted filling up on bread and soup when it arrived – it was utterly magnificent.
Succulent beef with spicy sausage and stodgy gluten-free dumplings to mop up the plentiful sauce – this is my idea of comfort food! I would have finished the entire bowlful had I not foolishly already eaten a starter.
Stubborn as a mule (who ate too much but reeeeally wanted dessert), I asked for the dessert menu. Realising that even I couldn’t manage a heavy dessert by that point, I enquired as to what the “lighter” option would be. He looked baffled by the concept of light food and suggested the apple strudel. I was sold.
Apologies for the slightly blurry effect – I had been playing around with my new lens and getting a little overexcited with some of the settings!
This apple strudel was to die for. I don’t even think I’d ever had one before that point – 18 years as a fussy eater only left me 7 years to try all the normal food before I was diagnosed and had to go gluten-free, and apple strudel seems to have been overlooked during that time.
The pastry was definitely gluten-free, thus it didn’t feel quite as delicate as a normal pastry, but it was very good nonetheless. There’s only so much gluten-free science can accomplish, and flaky pastry pretty much relies on gluten. However, as long as you don’t expect something light, flaky, and with a French accent, you won’t be disappointed.
I would definitely recommend this restaurant to anyone in Prague, but especially to gluten-free visitors looking to try some Czech cuisine. Everything was done without any fuss, they had a clear understanding of gluten-free as a concept and spoke English well. Service was prompt, efficient and polite.
The bill came to around 370 czk or approximately £10.
It was so good (and such good value) that I dragged my boyfriend back there another day for some schnitzel. I mean, you didn’t think I’d leave Prague without trying some schnitzel, did you?
We laughed when it came because I realised that instead of ordering the schnitzel I had accidentally ordered ALL THE SCHNITZEL. It was way better than my measly efforts at home though, and the homemade fries were also very good.
By not having a starter I had left room to try another dessert, so I opted for the fruit dumplings, which bizarrely came covered in sugar and… cheese. (This was a whopper of a dessert… I guess my previous apple strudel had been the “light” dessert)
It was so delicious, but seriously, each of these dumplings was the size of my fist. I couldn’t finish it. I tried, I really did. Forgive me dear readers.
Top marks. If you visit Prague, this place is NOT to be missed!