Central and Eastern Europe brings a fresh flavour to dining out

A new wave of bars and restaurants in Poland and the Czech Republic is moving the dining scene beyond classic dishes like pork and dumplings

May 27, 2019

From new venues to new foodie concepts, bars and restaurants in major cities in Central and Eastern Europe are rethinking their menus, design and location to better appeal to locals and tourists.

Amid the growing focus on high-quality food and social-media friendly spaces, today’s customers have higher expectations than ever before. Furthermore, the growing affluence of Polish customers means 41 percent more is now spent on eating out than 10 years ago, according to a JLL report.

In the neighboring Czech Republic, purchasing power is also rising. That’s giving restaurateurs confidence to launch and expand – and feel less dependent purely on the tourist spend, says Tomáš Soukup, head of retail for the Czech Republic at JLL.

As a result, dining options are moving beyond the typical pork and dumplings to Nordic-style bakeries and independent newcomers.

“You could argue that there have always been two sets of clientele in Prague – tourists seeking the classic Czech menus, and young professionals out for a meal or drink after work,” says Soukup. “But there’s also a new wave of locals and tourists keen for new mid-range eating and drinking experiences that offer something a little different.”

Social media is also playing its part in raising the profile of new concepts, such as Prague’s butcher diner, Naše maso and its neighbour, quirky sandwich maker Sisters Chlebíčky.

“For many people, social media is the new city guidebook and visually appealing dishes and interior design can prove to be a very effective marketing tool to get them talking about an up-and-coming bar or restaurant online,” Soukup adds.

A refined offer

Take beer, historically one of Prague’s major draws. The growth of craft ale has seen the Czech capital become a destination not just for high volume weekend drinking but also for ale aficionados.

“Prague has for some time had this brash reputation for being a destination for groups of revellers on a weekend getaway,” says Soukup. “But things are becoming more refined and understated.”

High-end dining is taking off with two Prague restaurants, the Field and La Degustation, recently awarded Michelin stars.

Quality coffee shops and wine bars are also increasing in popularity – with the latter gaining traction in Warsaw via the likes of Ale Wino and Kieliszki na Próżnej. Prague’s Krakovska Street, meanwhile, is drawing in the crowds to cosy, dimly-lit cocktail bars, such as Parlour.

Location, location

New drinking and dining options are not, however, providing additional competition for traditional retailers looking for prime city centre space. 

“High street retail continues to perform well and unlike other European cities, rents are not under pressure,” Soukup explains. “That means Prague hasn’t felt the need to incentivise new tenants or seek out alternative uses due to any sudden spike in vacancy.

“If anything, food and beverage is complementing the Prague shopping experience nicely and sits a little hidden away from the main squares and high streets, adding to the charm.”

In Warsaw, restaurants, bars and cafes such as small French patisserie chain Vincent play a bigger role on the high street, accounting for nearly one third of the city’s high street units.

Anna Wysocka, head of retail agency at JLL Poland, says that in recent years, new gastronomy clusters have “spontaneously emerged in less obvious locations” in Warsaw such as Poznańska, Nowogrodzka, Parkingowa and Burakowska, as well as on the city’s revamped Vistula boulevards.

“They’re now extremely popular food and drink destinations – particularly in the summer months,” she says.

Back in Prague, undiscovered cobbled back streets and Art Deco arcades are being re-energised, along with less visited areas of town. The Smíchov district, away from Prague’s main landmarks and across the Vltava river, is where the founder of food market Manifesto is now planning a second site after the launch of its original site across town in the Florenc’ district.

“Smíchov is not on the tourist map but that can soon change once markets such as Manifesto move in,” says Soukup. “These markets also offer opportunities for a new generation of local chefs to build their reputation.”

More to come

Both Prague and Warsaw are eyeing more innovation in their food and drink scene. In Warsaw, the market hall trend sweeping Europe is reflected in Hala Koszyki, which offers outlets ranging from Mexican food to local butchers.

Czech modern dining alliance, Together, also continues to add new concepts to its rosta across Prague, ranging from Belgian brasserie Bruxx to Asian restaurant Sia in the city’s Šporkovský Palace. In both cities, the setting and backdrop matter; Warsaw chef Mateusz Gessler has opened his Warszawa Wschodnia in a converted, red-brick factory. The Ambi Group is another umbrella company for several Prague restaurants including the no menu Kuchyň.

“It’s all about making the most of photogenic interior design and renowned architecture, while offering consumers something fresh,” says Soukup. “That’s the way forward.”

Plus, the growing economies of Poland and the Czech Republic bode well for local spending. In Poland the amount spent on eating out is tipped to grow as much as 32 percent by 2028, according to Oxford Economics. Purchasing power in the neighbouring Czech Republic should also rise next year, according to the country’s trade and tourism union.

“It’s an exciting time for bars and restaurants in Warsaw,” says Wysocka. “The appetite for new food and drink concepts is there and that should have a positive effect on retail in the coming years.”