Rybi Trh, The Fish Market in the Ungelt, Prague
If you are ever travelling to Prague to see the Easter or Christmas markets or thinking of a bar crawl for Czech artisan beer, it is worth considering Rybi Trh Restaurant, which translates as “The Fish Market”. Hidden behind the Tyn Church is an old courtyard where fine restaurants can be found at reasonable prices, and The Fish Market is one of them.
The Ungelt area of Prague was established in the 12th century as a fortified courtyard to protect the merchants travelling through the city. It is located directly behind the Tyn Church and hence is also called the Tyn Courtyard. The courtyard was originally protected by ditches and walls and under the protection of the king, and “Tyn” means “protected.” The later Germanic term, “Ungelt”, refers to the area as customs zone where the merchants paid a duty for entry. It had a third name as the “cheerful court”, or laeta curia, because of the socialising and festive atmosphere that surrounds large market places and trading. The Ungelt flourished during the time of Charles IV and Wenceslas IV during the 14th century. As trade broadened through centuries, the Ungelt lost its important role and by the 20th century the Ungelt was a circle of dilapidated buildings that gave refuge to the poor, surrounded by rundown offices and workshops. In 1996 the Tyn Courtyard was renovated and the Renaissance Granovsky Palace restored. The palace dates from 1558 and is decorated with beautiful Renaissance sgraffiti with an arcade loggia decorated in illustrations of Bible stories and Greek mythology. Across from it is the Black Bear at No. 642, established in 1428, with a Baroque facade with 18th century statues of St. John of Nepomuk, St. Wenceslas and Florian. The building is named after a black bear in chains. Inside this house is the Indian Jewel Restaurant, but across the courtyard is the Rybi Trh Fish Market.
Red fish and blue fish at the Rybi Trh are but just what the doctor ordered. Everybody knows that a Mediterranean diet is healthy and fish is the food of the brain, and the produce sold in the Fish Market inside the Tyn Courtyard is fresh, colourful, healthy and delicious.
On a cold winter’s day, when heavy clouds smother the Prague sky, the fresh fish in The Fish Market evokes the warmth of the Mediterranean sun and shore. Fish is delivered regularly and the menu therefore varies according to the catch and the seasons. The bream comes from Croatia, salmon from Norway, mussels, clams, oysters and prawns from France and octopus from Morocco. The Atlantic halibut and monkfish are delivered from Norway and the turbot from Croatia, but the lobster is Canadian and red snapper comes from Italy. The bream is stacked on ice alongside the red rockfish, and you can pick and choose what you are going to eat.
The restaurant is painted in seaside colours of aquamarine and turquoise and sea-green pastels. Lobsters patrol their aquarium tank with their giant claws taped so as to discourage anti-social behaviour. Nearby swim small fish, their scales coloured in shades of brilliant orange and pink, dart away into their broken pots and scallop shells whenever customers look at them.
The manager, Tomas Plechata, oversees the modest yet comfortable dining area. The décor is simple, and in a window you can see a beautiful model of tall masted ship. Over the doorway a swordfish is arched in an eternal leap.
The kitchen staff are friendly and courteous. I watch the chef select my bream and fillet it expertly in front of me. His fingers are swift in the execution and the fish is cleanly cut in neat ribbons with admirable skill. His assistant prepares the vegetables. In minutes, their hands arrange the vegetables on the plate, settle the fish, set the garnish and make the final artistic touches. It is almost cinematic watching them prepare the food so precisely; but much more enjoyable to eat it.
The entree of salmon, prawn and yellow fin tuna and the main course of bream are delicate and succulent, accompanied by fresh vegetables that have been seared on a hot grill. The carrots and broccoli are tender, but still have texture and crunch. The food is well-prepared here, and the portions modest, so that you feel healthy and light at the end of your meal. A cold and light Vlasatice Chardonnay accompanied the bream, a good choice made by the manager. Although Czech wines are not so well known on the European market, the area close to the Austrian border near Slovakia is rich in vineyards that are gradually becoming more recognised and appreciated.
It is the careful selection of produce in Rybi Trh Restaurant and their meticulous and artistic preparation that distinguishes it. It is well worth a visit when you are next in Prague.
Restaurant Rybí Trh: www.rybitrh.cz