Sometimes it is necessary to go the extra mile to find gastronomical distinction. It is no coincidence that the Michelin grading system is based on the principle that excellent cooking is worth a detour and exceptional cuisine is worth a special journey. It should therefore be no surprise that, despite the mountain of Italian cuisine in Prague, a little more effort is required to find the summit.
The destination is Horoměřice, midway between Prague’s town centre and Václav Havel Airport, in fact, part of the backroad route used by frequent travellers to avoid missing flights on heavy traffic days. Around the corner from the občerstvení and just past the řeznictví-červ lies the goal: Osteria Unico.
The visit invariably starts with a warm greeting from Italian head chef Davide Lagomarsino or his Czech wife and co-owner, Karolina. Unico is a family-run restaurant, where every element is an expression of the story and personality of the owners. Davide’s own journey from his native Liguria to Prague is another example of the extra mile, having spent 15 years in Sydney, Australia, at the helm of several locally renowned restaurants including Fratelli Paradiso, Cucina Vera, and Zeffirelli, where his guests included Hollywood glitterati such as Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, Robert De Niro, and Keanu Reeves.
Along the way, Davide has developed a style based on showcasing the finest ingredients, handled with simplicity, and served with genuine passion for the cuisine of his homeland. But he has also acquired a new-world flair, meaning that his dishes are unlike any other Italian in Prague.
Calamari is given a classically Antipodean salt-’n’-pepper treatment, also a feature of his New Zealand lamb cutlets, which are paired with a mildly sweet honey, black pepper, and chilli sauce which would be right at home under the Australian sun. Summer also radiates through the sous vide Iberico pork ribs, whose falling-off-the-bone tenderness complements the soft texture of luscious grilled watermelon, with the combination kicked into top gear by a light but flavoursome bourbon glaze.
Pasta dishes similarly follow a modern but simple approach. Ligurian pasta pockets conceal a trio of spinach varieties, bathed in a subtle but confident walnut sauce, while beef fillets served with linguine are served succulently pink, enveloped by a deliciously pungent truffle velouté.
It is possibly with seafood that Osteria Unico reaches its highest point. Ever-changing based on the supply from Liguria, the fresh flavours of Davide’s excellent ingredients are allowed to shine through. Whether it is his signature carpaccio-style octopus, lightly braised and cooked in its own juices; the deceptively humble trippa di baccalà, served simply with confit garlic and tomato on rosemary crostini; or the more adventurous Boston scallops gently offset with Jerusalem artichoke puree intriguingly paired with a poached quail egg and tarragon, Davide’s sympathetic treatment means the seafood always remains the star of the dish.
The desserts on the ever-changing sweets menu are never heavy and always complementary to the meal. It may be glazed strawberries with a white chocolate ice cream or fagottini drizzled with a lively sauce of coffee and anise. And the coffee, of course, is as excellent as can be expected from an authentic Italian trattoria.
Just as Davide’s journey to establishing Osteria Unico has taken him around the world, dining there takes most guests off their beaten track. As with many trips over the rainbow, there is gold to be found, and in this case the reward is undoubtedly the best Italian cuisine in Prague.