The Euro­pean na­tion that’s be­com­ing a din­ing hotspot

Miche­lin has never trou­bled to ex­plore Slove­nia whose cui­sine re­flects many cul­tures

Muscat Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

Miche­lin has never trou­bled to ex­plore the res­tau­rants of Slove­nia whose cui­sine re­flects Euro­pean and Asian in­flu­ences

Think of din­ing des­ti­na­tions in Europe and Slove­nia might not be high on your list.

You’d prob­a­bly have trou­ble find­ing it on a map – and then be re­duced to Googling to dis­cover places to eat. Miche­lin has never trou­bled to ex­plore the res­tau­rants of a na­tion whose cui­sine re­flects Ital­ian, Ger­man, Hun­gar­ian, Asian and Aus­trian in­flu­ences. But it turns out Slove­nia is en­joy­ing a tourism boom as peo­ple ex­plore the home na­tion of First Lady Me­la­nia Trump.

And yet, you can dine very well in Slove­nia, a beau­ti­ful coun­try of moun­tains and val­leys, whose cap­i­tal of Ljubl­jana (pro­nounced LUBE-liana) is an undis­cov­ered gem.

So where to eat in Slove­nia? Some sug­ges­tions.

Str­elec Restau­rant

This gas­tro­nomic restau­rant is housed in a tower in Ljubl­jana Cas­tle, with ta­bles on a ter­race over­look­ing the city. It's a gor­geous place to dine. Rather than just play safe for the tourists, chef Igor Jagodic pro­duces flavour­ful dishes that are as beau­ti­ful to look at as they are to eat. There are tast­ing menus (four cour­ses for € 44/US$52) as well as a la carte, fea­tur­ing colour­ful op­tions such as scal­lop with wa­ter­melon, melon, cu­cum­ber, pis­ta­chio and bread.

Gos­tilna Skaručna

This un­usual restau­rant in a vil­lage 20 min­utes north of Ljubl­jana is worth the trip - for the decor as well as the food. The in- terior is clut­tered like a junk shop, while tinny mu­sic - marches and waltzes and swing - emerges from a vin­tage gramo­phone. You can sit out­side if you don't mind be­ing buzzed by count­less wasps.

The food is rus­tic with­out be­ing dull or pre­dictable.

There is no menu: The meal might in­clude dishes such as beef tongue with gar­lic, topped with goat's and sheep's cheese. The pace is un­hur­ried, so al­low three hours for a meal.

JB Restau­rant

Chef Janez Bra­tovz’s so­phis­ti­cated restau­rant cel­e­brates Slove­nian cui­sine, fo­cus­ing on sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents rather than tech­ni­cal in­no­va­tion. It's hushed and a bit for­mal, but its fam­i­lyrun and chil­dren are par­tic­u­larly wel­come.

Bra­tovz is a veteran chef who helped gain in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion for his coun­try's food, win­ning awards and col­lab­o­rat­ing with Alain Du­casse and other lead­ing culi­nary masters. Dishes may in­clude home­made ravi­oli filed with cot­tage cheese and pis­ta­chio, meat and cream sauce, goose liver, licorice. Bra­tovz’s food is full of flavour and he’s more likely to be in the kitchen than on TV, though he is a celebrity in Slove­nia. This is one of the smartest res­tau­rants in the coun­try, and the tast­ing menus start at € 45.

Mon­stera Bistro

This mod­ern, stripped-down restau­rant serves cre­ative dishes in in­for­mal sur­round­ings. It's af­ford­able gas­tron­omy. But it is the evening when things get most in­ter­est­ing, with tast­ing menus that may fea­ture dishes such as baby cut­tle­fish with pea cream. This place is rated No 1 of 479 res­tau­rants in Ljubl­jana on TripAd­vi­sor, but don't let that put you off: It re­ally is good.

The two-course lunch costs € 16 and tast­ing menus start at € 40.

Book early.

Na­masté

This In­dian restau­rant is worth a visit mainly for the lo­ca­tion, though the food isn't bad ei­ther. On a warm sum­mer's evening, you can sit out­side and en­joy the

views across the Ljubl­jan­ica river to the cas­tle. Most of the dishes are Mughal cui­sine from north In­dia, and there are also some Mum­bai street-food snacks.

Hiša Franko

This restau­rant near the bor­der with Italy is a des­ti­na­tion for din­ers from as far away as Aus­tralia. Chef Ana Roš was this year named the world’s best fe­male chef. She grows veg­eta­bles and herbs on the hill be­hind her restau­rant, while most of the other pro­duce comes from the sur­round­ing area. Just don’t go mak­ing the two-hour drive from Ljub­jlana with­out a reser­va­tion. Hiša Franko is of­ten booked

out two months in ad­vance for dishes such as sar­dine, candy lemon fen­nel; and tripe, duck jus, cave cheese, fried net­tles, chanterelles. The tast­ing menus cost € 85 eu­ros and € 120.

Hiša Polonka

If you can’t get into Hiša Franko, all is not lost. This tra­di­tional inn in the nearby vil­lage of Ko­barid is the new project of Ana, and one of her deputies is in the kitchen.

The prices are low and the ser­vice is in­for­mal and friendly. You can dine very well for a few eu­ros on dishes such as zabel­jena (frozen) po­lenta, with cot­tage cheese and ba­con; and veni­son goulash with bread souf­fle. The cus­tomers are a good mix of tourists and lo­cals. If you are there late in the evening, this is a hang­out for staffers from Hiša Franko.

To­pli Val

For a vil­lage with a pop­u­la­tion not far north of 1,000, Ko­barid is blessed with good places to eat.

To­pli Val, less than five min­utes’ walk from Hiša Polonka, is a sur­pris­ingly good restau­rant. To­pli Val’s spe­cialty is seafood, with dishes such as gi­ant scal­lops with sweet tomato; and grilled sea bass. If you don't fancy fish, op­tions in­clude filet of veni­son Ko­barid-style.

There is also a strong wine list, with bot­tles from around Slove­nia. The best place is the ter­race, where you can en­joy views of the sur­round­ing moun­tains. The restau­rant is part of the Ho­tel Hvala, a fam­ily busi­ness.

(Pho­tos: Bloomberg)

Str­elec restau­rant is in the Ljubl­jana Cas­tle, with a ter­race over­look­ing the city

The prices are low and the ser­vice is friendly at Hiša Polonka

Aged beef with baked car­rots; and duck-liver ravi­olo at Str­elec Restau­rant

Photo courtesy: Mon­stera Bistro

Mon­stera food: Trout; beef cheeks; beet­root tartare; choco­late mousse

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