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Slovenia: From fine dining to delectable desserts

Amber Gibson

Contributor

Without a doubt, Hiša Franko is the most famous restaurant in Slovenia, thanks to Netflix and the World's 50 Best list. After appearing on the second season of Chef's Table, Chef Ana Roš became an international ambassador of sorts for Slovenia, much more so than Melania Trump. International jet-setting foodies have been known to visit Slovenia just for the night to experience Roš' food, but they are remiss not to taste more of what Slovenia has to offer.

HIŠA FRANKO

Yes, Hiša Franko lives up to, even surpasses, the hype. Chef Ana Roš is entirely self-taught and an unlikely candidate for a celebrity chef, but she single-handedly put Slovenia on the international culinary map with her modern interpretation of Slovenian cuisine served in a humble farmhouse in Kobarid, in Slovenia's dramatic Soča Valley.

Every course is so labour-intensive, from the house-churned cultured butter served with spelt sourdough to an apple croissant trompe l'oeil, that the €150 tasting menu seems generous, particularly compared to this caliber of meal in Paris or Copenhagen. Each course is paired with Slovenian natural wine and ingredients like local Soča trout and pumpkin are celebrated in modern and complex new ways. The normally hearty Kobariški štrukelj dumpling is reimagined, served in miniature as a final dessert bite with a side of smoked pork crème brûlée.

Roebuck, horseradish cheese, nasturtium

Photographer: Amber Gibson

JB RESTAURANT

If Roš is Slovenia's current star, lest we not forget Janez Bratovž, the chef at JB Restaurant in the centre of Ljubljana. Bratovž comes from a generation before, introducing Slovenians to European fine dining traditions and Roš credits him as being the “father of modern Slovenian cuisine.” There are three set menus here to choose from – meat, fish, or vegetarian – or an 11-course grand tasting with dishes changing daily. Langoustines and melt-in-your-mouth beef tongue are cooked perfectly and it's clear that Bratovž has a delicate touch. You can also opt to order a la carte, but whatever you do you must try his signature ravioli filled with a sumptuous mix of cottage cheese and pistachio dressed in rich meat jus with a chunk of foie gras. Both of his children work beside him in the restaurant, his daughter as a sommelier and his son in the kitchen.

Janez Bratovz, JB Restaurant

Photographer: Nea Culpa

LJUBLJANA CENTRAL MARKET

Slovenia's most renowned architect Jože Plečnik designed these covered market halls in the 1940s, which sit beside the Ljubljanica river. It's the largest food market in the capital and a great starting point to taste the diversity in Slovenia's culinary repertoire. The small country may just be half the size of Switzerland, but it punches above its weight when it comes to food. Indoors, you'll find cured and fresh meat (including bear salami), Slovenian cheeses, an array of bread, dried fruit and nuts, prepared foods, plus speciality condiments like pumpkin seed oil and honey. Outdoors there are fresh fruits and vegetables, with a section dedicated to Slovenian-grown produce and another with international imports. You'll even find vending machines for raw milk, delivered straight from dairy farmers.

Every Friday from mid-March through the end of October, Pogačar Square adjacent to the market turns into Open Kitchen, a mini food festival with dozens of stalls featuring chefs from some of Slovenia's best restaurants preparing speciality dishes for hungry visitors. 

Ljubljana Central Market

Photographer: Tomo Jeseničnik

LET THEM EAT CAKE

If you have a sweet tooth, you'll love indulging in Slovenia's many tasty cakes. Lake Bled is famous for its kremšnita, cream and custard cake topped with puff pastry and powdered sugar that's popular throughout Central Europe. Potica is a beloved nut roll, most commonly filled with chopped walnuts or poppyseeds, but found throughout the country with many regional variations, fiercely protected by proud housewives. I'm told that traditionally, all women must learn how to make potica if they want to find a husband. My personal favourite and the most complex is prekmurska gibanica, a layered cake with cottage cheese, walnuts, poppyseed, raisins and apples that resembles sweet dessert lasagna. All are great with a coffee in the afternoon, or even an indulgent breakfast to fuel a morning hike.

Prekmurska gibanica

Photographer: Amber Gibson

GORIŠKA BRDA

The rolling hills and vineyards here are reminiscent of Tuscany, but Goriška Brda is best known for rebula, not Sangiovese grapes. All the wineries here are small family-owned businesses, including Edi Simčič, one of the top producers of rebula and Bordeaux blends. Their chic tasting room has panoramic vineyard views and an excellent contemporary art collection. Bike between the dozens of tasting rooms open to the public. The bounty of produce here extends beyond grapes to apricots, persimmons, peaches, chestnuts, honey and more, with festivals celebrating cherries, olive oil and wine throughout the summer. Instead of a traditional hotel, rent a private home, like the three-bedroom villa at Villa Eva in Kozana. They make the best olive oil in all of Slovenia, winning a gold medal in the London International Olive Oil Competition this year for a single-varietal oil made from bjelica, a native Istrian olive. Ask Timon Bratasevec to let you try their pinot noir brut rosé too. It will blow your mind.

Haloze region in Slovenia

How to get to Ljubljana

The easiest way to get to Ljubljana is connecting with Turkish Airlines through Istanbul. Turkish Airlines also has a great stopover program for passengers in both business and economy classes, so you can take advantage and tour Istanbul on the way.

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