In recent years, a string of trailblazing chefs has emerged one after another from the Slovenian food scene, and in doing so they’ve elevated Ljubljana to a world-class foodie destination. And why not? The country is blessed with a ravishing abundance of countryside – not least its under-appreciated vineyards – and its produce is truly second to none. Here are some of our favourite restaurants in Ljubljana right now.
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Gostilna na Gradu
As settings go, it doesn’t get any grander than Gradu’s lofty vantage point inside the walls of Ljubljana Castle. Chef Sebastjan Elbl mans the barricades daily, with an ever-evolving menu taking age-old Slovenian recipes and shooting them through with a bolt of 21st century finesse. What can you expect to eat? Skuta – fermented curd cheese – with trout roe, venison with cranberries, sea bass with puréed parsnip and charred fennel, and beguiling roast potato ice cream to finish. Talk about a fortifying meal.
1 Grajska planota, Grajski grič
Owner-slash-chef Janez Bratovž was among the pioneers of the recent revolution in Slovenian fine dining. He set up shop in this eye-catching 1920s space after several years working abroad, from Monte Carlo to New York, Zagreb, Hong Kong, Tokyo and beyond. By 2010 his eponymous restaurant it was rated as one of the World's 50 Best. Classic elegant fine-dining is the order of the day – think foie gras, here prepared in cognac sauce and dried apricot cream, and the most photogenic plating around.
19 Miklošičeva cesta, Center
The prettiest brunch spot you ever did see – just by the Grain Bridge on the Ljubljanica River – has exposed brick for days, even across the ceiling. And get a load of those gorgeous ceramic bowls on the wall, overflowing with produce. What’s good on the menu? Simple, classic mid-morning fare – eggs Benedict with pulled beef, croque madame with Emmenthal and béchamel on a homemade brioche. Insta will love you for the French toast with popping pink floral garnish. Or at a pinch for a go for arguably the best coffee in town, with croissants slathered in home-made marmalade.
65 Petkovškovo nabrežje, Center
Chef Jorg Zupan is keen on the concept of the ‘atelier’ – that traditional workshop format where artists, designers and other skilled workers would come together under one roof in the pursuit of excellence. To that end, in this knockout space with giant windows and a sinuously curvy counter to sit at, Zupan has crafted a team and environment where as much as possible is done in-house. They bake their own bread, ripen their own cheese, produce their own yoghurt and pickle their own vegetables. The result? Endless marvellous morsels, and the chattiest, most knowledgeable sommelier around.
2 Nazorjeva ulica, Center
Slovenian TV chef Bine Volčič was right at the vanguard of the zero-waste movement in the country. So as well as virtuosic displays of cooking – the beef tartare with Jerusalem artichoke really is spesh, as are his baby ribs with peanut butter slaw, and don’t miss stuffed squid with black risotto, parsley root purée and rock samphire – the joint is as sustainable as it gets. What does that mean? Potato peel fries, assorted bone broths and reductions. Saving the world never tasted so sweet.
9 Gosposka ulica, Center
Strelec is situated in a fairytale tower thrusting skyward from the ramparts of Ljubljana Castle – it’s where archers used to shoot at marauding hordes from, apparently. Chef Igor Jagodic, keen to run with the theme, enlisted the help of a professor of ethnology, just so he could learn what those medieval bowmen would’ve eaten. Or at least the fancy folk they were defending. Anyway, the result is a Renaissance feast, gussied up for 21st century palates – roe deer, veal tongue, wild fish, and a smorgasbord of modern Slovenian cheeses. Really hits the spot.
1 Grajska planota, Grajski grič
This characterful restaurant – all candlelit nooks, red paint-job, crooked ceiling and old-timey furniture – delivers an eye-opening line in contemporary cooking, but with some decidedly rustic touches. There’s a robust and lengthy wine list. And the menu leans towards some less fashionable meats, including rabbit and, most notably, horse. Horse fillet steak, for instance, is a bestseller here. Although some may bridle at the thought.
28 Gornji trg, Center
This spectacularly cool riverside joint bills itself as ’Slovenian tapas’, but that’s selling itself short. Yes, chef Jakob Pintar – who’s worked with Viennese legend Heinz Reitbauer, Gordon Ramsay and Joel Robuchon – does make a mean small plate. But the level of innovation, sophistication and physical beauty of his small plates is quite extraordinary. Try pig snout with beetroot and camellia, Adriatic eel, or goat tripe with truffle. And the wines are all natural, every last one. A restaurant to truly savour.
6 Ribji trg, Center
Slovenska Hiša Figovec
Many moons ago, Hiša Figovec was a rustic coaching inn. And the tradition of doling out great steaming platefuls of honest Slovenian nosh is kept alive and well, despite the fact the current team only took over in 2017. Expect the likes of roast pork leg, or veal, with glistening mountains of potatoes, and great fat sausages. That’s not to say the cooking is backwards. Far from it – Fogovec’s beef tongue appetiser comes with an inspired slug of pumpkin oil. And the room is a riot of fun, tactile touches and arty nooks. Really, hiša marvellous.
1 Gosposvetska cesta, Center
Somewhat off the beaten track, on a modest back street in the quiet neighbourhood of Krakovo, this female-run restaurant is all about the warm welcome at the door and comforting, traditional flavours. That’s not to say it’s plain or humdrum – try for yourself the rich truffle gnocchi, or light and zesty fresh buckwheat with porcini and herbs. Then, for the full Slovenian experience, round off with a traditional cherry-and-cheese dumpling. A sweet introduction to what real local cuisine is all about.
8 Rečna ulica, Krakovo