Chocolate box Baroque and Art Nouveau architecture, a river romantically spanned by pretty bridges and pedestrian- and bike-friendly policies make Slovenia’s capital city one of Europe’s most civilised. It’s also one of the continent’s most foodie destinations, with a position between the Alps and the Adriatic that lends the local cuisine both an excellent range of produce and a real variety of culinary influences.
Open Kitchen Market – for a taste of Slovenia
Every Friday, from March to October, Ljubljana’s Pogačar Square comes to life as the city’s Open Kitchen Market. There’s a festival atmosphere beneath the shadows of the green-domed Ljubljana Cathedral, and all manner of vendors, from farms to gourmet restaurants, sell dishes and drinks for visitors to graze on.
Sample vibrant pumpkin seed oil and Broken Bones gin (distilled with linden flowers and rosehip from Slovenia’s Karst region), or tuck into dishes from the country’s top restaurants – Gostilna Mihovec, Vander and JB Restaurant. Finish your visit like a local by stopping off at Jezeršek’s corner stall for comforting kaiserschmarrn (shredded pancakes), topped with apple, mixed berries or chocolate sauce.
Monstera – for upmarket bistro vibes
The handful of tables at this neat little bistro fill up quickly, so book one in advance. Slovenian chef Bine Volčič is a big name here, one of the first to introduce a zero-waste policy. White brick, pale tiles and taupe chairs create an elegant look against a background of concrete walls and industrial piping while a five-course tasting menu elegantly showcases Slovenia’s produce. Typical dishes include grilled asparagus on a light goat cheese espuma with bee pollen panna cotta and baked walnuts. Deer heart is served with wild herb salad tossed in blackcurrant vinaigrette and fermented onions, and lamb shoulder is accompanied by wispy wild hops, a pastry cigar filled with feta and raisins, parsley purée and a sprinkling of dehydrated spring onion dust. Other highlights include homemade parmesan, spinach and baked morel ravioli, coated in mushroom velouté, and star anise meringue with fresh strawberries, baked white chocolate crumbs and a punchy red peppercorn ice cream.
Monstera’s wine list is equally persuasive when it comes to fine grapes from Slovenia and its neighbours. Start with Slovenia’s Dolfo Spirito sparkling wine for toasty, exotic bubbles. Then move on to elegant Prulke Zidarich from northern Italy (the cellar has its own Michelin star) and Reddo’s floral, youthful blend of blue frankish, red rebula and refosco from western Slovenia’s Burja estate.
Črno Zrno – for coffee
Črno Zrno translates as ‘black bean’ and this hole-in-the-wall spot is a temple to just that. Alexander Niño Ruiz sources coffee beans from his native Colombia, roasts them at renowned Slovenian roaster Stow, then serves the resulting brews in his perfectly formed coffee shop. The space is enveloped in blue and white Valencian tiles – chat with local coffee geeks over a meticulously prepared pour-over inside, or sit in the sun next to painted wooden shutters. Alexander’s niche is cold brew: try it on the rocks in a wine glass, or as an addition to a funky non-alcoholic cocktail made with Ruiz’ grandmother’s elderflower syrup.
Pekarna Osem – for baked goods
The minimalist decor at this artisan bakery allows its products to shine. Dedicated young baker Andrej Gerželj is on site every morning, from 5am, preparing dough for crunchy spelt baguettes intertwined with Slovenian Tolminc cheese, and flaky pastry ribbons sprinkled with chocolate beads. The open bakery at the back means you can watch perfectly formed balls of dough being transformed into golden loaves, their comforting aromas filling the space.
Suklje – for Slovenian wine
With its vaulted ceilings, riverside terrace and 300-strong wine list, Suklje is the place to spend a few hours sipping local wines. There are 200 bottles from Slovenia alone – grapes include fruity sauvignon blanc from the north east, the south west’s rounded and woody rebula epoca, and blue frankish from Suklje’s own vineyard in the south east, bursting with leathery notes and, red currant aromas. To go with it, order a charcuterie board of salty, silky prosciutto and marbled salami from Slovenian Krškopolje pigs, alongside aged kosect cheese and French comté.
Lajbah – for Slovenian craft beer
With 16 beers on tap and more than 130 bottles from around the world to choose from, this contemporary pub is a great place to taste some of Slovenia’s best-loved brews. Treat yourself to a beer flight and sample the likes of Pelicon’s Yess Boss! pale ale, Green Gold Brewing’s tropical IPA, and smooth, chocolatey HumanFish Baltic Porter.
Vigò – for gelato
The queue for this popular gelato spot can stretch all the way to Ljubljana’s famous three bridges. The pull? Indulgent cooling concoctions to rival those of neighbouring Italy. Try the Vigo (fresh mascarpone, chocolate, hazelnuts and Nutella) or lemon tiramisu with mascarpone and chocolate sauce from a tap. The vegan sorbet is some of the best we’ve tried – rich dark chocolate laced with aromatic dried orange pieces. Order a cone to go and mooch through the surrounding streets as you lick it, or bask in the sun out on Vigò’s large terrace.
Tabar – for Slovenian tapas
Tabar, its chairs spilling out beneath sycamore trees, forms part of a buzzy courtyard set back from the city’s river. It specialises in Slovenian small plates – beef tartare with burnt aubergine, octopus with “half way” kimchi (not fermented, but cooked in spices), and warm rabbit terrine with burnt baby leeks surrounded by a moat of buttermilk and horseradish. Inventive vegetarian options include white asparagus with wild garlic, and ground chickpeas topped with bright peas and freshly picked salad leaves from the chef’s garden. The menu must-order is the “olive potatoes” – super-crispy little potatoes with notes of paprika and hidden olives. There’s also an impressive orange wine list to navigate, from mineral malvasia to raisiny jakot. Or go for Gordia’s unfiltered sparkling wine from the coastal town of Kolomban.
Gostilnica 5-6 kg – for pizza
This rustic, brick-walled restaurant takes its name from the weight of a typical Slovenian suckling pig, cooked here in a bread oven. The slow-cooked pork is well worth a visit but so, too, are the pizzas (as they should be this close to the Italian border). The blistered crusts of Neapolitan-style pizzas wrap around bases topped with baked cherry tomatoes, confit garlic and basil. Toppings add extra punch – Pizza 5-6 kg is an indulgent combination of fior di latte, sausage, porchetta made from that slow-cooked suckling pig and roasted red pepper sauce. Or, go coastal and try the seafood pizza, complete with cuttlefish ink, sea bass fillet, royal prawns and capers.
Stow – for coffee
Cut through City Museum of Ljubljana’s striking courtyard and you’ll find this speciality coffee roaster. Light pours in through glass walls onto canary-yellow tables scattered across cobbled floors. Baristas treat the La Morzocco coffee machine with respect, and beans are treated as a seasonal fruit, procured from small-scale growers around the world and roasted on-site. In spring, go for the floral, honeyed notes of African burundi, or enjoy delicate jasmine and bergamot in Panama’s legendary geisha coffee. If the sun is out, sit and sip beneath a shady parasol in the museum courtyard.
Ek bistro – for brunch
Sit by the city’s Ljubljanica river to enjoy a backdrop of forest-blanketed hills, or settle into an exposed brick nook at this popular brunch spot. The eggs (benedict, scrambled, royale) are what draw the crowds, but larger lunch plates also shine – try plump pink duck on seasonal vegetables and sweet potato mash, or wild asparagus polenta fritters with fresh salad. Homemade ice teas include sparkling elderflower and lemongrass with mint, thyme and lavender.
For more info look for #oliveeatsslovenia or see visitljubljana.com