With neighbours like Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, it’s no wonder that the Slovenian capital Ljubljana has emerged as a Mitteleuropean culinary hotspot. The cuisines of its illustrious neighbours are never far away, but the city’s flurry of restaurants today play with tradition, marry influences and are gaining global recognition. The Old Town restaurants offer old world atmosphere, while the eclectic city centre boasts the greatest array of eateries. The sleepy suburb of Krakovo tempts too with its castle-view allotments and relaxed restaurants.
For views, atmosphere and romance it has to be Strelec. Perched up on the ramparts of Ljubljana Castle, culinary creation unfolds on the plate as Ljubljana unfurls below. Mercurial Slovenian chef Igor Jagodic engaged an ethnology professor to delve into traditional cuisine, then deconstructed each dish, injecting a shot of avant-garde creativity. Think sea urchin purée, cuttlefish, noodle dough, pickled garlic and garlic mayonnaise, finished with squid sauce. Choose from three, four, five, seven and nine course tasting menus.
Contact: 00 386 3168 7648; kaval-group.si
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 12pm-10pm
Reservations: Recommended, essential for rampart tables.
Restaurant Na Gradu
Many Ljubljana restaurants offer traditional Slovenian cuisine. This one is the most authentic with dishes from the country’s myriad culinary regions. It comes from the team behind world-renowned Slovenian chef Ana Ros’ restaurant Hisa Franko (you’ll need to travel to Kobarid to sample her cooking), who have gone back to basics with ultra local produce and flavour-packed dishes such as Kras jota soup and Prekmurje bograc stew. A standout is the zlikrofi pasta with lamb ragout, and you can sample a good selection with the five-course tasting menu. Stripped back stone walls and vaulted ceilings provide a historic backdrop.
Contact: 00 386 3130 1777; nagradu.si/en
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 12pm-12am; Sun, 12pm-6pm
Reservations: Recommended, essential for castle courtyard tables.
We’re talking candles and vaulted ceilings in this cosy, atmospheric hideaway, found on arguably the most picturesque Old Town street. Enjoy a sturdy red wine from Slovenia’s seriously underrated Goriska Brda region if it’s cooler, or on a balmy evening recline in the courtyard with a crisp Vipava Valley white. Savour the likes of fresh scallops from Slovenia’s Adriatic coast, followed by a horse steak laced with black truffle. The added bonus being that as it’s just off the main Old Town throng, you’ve got a better chance of snapping up a last-minute table.
Address: Gornji trg 28
Contact: 00 386 1425 3094
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 12pm-11pm; Sun, 12pm-10pm
Janez Bratovz is a chef renowned throughout Slovenia and further afield. His restaurant in the centre of Ljubljana offers a refined setting with immaculately curated modern art. This sets the scene for the food, where experience, consistency and thorough local sourcing have been the key ingredients for more than a quarter of a century. The tasting menus are the ideal introduction to Slovenia’s cuisine and provenance, with highlights including dishes like Adriatic sea bass laced with truffle, and beef with caviar and mustard cream. It’s simply sublime.
Contact: 00 386-1430 7070; jb-slo.com
Opening times: Mon-Fri, 12pm-11pm; Sat, 6pm-11pm
The shining star of the new wave of bright bistro-style cafés on the banks of the Ljubljanica River. The young team keep things the right side of hipster with exposed stone walls and hanging lightbulbs backed up by fresh and crisp cooking. The locals love a lazy breakfast or weekend brunch and this is the best spot by the river; try the egg muffins topped with smoked salmon, smashed avocado and free-range eggs. Or linger instead for lunch – the sommelier pairs the best domestic wines with each dish, from grilled salmon to pulled beef.
Contact: 00 386 5162 4061; ek-bistro.business.site
Opening times: Daily, 8am-4pm
Reservations: Recommended, especially for the riverside tables.
Ljubljana doesn’t exactly overflow with eclectic global cuisines, so this excellent Japanese restaurant is a welcome addition to the dining scene. Expect a relaxed and calming atmosphere, all smooth plain wooden furniture, mood lighting and minimalist décor, in contrast to the busy street outside. It’s all here, from perfectly prepared silky sushi and sashimi, through to sweet and sticky teriyaki and the ever-popular Wagyu beef steaks, cooked on a hot stone in front of you. Wash it down with an ice-cold Asahi.
Contact: 00 386 4070 2070; sushimama.si
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 11.30am-11pm
This bright and breezy modern bistro is unashamedly hipster, but very in keeping with the Ljubljana Zeitgeist. A post industrial theme runs through the décor with exposed brickwork and lightbulbs brought to the fore. Think Borough Market meets Mitteleuropa. Outside a little terrace awaits on the pedestrianised shopping street. It’s also home to one of the best domestic wine cellars of any city bistro – savour any of the Sauvignon Blancs you find from the emerging eastern Slavonian region of Ilok. The five-course tasting menu with matching wines is highly recommended, and might include dishes such as trout fillet with glazed baby carrots, quinoa and tarragon sauce.
Contact: 00 386 1308 1907; restavracijaatelje.com
Opening times: Mon-Fri, 12pm-10pm; Sat, 6pm-10pm
This restaurant at the top of the InterContinental Ljubljana hotel trumps even Strelec for views: from here you can see the city’s castle, as well as the skyline and surrounding mountains. Floor-to-ceiling windows make the most of the location, with an outdoor terrace brightened up with greenery. You could even forgive B Restaurant for settling for views over substance, but that’s simply not the case. Feast on dishes such as baked eel in a Piran sea salt crust or a perfectly cooked fillet steak with artichoke purée and sun-dried tomatoes.
Contact: 00 386 5912 8048; brestaurant.si
Opening times: Mon-Fri, 12pm to 3pm, 6pm-11pm; Sat, 6pm-11pm; Sun, 6pm-10.30pm
Few European capital cities can boast allotments on the fringes of the city centre, but this one can and Krakovo’s fresh bounty of herbs and vegetables are put to good use in this relaxed little bistro. The simple décor feels as homemade as the food, with a little terrace spilling outside too, and it’s a favourite with local students as hearty mains come in at under €10 (£8.50). Perhaps try the Adriatic prawn risotto served with local allotment greens. They are also adept at sourcing more unusual Slovenian wines and beers from small producers – this alone makes it worth the short stroll south of the centre.
Address: Recna ulica 8
Contact: 00 386 1426 4508
Opening times: Tue-Sun, 5pm-11pm
There is nothing remotely Torvill and Dean about this informal, relaxed hideaway in sleepy Krakovo. The name celebrates the ‘Bolero’ Winter Olympics in the Bosnian capital and the décor harks back to the days of the former Yugoslavia with retro posters and bric-a-brac. Throwback Balkan grilled comfort food is a guilty pleasure amongst the Ljubljancani. Join them tucking into heaving platters of cevapcici meatballs, pljeskavica (burger patties) and creamy kajmak cheese, accompanied by yeast-leavened Bosnian bread and spicy ajvar sauce.
Address: Nazorjeva ulica 12
Contact: 00 386 1425 7106
Opening times: Mon-Wed, 11am-12am; Thu-Fri, 11am-1am; Sat, 12pm-1am