The further delights of Slovenia

July 14th, 2008

I’m writing this on the last day of yet another fabulous holiday in Slovenia. Dad and I reprised our visit of last year, returning to Bohinj and Kobarid. The weather was very much in our favour as we learned that the previous week had seen constant rain and the secret waterfall above Lake Bohinj, which only appears when an underground lake is sufficiently full to overflow, had appeared for only the third time this year. We however arrived to a heatwave which was to continue the whole fortnight, with only the final two days seeing a couple of brief thunderstorms.

My admiration for this country continues to grow, and I seriously wonder if I could move here. Populated by an industrious and charming people, they also seem to have the right idea of pace of life and what is really important. And two of the most important subjects are food and drink, both of which they excel at. Indeed the only fault I can find overall is that they seem to have little concept of a light lunch! It is easy to eat so much that dinner becomes unnecessary, and that would be a crime.

Slovenian food and drink

Their ingredients are sublime: beef and venison that seems to require the lightest of cooking but exudes flavour and succulence, fish that melts on the tongue, mushrooms that can only have been created by forest elves, and soft fruits and berries that explode on the tongue with juices of scarcely describable taste. Parents, if British children won’t eat fruit and veg (and I have to raise my hand as a long time carnivore) then they aren’t being pernickety, they are merely showing good taste – the fruit you get in the UK, often imported out of season from forced cloches in Spain and similar countries, is tasteless and tough compared to the fresh, vibrant selection available in Slovenia. I have never much liked cherries – they are hard poor things in Scotland, here I have them for breakfast and then go out to a fruit stall for more. Sensational is an inadequate word. I seldom liked strawberries which often display a rough texture except in the very best time of year for native Scottish ones; here they melt in the mouth and leave juice stains in the dish.

All this of course still requires a good chef and a good waiter to interpret his creations and blend suggestions of wine and courses. Many Slovene restaurants adept at this, even the smallest simplest establishments produce excellent food, but I feel confident in saying I have been lucky enough to find the best in the Topli Val restaurant in the Hvala Hotel in Kobarid. It has won a number of awards and in my opinion if anywhere ever deserved a Michelin Star then this is it. I can only assume they haven’t visited it. In the space of two weeks – one last year and one this – I have learned more about the blending of tastes, both courses and wines and different ingredients and their effects on each other, than in a lifetime of visiting other restaurants, many of them which I thought very good. All the staff in the hotel are as friendly and attentive as could be wished for with a real personal touch that makes you feel at home; we were remembered despite it being only our second visit and greeted as old friends, but I simply cannot rate the chef and head waiter highly enough – they have delighted and educated us in equal measure. To give only one example for now, Scotland produces excellent scallops and I’ve tasted quite a few fine instances; the scallops I had here were in a different class, cooked in highest quality olive oil and presented with baby tomatoes and black olives in a delicate combination that even included the (usually purely decorative) sprig of rosemary which absorbed just enough heat to exude a perfectly combined additional scent. Heavenly.

Slovenian Wine and Beer

Slovene beer is second only to Czech in my opinion, clear and clean tasting and wonderfully refreshing on a hot day. However it is Slovenian wine which is the real secret and one which I cannot understand is not more widely known and appreciated. Having this year visited one of the best wine growing regions it is easy to see they have ideal conditions, and they certainly make the best of them. Forget the cheap Laski Reisling which was the only one ever really exported in any quantity to the UK; whether the grape is Chardonnay, Pinot, Sauvignon or one of their local varieties, Slovenian wines display a depth of character and smooth variety of flavours that had us both purring in satisfaction. Their cheaper wines are very good, their select wines are simply outstanding. Sadly the only way to get them in Britain was to import them directly, with the consequent postage costs; however there are moves afoot to establish a distributor and if this occurs then perhaps they might at last achieve the recognition they deserve. Either way I’ll be drinking them whenever I have the chance.

Entry Filed under: food and drink,Friends and family,Personal,Slovenia

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