The Slovenia Times




So it's the birthday of one of your best friends, she's had a hard week, you've had a hard week, but it's Thursday night and you're all ready to let off a little steam. What could be nicer than heading down to JB, perhaps Ljubljana's premier restaurant, for a slap-up birthday dinner? Well, as it turns out, heading down to Ljubljana's premier restaurant having reserved a table for three: no room at the inn says Mr JB. Which is how we came to dine at Chez Eric, or should that be dine chez Eric? We were greeted and despatched to our table by the latest beautiful hostess to join my research project on how to order things to make a woman fall in love with me. Apparently a glass of bubbly wasn't enough to do it, nor even Bond's bid of kir royal, stirred not shaken (messy otherwise). Amorous or not, she brought our drinks anyway. Menus followed, and they made mostly impressive reading in French and Slovene (or French and English for Bond). Having enquired of the waiter as to the difference between the chef's menu and the ludicrously named menu of discoveries, we opted for the latter: 8,000 tolars for eight courses chosen by the chef. The wine list, however, had been compiled by someone gloriously and Gallicly unaware of the revolution in world winemaking over the last twenty years, with the same tired old French names still hanging around like the reek of Gauloises in a TGV toilet. Result: a decision to stay domestic, with a Kupljen Sauvignon Challenger (strangely, the cheapest thing on the list at 2,900 tolars) seeing us very nicely through the first few courses. Now Bond and Miss Moneypenny used to frequent Eric's place when he lived at Grad Fuzine, and they liked him and his food. What would they make of his move to the Rotovz space, formerly a garish, upmarket and rather overpriced tourist-trap/expense-account kind of place? Well, it's less garish, for a start. The d'cor has been toned down, but it's still upmarket enough for Miss Moneypenny to feel that all due honour was accorded to her birthday. There was business being done in our back room, but congenially in Italian, with cigars and anecdotes, rather than the suits and silence you so often have as a backdrop. And there were certainly no tourists desperately chewing at their own legs in a bid to escape. Eric may have moved up the property ladder, but he hasn't over-reached. And the food? I felt the horror descending as the water explained what the tasting menu would feature. Two ingredients about which I am sneeringly sceptical were among the "discoveries": mozzarella and salmon. In fact the mozzarella came with tomato in the form of a breezy vegetable terrine, wrapped in savoy cabbage and served with oak leaf, rocket, a punchy dressing and a huge solitary prawn. I was just deciding where to dissect the crustacean when Bond pronounced a favourable verdict. I think he did chew at some point. This very pleasant palate cleanser was followed by a courgette soup with a tapenade square on the side. It seems pointless to take a vegetable whose main attraction is texture and make it into a soup, and even more pointless to stinge on the anchovies in your tapenade. But then the salmon came flashing in, served with cheese and chard as struklji, or rotolo as the cigar-wielders would have it, with a robust mustard sauce. Mr Kupljen was proud to accompany this fine dish. In its wake, sea bass, simply pan-fried. Too simply, I thought: some herbs would have been a good addition, although the fish was a decent specimen. By this time Miss Moneypenny was flagging, partly the result of a hard week's HR, and no R doesn't stand for redundancies apparently, and partly a passive excess of cigar smoke. Gentlemen to the core, Bond and I nicked her wine. And her next course, which was Argentinean steak with morels and veg. Thumbs up, as ever, for the finest spring mushrooms of them all. But steak? On a tasting menu? Hardly a showcase of cheffing skill, even if you do serve le bubble and squeak on the side. Alongside, our Kabaj Cuv'e was sound drinking but not a bargain. Then came the cheese course, at which point we Francophiles normally stand up, sing La Marseillaise and inhale with a passionate pleasure that the Central Europeans find puzzling and a bit bonkers. Fat chance. Miss Moneypenny puts together a better cheese course than this given half an hour at Leclerc in between the corporate axework. Dessert consisted of chocolate mousse with cr?me anglaise, less than innovative, but well executed nevertheless. In the absence of a sweet wine that took my fancy, we chose a French herbal liqueur that the waiter proffered to us on the house, bless him. Mixed feelings as Miss Moneypenny slinked off in a cab for a birthday crashout, and Bond and I gallantly headed next door to Movia for a grappa and then out into the night to get drunk. And if, during our adventures, we had come across a certain restaurant proprietor, what would I have said? Eric, I would have advised, do the simple things well, but do the hard things better. Show us a little flair, a little Zidane, and less of the Dugarry. Find out something about Vin de Pays d'Oc. Aim to make everything as good as the salmon struklji. Don't put steak on a tasting menu, but do your nation justice in the cheese department. And learn to count to eight. Food: 4/7 Booze: 3/7 Service: 5/7


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