A Culinary Wonder Next to a Natural One
A hundred and ninety years ago, in a time before mass tourism, the Postojna Cave was already attracting and amazing the visitors. The locals were quick to learn that amazement causes hunger and thirst, so their hospitality skills kept growing with the crowds. However, it was not just about quantity. The cave attracted important people, whose appetite needed to be treated with more respect. In other words, a cuisine successfully matching the elite tastes of this crowd.
In 1928, a glorious mansion was built in front of the Postojna Cave, able to host up to 1,500 guests, who would be either daily tourist groups or attendees of massive evening ceremonies. Apart from the large halls and the great number of seats, they provide a quality of food and service that makes many guests return for a lunch or dinner even if the cave is not a part of their agenda. These guests have included presidents, prime ministers and royalty.
At the crossroads
The first impression of roomy dining halls is an enchanting one of classical elegance, especially if you get a table at Venecijanka (meaning Venetian room), the most prominent of the halls. Then you are introduced to a classically-trained waiter and a certified sommelier; the restaurant employs three highly-educated wine masters. And finally, you enter the world of Chef Slavica Smrdel, the culinary mastermind behind the award-winning kitchen team.
The food is essentially local, that is of the Notranjsko region. By this, we mean "the best of all worlds" as this region is at the confluence of Mediterranean and the Continental influences. Postojna and its environs were occupied by both Vienna and Rome in the first part of 20th century. Thus, we blend the inspiration of the Austrian court, the Mediterranean flavours of Venetian kitchen, and a rich local tradition with delicious ingredients and crops, including the grapes of the Vipava valley, a wine-growing haven extending south of Postojna.
Not just any wine...
The sommeliers run the game here just as much as the chef. It is interesting to learn how they became engaged into a kind of productive conflict: a sommelier always supervises the menu and, if by any chance, he finds a certain ingredient too incompatible with his wine choice, intense negotiations begin. So, when it comes to the wine, it is best to just trust your waiter. The wine list complements the Slovenian food, but the selection is uncompromising and daring, from top productions of common types of wine to rare predicates.
According to the sommelier Ivo Kiđemet, the restaurant often buys a large share of a selected winemaker's annual production and stores it for a couple of years.
Of kings and knights
Chef Slavica is a true explorer of cuisine, who has been practicing her art throughout Europe. Still, she finds most of the inspiration at home, re-discovering old monastery recipes. She is also firmly convinced that despite the trends of globalisation in cooking, it is well worth looking back to the medieval courts and their kitchen. Therefore, she tends to accomplish her inventions using the ingredients provided by small farms in the surroundings.
The menu includes dried ham, fish, game, pork and lamb, accompanied with polenta, pasta or gnocchi. Local specialities deserve a special mention. If you would like to try a Pivka turkey or a Brkini apple, this is the place. And if you are used to starting with a soup: there's much more than the usual veal or mushroom, try the kohlrabi or spinach soup.
The choice of dishes varies seasonally; for example, when asparagus is in season, Slavica's creative lab is particularly busy.
Some would expect these recipes remain a well-kept secret. That is not so: Slavica doesn't mind revealing her tricks to the curious guests. "One that does not give, does not receive," she says.
For your taste only
Jamski dvorec is ideal for special events, whether feasts for groups of thousand or an intimate meal for only two. It is not unusual to reserve the entire Venecijanka room for a romantic dinner with a medieval theme and become a king and queen for the evening. The most popular themes are inspired by Knight Erasmus, medieval coaches, the Venice carnival or those of the Viennese court, inspired by Kaiser Franz Joseph's visit to Postojna in 1857, when the railroad was constructed here. These settings feature costumes, selected dishes, entertainment and can be used for any special occasion, from weddings to team building.