Gostilna Na gradu: Ingredients Fit for a King
In keeping with the castle's contemporary renovation, the restaurant has a minimalist interior that lets these natural materials stand out. The powerful combination of quality and simplicity should come as no surprise, with two of Slovenia's finest restaurateurs collaborating on this project. Svetozar Raspopović, better known as Pope, from the famous AS restaurant and the amazing culinary team, Ana Roš and Valter Kramar of Hiša Franko. Gostilna Na gradu has the classic hallmarks associated with these gastronomes.
We were first served the house white from the region of Vipavska Dolina, a very refreshing, drinkable wine, which, for the price, is great value for money. Leon, the Maitre D', was infectious in his enthusiasm when talking us through the menu and discussing Slovenian specialty foods and the individual producers. Our first dish was pork-belly salami served with a house speciality - bread baked with a pork confit. Breaking into the soft, warm crust, I was rewarded with pieces of succulent port crackling nestled in the folds of the bread. Packed with flavour, it was the perfect accompaniment to the salami.
Leon then poured us a glass of dry Tokaj Bohem, Kramar. This is a bold white wine, perhaps the only version of Hungarian Chardonnay available in Slovenia, It's quite oaky compared to the Slovenian standard. Earthy, cloudy and full-bodied with apricot flavours and a slight nutty finish. To accompany it, we were served a simple dish of young potatoes and traditional hand-churned cottage cheese. Unlike a standard European cottage cheese, the Slovenian version is more delicate in texture and flavour. It was finished with a drizzling of local olive oil and fresh cracked pepper. Simple, yet unique flavours, testament to the region, and the hands, that nurtured these delicious ingredients.
Next we were treated to morsels of pork confit and dried apple alongside a young mountain cheese drizzled with honey, olive oil and topped with mixed herbs. The pork was addictive and I ate far more then my share. With our wine glasses now empty, we were given the chance to taste a new wine on the menu, Sipon. The wine's versatile, fruity aroma and well-balanced acidity blended well. It was light with a suggestion of pears and apples that came to the fore in the lingering aftertaste.
Our next course was braised beef tongue topped with summer asparagus, a smoked, curdled, Alpine cheese that was drizzled with a sharp lemon aioli. Served as a sliced terrine, the tongue was tender with hints of a delicate poaching bouquet. The summer asparagus added a nice crisp finish and the sweet yet sharp lemon aioli rounded off the whole dish perfectly.
The fish course arrived just in time for my last few sips of the Šipon - Adriatic Sea Bass served on a confit of tomato and fresh basil topped with red onion marmalade. A light, fresh summer dish. The bass was perfectly cooked.
The next course was a classic "Idrijski" dish (Idrijski žlikrofi). Hand-made pasta stuffed with herb pureed potatoes and topped with a summer lamb ragout. The lamb was especially tender and the sauce a consommé, light in flavour and sublimely aromatic. I thought that the pasta and potato combination was going to be heavy but cleverly, it was a summery interpretation of a winter dish.
Dessert of three local treats - a traditional walnut dessert from Kobarid, strudel with cherry compote and lastly an apple ice cream with elderflower meringue, topped with a strawberry salad and roasted hazel nuts. I am not sure to this day how I managed it all...but I did. For the first dessert, the walnuts are toasted in a lot of butter and brown sugar and then puréed. This is then rolled together in buckwheat pastry dough, baked in the oven and finished off with icing sugar. It was gorgeous, even though you are fully aware that the delicious flavour in your mouth is pure butter. In my book you can never go wrong with cherries in summertime. This strudel was exactly what it should have been, a vehicle for amazing cherries, with absolutely no need to add a grain of sugar! Simple and perfect. I might be saving the best for last - it's hard to say - but the apple ice cream was a wonderful pallet cleanser after all the food that had preceded it. The light aromatic flavour of the elderflower meringue made for a divine combination. I will not lie to you. My colleague and I bashed spoons once or twice over the dish!
Just when we thought it was safe to put down our cutlery, Leon brought us a three cheese tasting plate. It was an interesting selection of Slovenian cheese from the Tolmin and Bovec region. Slovenian cheese is not like French cheese. They are not strong or pungent and if you like big cheese, maybe they're not your cup of tea. They are soft, subtle and mild by nature so you're able to pick up certain flavours that would get lost in a bigger cheese. I suspect they make cheeses to suit their wines, which often have a cleaner pallet compared to big, oaky French wines.
I feel a deep appreciation for this restaurant and what it stands for - a celebration of Slovenia and all its hidden treasures. It's a wonderful place to take people who are here visiting, as a magnificent crash course in what Slovenian has to offer. I will definitely be heading up to the castle next week when I have friends coming in to town from San Francisco. Taking the gondola on your way up also offers visitors a great view of this exquisite city. I think the kings and queens of the past would be very happy with gostilna Na gradu and would raise their goblets in a toast.
Open: Mon to Sat: 9am - midnight (kitchen: noon - 9pm), Sun: 9am - 6pm (kitchen: noon - 4pm)
Food type: Slovenian
EUR 3,50 - EUR 15
menu: EUR 30€ per person
Reservations by phone or mail: email@example.com
• scrambled home eggs with bacon, chanterelle mushrooms and sheep cheese
• warm beef tongue with a bunch of green beans, homemade mayonnaise and fresh cottage cheese
• filets of Slovenian sea bass with red onion fondant, fresh basil and tomatoes confit
• daily baked lamb from Bela krajina region with "poštoklja" and slices of oven baked apple
• homemade apple ice cream with elder tree flower meringue, strawberry salad and roasted hazelnuts