Influenced by centuries of Austro-Hungarian rule, as well as by neighboring countries Italy and Croatia, Slovenian cuisine nevertheless maintains its individuality. In the capital, Ljubljana, the restaurant scene flourishes with new and more exotic offerings opening all the time. From riverside cafes to a restaurant in a fairytale castle, here is our choice of the best restaurants to sample in this charming city.
Coffee Shop, Ice Cream, Coffee, $$$
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In an unbeatable location just steps away from Ljubljana’s famed Prešernov Trg, Cacao is the city’s top destination for ice cream lovers. The ice cream at Cacao is phenomenal and the choice of flavors is bewildering: strawberry, banana, mango sorbet, wild strawberry and all sorts of chocolates. The scoops are huge, so for an average person with a good appetite two scoops should be plenty. Queues can be lengthy but efficient. Cacao’s large tree-shaded terrace along the banks of the Ljublajanica also gets full marks for atmosphere, while the laid-back chocolate brown interior is a great place to chill out with a scrumptious slice of gourmet cake or a freshly prepared fruit smoothie.
Part of a tea importing business, the Cajna Hisa tearooms in a quiet street in the old town serves cakes, ice creams, delicate sweets, natural juices, cocktails, sandwiches and snacks. There’s a delightful summer garden, umbrella-covered tables on the street and WiFi too. Indoors, the ceiling features a Renaissance fresco. Naturally, there’s also a selection of over 100 teas and the knowledgeable waiters are happy to assist with your choice of the more unusual varieties. Breakfasts are highly recommended, as are the range of tasty seeded rolls with delicious fillings for a light lunch. The salads here are enormous and varied.
Perched high up in the archers’ tower of Ljubljana Castle Restaurant Sagittarius offers stunning views over the city. It features a cuisine and ambience combining the Roman, Medieval and modern and the unique menu has been created with the help of leading ethnologist Dr Janez Bogataj. Arrive by funicular railway, meander up a spiral staircase in the castle turret and settle down to enjoy something special, either in the grand circular dining room or the outdoor terrace. The food, by one of Slovenia’s best young chefs, Igor Jagodic, is equal to the splendid setting and there’s a fine selection of Slovenian wines to sample.
Restaurant, Wine Bar, Mediterranean, Seafood, Slovenian, Wine, $$$
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Set in a colorful little house on one of Ljubljana’s prettiest streets, Manna offers a marvelous selection of contemporary Mediterranean cuisine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try the cottage cheese pancakes with tarragon for breakfast or lunch. In the evening, there’s an impressive range of seafood on the menu and an emphasis on organic, healthy food. Manna is one of only seven Slovene restaurants listed in the prestigious Gault-Millau guide. The wine list includes 300 different wines and after dinner there are a range of spirits to indulge in and more than 20 brands of top-name cigars.
Opened in July 2008, Valvas’or owes its name to the famous Slovenian man Janez Vajkard Valvazor, who was born in the house across the street from the restaurant. The restaurant is designed as a modern, sober space within an old, arched tavern. A golden metal wall winds through the restaurant, its perforations creating a motif of 16th-century Ljubljana, behind which a mirror gives the impression of depth and lightness. Choose from a menu of modern European cuisine. Start with fresh tuna with tangerine foam, followed by beefsteak with truffles au gratin and a dessert of pear mosaic with white chocolate.
Špajza Restaurant, Ljubljana | Courtesy Spajza Restaurant
Upmarket Spajza combines high-class cuisine with aged timber floors and different rustic-styled rooms. The restaurant offers an extensive menu of Slovenian and international dishes. Located in one of the old town’s most picturesque and photogenic streets, Spajza is popular with local business people, visitors and couples out for a romantic meal, especially when the delightful courtyard is open in the summer months. Menu choices include pheasant breast with melon and nuts, and pea soufflé with porcini mushrooms and prosciutto. The team behind Spajza are a brother and sister whose passion for good food shines through every aspect of the restaurant.
Nominated for Best International Interior in the Restaurant and Bar Design Awards, Lolita Café is located in a former warehouse in the central historic district. The sleek yet feminine space delights the eyes with a palette of greens and pinks, restrained use of opulent silks and velvets. There’s an extraordinary mural on the suspended ceiling featuring an old-fashioned lace-trimmed handkerchief with a portrait of a lady in the center. With high ceilings, exposed brick walls, lovely views through huge plate glass windows and comfortable seating, this riverside cafe leaves little wanting. There’s a delicious display of cakes and gourmet chocolates and teas are also on sale.
Julija offers gracious and charming ambience in the center of the old town. Its tastefully baroque styled interior is bedecked with gilded mirrors, distressed white furniture and blue and white tiles. The fine international menu leans towards Mediterranean cuisine with octopus, calamari, sea bass and other seafood, homemade Istrian style pasta in a range of shapes and sizes, risotto, veal with truffles, goulash with polenta and an impressive dessert menu. The wine list is also impressive and suits a range of budgets. The steaks here are also recommended. The three course lunches served on the outdoor terrace offer excellent value.
A bustling cafe popular with everyone from students to well-groomed elderly ladies, Zvezda offers strong coffee and cakes that are some of the most deliciously moist and rich in town. The cozy interior has Oriental leanings and brown velvet wallpaper. The range of cakes on show is enormous and decidedly wicked, so be prepared to indulge. There are also cream pots, meringues, mini cakes, croissants and wonderful tarts. For the truly health conscious there is even a range of vegan, raw and diabetic cakes. There are lovely views of the river from the outdoor terrace, but watch out for the birds, who seem to have taken a liking to cake too.
Most (meaning ‘bridge’) is located by the Butchers’ Bridge takes influence from Mediterranean cuisine, while at the same time remaining faithful to the traditions of Slovenian cooking. Practically, this means that the restaurant draws on culinary influences from the southwestern Slovenian regions of Kras and Istria and the coast. The extensive menu features a good selection of seafood and meat dishes, soups, salads, pasta and risotto, delicious desserts and a range of Slovene, French and Italian cheeses. Most has been recognized twice by the city of Ljubljana, which presented the restaurant with the Ljubljana Quality Selection Award.