The Grand Smrekarjev Hram
After a nice long summer rest, Smrekarjev Hram has once again opened its doors. The Slovenia Times’ culinary expert Jade Van Baren was delighted to help welcome it back by sampling its exciting new menu.
When I ask Miro Rismondo what he does during the Summer, when the Hotel Grand Union’s flagship restaurant closes to make way for the outdoor hotel terrace, the head chef’s eyes sparkle and a contagious grin spreads over his face. “We make things,” he says simply. I am intrigued but soon discover exactly what he and his team have been making – their own jams, pickled vegetables and other delicacies which all now feature in the restaurant’s new menu.
To understand Chef Miro’s food, you must first understand the man behind the white coat. Proud of his heritage and his country, he sticks close to his roots, focusing on locally produced food and suppliers with old school techniques. Miro’s food is Slovenian but with a twist. It’s refined, it’s delicate and it is intelligent. The dishes and flavours are very well thought out and tested.
Miro has something that many chefs don’t have, the support of a four star hotel to help fund his creative culinary achievements. The Autumn menu that he and his talented young team of chefs have created has something special for everyone.
Picnic with a Bear
Our first course was a trio of marinated sea bass – lightly smoked batonnet of fish tossed with orange; bass tartar with julienne of granny smith apples and finished with Buga lemon olive; and marinated bass with fennel and lemon. The sea bass was nicely presented in a trio of different cooking styles: smoked, raw and pickled. All were delicious but the shaved fennel was a favourite.
The chef also suggested that I try the bear starter. After I was assured that there are plenty of wild bear in Slovenia, I happily partook of this accomplished dish. Miro begins by lightly smoking the marinated bear loin and then submerges it to rest in olive oil. The meat is thinly sliced and served with Karst “Caveman” cheese and a cornel of luscious creamy bear pate and then finished with a tuiles of pancetta and topped with pickled cranberries. The result? Delicious. The loin was moist and delicate and half way between a carpaccio and prosciutto. The whole dish came together beautifully and it was with extreme reluctance that I agreed to share it with my dinner guest.
Luckily the next dish quickly arrived: red beetroot soup with trout eggs and goat cheese foam, served in a cognac glass. The goat cheese foam was perfect; so subtle with the beetroot soup, the ratio was perfect. The trout eggs were equally as interesting.
My next course was a trio of beef. It was a refreshing change to have such variety in this dish. The first was marinated and braised tongue of beef served with young cheese and horseradish; next to that was beef marrow served in what at first looked like the bone, but what turned out to be a hollowed out roasted potato; and the last was braised beef tail confit breaded and then deep fried. I was delighted to see tongue because when it is prepared properly its absolutely gorgeous. I love the velvety texture and the delicate, subtle flavours of this cut. The braised tail of beef had a bold and rich taste to it and the contrast in textures between the crunchy layer of breadcrumbs and the runny rich compote that lay waiting inside was scrumptious.
A Sci-fi spectacle
And then to the theatrics of our dessert. The waiter arrived with a sphere of chocolate with additional projecting shards of chocolate, all dusted in gold. It definitely had a galaxy feel about it. I then watched as he poured hot chocolate sauce on top of this galaxy and watched as the ball melted to reveal cherry compote, whipped vanilla marscapone and yet another layered chocolate ball. I knew I had to give it one more push to see what lay beneath yet another galaxy. I was not disappointed; inside was a fresh and zingy cherry sorbet. The perfect ending to a perfect meal.
And what of the ambiance? Well, the restaurant décor is fashionably nouveau. It is not a large room and provides you with an intimate dining experience – there are even private dining rooms which would be just perfect for a couple celebrating an anniversary, for instance. There is also good news for the lunch crowd. The restaurant has introduced a pri fix lunch menu – three courses with wine for EUR 20 per person. It is a great deal.
Our waiter was faultless, catering to our every need. He made some lovely suggestions on wines and was very helpful with the menu. He was there when you needed him and disappeared into the background when you didn’t – very much a professional who took great pride in his work.
It often seems that, as Summer comes to an end, there is little to celebrate. But I’ve found one thing: the reopening of the divine Smrekarjev Hram Restaurant.
Open: Every day from noon till 11 p.m.
Price range: daily three-course menu (incl. a glass of wine) - 20 EUR
Food type: Slovene with a twist
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