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Gostilna Sokol (Ljubljana, Slovenia)

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Country: Slovenia / World Region: Europe / Type: Slovene / Address: Gostilna Sokol ,Ljubljana Torso d.o.o., Ciril Metodov trg 18

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      12.10.2011 23:55
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      Touristy but trusty Slovenian restaurant in the heart of the capital

      We first visited Slovenia back in 2004; I'd wanted to visit for some time and when Himself got the chance to take part in a project involving the respective employment services from four European countries, one of which was Slovenia, I knew I had to tag along. Himself arrived in Ljubljana a few days before me and when I arrived he raved about a restaurant called Sokol that the Slovene contingent had taken the group to. In those days Sokol was the place that foreign visitors were taken to in order to sample some traditional Slovene cuisine; it still is to some extent but the restaurant scene is quite different now and business people are more likely to take their visitors to much posher international restaurants, as if to say "Slovenia is as cosmopolitan as anywhere else." During the day Sokol tends to be full of tourists from the cruise ships that dock in Koper on Slovenia's short Adriatic coastline and in the evenings it used to be business people entertaining foreign customers but nowadays it's usually couples who've seen the restaurant recommended in a guidebook. It may sound like I am being a bit disparaging about Sokol, and that's perhaps unfair as I have enjoyed several good dinners and lunches there, but it is really a tourist trap. Sokol is easy to find; at Mestni trg face the town hall and turn left and you'll see Sokol on your right just past the Lush store. This is just a minute's walk from Presernov trg and the Triple Bridge or five minutes from the Dragon Bridge cutting across the outdoor market. The restaurant is housed in an old residential building dating, I think, from the seventeenth century. When having lunch we tend to sit downstairs near the bar, or at one of the high tables just inside the entrance (depending on the weather - in winter we try to sit further away from the door), and for dinner we like to go upstairs to the first floor; the upper floor isn't really any more formal but we like it better for dinner and the service on the upper floor tends to be more attentive. When you get upstairs aim for a table away from the stairs otherwise there'll be people filing past you all evening and staring at your food. The interior is quite rustic looking but it is looking a bit shabby in places and instead of looking olde worlde it looks rather tired. It's comfortable and cosy, though, and people seem to find the place quite charming. This being a tourist hot spot, all the staff speak languages in addition to Slovene and the menu is in Slovene, English, German and Italian. The dishes are clearly described but the staff can also explain anything you're not sure about and are keen to give recommendations. Meat dishes predominate but there are a few meat free choices (though they are hardly inspiring) and there's plenty of fish too, both sea and freshwater varieties. There's an emphasis on game as the restaurant tries to convey the idea of a country inn but I've found that while the meats are good, these dishes suffer in the presentation. I once ordered the venison with a black cherry sauce and while the sauce was tasty, it wasn't necessary for it to cover half of the plate; as delicious as it was - and it was a good complement for the venison - it soon became sickly. When we first visited Himself did not eat meat; his hosts tried to help and he was presented with the standard veggie fare of breaded fried camembert. His attempts to remind them that he did eat fish had fallen on deaf ears, such was their focus on making sure he didn't starve. These days were are a few deliberately meat free options including a risotto and the very good but quite heavy cheese rolls in a tarragon and mushroom sauce. If you wanted to, you could easily choose one of the meat free starters and add a salad or side dish to make yourself a good meal but you do need to explain to the staff that you want the dishes to arrive together; although they're happy for you to engineer the menu as you would like, Slovenians will assume bring the food in the order they see fit unless you are quite explicit. Ingredients such as buckwheat - usually in the form of a seasoned "mush" - which are commonly used in rustic "country" cooking of Slovenia feature on the menu. The boletus mushrooms is another Slovenian favourite that appears in sauces with meats. A favourite side dish of ours at Sokol is the "mangold potatoes" in which salted boiled potatoes are very slightly mashed and mixed with a little butter and mangold leaves: mangold is a yellowish beet but its the leaves that are used in this dish and they are wilted, much as you would do with spinach. If we're in Ljubljana in the winter we might drop by for soup at lunchtime. One of Sokol's most popular dishes is the soup served in a hollowed out crusty roll: not only is the soup very good with plenty of delicious juicy mushrooms in it, but you get to enjoy the crusty bread that has absorbed lots of lovely flavoursome soup at the end. At Euro4.50 it's a good value, filling lunch and one that doesn't take long to arrive. If you're not able to get out into the mountains then I'd recommend trying some of the game dishes but they aren't cheap and you'll get something less expensive (and probably better) if you sample this type of food out of town. For a big splurge you could try the "Game Plate" which comprises venison medallions with cherry sauce, wild boar with green pepper, red deer in a boletus gravy, maize porridge and dumplings. The venison with cherry sauce served as a main meal on its own is priced at Euro16.90 but the venison goulash priced at Euro9.90 for a generous portion is a cheaper way to try some game. If horse meat doesn't appeal to you (and I've never tried it at Sokol but I have been promised to be taken for a horse burger in Ljubljana's Tivoli Park in January) there are plenty more conventional meat dishes on the menu. The schnitzel is excellent and at just a shade under Euro10 it's good value. On the occasions he has eaten fish at Sokol it has been nicely cooked and with the city's fish market just a few steps away, you know the produce is fresh. The trout is always a winner and when served with the mangold potatoes its certainly worth its Euro14 price tag. The stuffed squid is excellent and as good as any I've had in Slovenia or Croatia (it nearly always appears on the menu in any restaurant) but it's a dish I tend not to order any more because the portion is too large and the filling of cheese and prsut (the Slovenian equivalent of prosciutto) is very salty. I've only once had a dessert at Sokol, a lovely rich pannacotta with a sauce of forest berries that was sharp and sweet at the same time and cut through the creaminess of the pannacotta beautifully. Although I can't try it myself, I'm told that Sokol's gibanica is as good as you'll get anywhere in Ljubljana; it comes from the Prekmurje region which is out in the east of the country but it's eaten everywhere. It comprises layers of cake sandwiched with poppy seeds, walnuts, raisin and cottage cheese. Finally there's the beer; Sokol has its own beers, a light and a dark. I'm not sure whether they are brewed on site but it does add a novelty in a country where there are only two main domestic beers. The beer scene is slowly opening up with microbrewers cropping up but for many visitors to Ljubljana this may be the only chnace they have to try something different. Otherwise there's a full range of soft and alcoholic drinks with some excellent wine choices at reasonable prices. Now we know the city better we don't visit Sokol so much but that doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend it. If you're pushed for time and are only in the city for a couple of days and can't get out of town I would recommend it as a place to try some Slovenian classics in a friendly ambience. It's easy to find (and if you struggle ask ANYBODY as everyone knows it and will be able to direct you in English). It is undeniably a tourist trap and food doesn't always justify the price but broadly speaking Sokol is a decent place. it's open daily from 6.00am until 11.00pm, serving light meals and snacks until noon and the whole menu is available thereafter. If we've visited the fleamarket on a Saunday morning and need an early lunch, we'll probably go to Sokol as so few places in the centre are open early on a Sunday. Sokol Ciril-Metod Square 18 Ljubljana In case you're wondering, 'Sokol' is the Slovene name for the peregrine falcon.

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