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Santa Lucija Gostilna & Pizzeria (Brezice, Slovenia)

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“ Address: Cesta prvih borcev 15 / SI-8250 / Brežice / Slovenia „

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      28.05.2012 07:12
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      A restaurant that's more memorable for the decor than the food

      If you think you would enjoy eating your dinner under the gaze of the subjects of garish mock Baroque era portraits there is, believe it or not, a place just for you. I can't say I'd ever harboured such a desire but when I saw some photographs of Santa Lucija Gostilna and Pizzeria in Brezice I knew instantly I had to eat there. We didn't have a lot of choice if I'm honest; I'd really wanted to go to Debeluh which has the reputation of being one of the best restaurants in the country but we weren't feeling particularly extravagant and a meal there does not come cheap - we'll save it for a special occasion and push the boat out. The other town centre option was the restaurant of the Rafters Hotel which has a solid reputation, but lacks mock Baroque murals.

      The restaurant is on Brezice's main street and there's plenty of parking nearby. Like most Slovenian restaurants it opens first thing in the morning and closes late at night. During the day people stop for coffee or a beer and maybe for 'malica' which is an early meal (often eaten around 10 am) favoured by people in rural areas or who start work very early), for 'kosila' which is a lunch eaten at a more conventional time (a kosila is usually a set meal comprising soup, main course with accompaniments, and a dessert); in the evening Santa Lucija seems to be popular with everyone and when we ate there the clientele was made up of families, elderly couples, courting couples, foreign businesspeople and what appeared to be a sports team.
      We have learned in Slovenia not to go out too late to eat unless we want to be the only people in the dining room but Santa Lucija was something of a departure from the norm because the place only got busier as the evening went on; I can't remember eating in such a busy place (except for in the capital) for a couple of years so this is obviously a very popular restaurant (or else none of these people felt like paying Debeluh prices either). As we had gone out fairly early we were able to get a table and might have had a wait had we gone an hour later.

      There are a few tables downstairs but the main dining area is upstairs and spread over a couple of connected rooms The décor is way over the top but it's colourful and inoffensive and certainly a talking point; as more diners arrived you could tell immediately who was visiting for the first time. There are fake panels with rococo curlicues painted onto the 'distressed' walls and technicolour landscapes, religious scenes and portraits of be-frocked ladies and curly-haired men have been painted inside the frames. The ceiling has had a similar treatment and rococo style chairs complete the look.

      One energetic lady was running the front of house that night; it's often the way in Slovenia. In the UK I hate places that have too many staff that hover around too conspicuously but in Santa Lucija the difficulty was in managing to attract this woman's attention because she was rushing around so much. We had come in on the tail end of a large family group that she had greeted and we assumed she'd seen us go upstairs too; evidently not as we waited rather too long for our menus and took them ourselves from a table at the top of the stairs.

      Personally I don't much care for restaurants that have extensive and varied menus. I wonder about the freshness of the food and whether it's cooked from scratch or dug out of a freezer. Santa Lucija does a bit of everything including a full list of pizzas. We weren't interested in the pizzas and went straight to the game section. There is a choice of freshwater or sea fish, a selection of Balkan classics from the grill and a number of pasta dishes. Vegetarians are pretty much limited to the pizza/paste section. The menu is in Slovenian and Italian only but the waitress did speak some English though it was not really enough to describe the dishes and I had to help out some Belgians at the next table (in return the Belgians happily gave me some pointers for the next time I play "Five Famous Belgains").

      Himself chose the wild boar, something he'd never tasted before having been a vegetarian until relatively recently, while I ordered the roe deer. We skipped starters but shared a salad and in Slovenia the custom is to eat the salad before your main course comes so, under strict instructions to 'build up the sides of the bowl', I went off to the salad bar. There was an abundance of vinegary things as you would expect in this part of the world and several different types of beans but the more usual salady things such as leaves had not been replenished and were in scant supply. The choice of dressings - there were many - seemed over the top in contrast with the availability of items on which to pour them.

      The main courses when they came looked tasty, even if the presentation was boring. A single parsley leaf and a dried out strip of carrot made a rather embarrassing garnish. Both meats came with a sauce, a hunter's sauce for the wild boar and a mushroom sauce for the deer though both were suspiciously similar. The deer came with bread dumplings which I love and these did not disappointment. They were beautifully fluffy and were great for making sure I didn't waste any of the gravy. Himself was pleased to find his wild boar accompanied by a very generous serving of roasted gnocchi though which such a large portion they soon became filling and it took a valiant effort to polish them off. Personally I'd have preferred both meats to have been less well cooked but we weren't asked and neither did we express a preference so I guess you just take potluck.

      We thought the food here was good but not fantastic. It was tasty enough but could have been more nicely presented. I think perhaps the quirkiness of the surroundings promise something more from the food and when you get such homely food presented to you, it doesn't seem quite right. The value for money cannot be denied; we paid less than Euro30 for two game mains, salad and drinks and came away feeling stuffed. The decor will stay in my memory longer than the food but it's a place I'm happy to recommend for good value for money and a wide choice of dishes.

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