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Gorgeous Georgian Grub in Ljubljana
Zlato Runo Georgian Restaurant (Ljubljana, Slovenia)
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Zlato Runo Georgian Restaurant (Ljubljana, Slovenia)
Advantages: Excellent prices; a change from the usual in Slovenia; lovely owners
Disadvantages: Too many dishes with walnuts in for me
We were in the Bezigrad part of town which is most quickly reached by cutting straight through the underground concourse at the main train station. When you come out of the underpass cross the road, turn right, then turn left at Stihova.
If we're anywhere near the tourist information office in the centre of Ljubljana we tend to drop by to ask if there are any new restaurants in town. This always results in a 'no' even if there is something new and really different. In a city the size of, say, London, you might expect this to be a tough question, but in little Ljubljana it shouldn't be too difficult. It turns out that the "Zlato Runo" is almost three years old but we had to stumble on it by accident.
We'd actually gone to Bezigrad for old times' sake; we were intending to go to the Che Bar, a Che Guevara themed bar we'd found the very first time we visited Ljubljana. Not only was it a great little bar, it's also where we met Tanja who is now one of our closest Slovenian pals. Anyway, to our great disappointment we learned that the Che Bar is no more, its place occupied by a French style bistro. We adjourned to the adjacent "Time Art Café", my second favourite bar in Ljubljana and drowned our sorrows.
As we marched briskly down Stihova intending to drop by our hotel before seeking out some dinner we spotted the sign for the "Zlato Runo" hanging over the doorway in a side street. I was clearly being a bit dim because although I know that 'zlato' means golden, I had no idea what 'runo' meant even though a golden fleece had thoughtfully been depicted on the sign. It was actually the announcement in Slovene on a chalk A-board on the pavement that alerted my attention to the fact that this is a restaurant that serves Georgian food - that being the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, and not the southern, peach-growing Georgia of the United States. I didn't actually know that Gruzinska means 'Georgian' in Slovene, but I did recognise the word as being similar to the Polish word for Georgian and put two and two together, skipping with delight and shouting "It's a Georgian restaurant" before gleefully shouting out the six words of Georgian I know. Himself waited patiently for me to finish and said in a matter of fact tone, "I guessed this from the picture of the golden fleece." It was about seven and too early to eat so we popped our heads round the doorway and established that they'd be open until 11.00pm and took ourselves off for another drink.
When we returned we were immediately ushered downstairs where the main dining area is. Bezigrad is an area of (moderately) high-rises so most buildings are relatively new so we weren't expecting an authentic ambience but the family that run the restaurant have worked really hard to inject some Georgian character with lots of typically Georgian textiles and pieces of art on the walls and on shelves around the dining space. It was a shame that when we were there only one other table was occupied but it was a cold January night and this is a largely residential area: if this restaurant was in the city centre I think it would be much busier.
Still, the fact that it was quiet meant that we were served quickly and that we were able to chat with the owner's son who looks after the front of house. The family are from Georgia by way of Germany and have been in Slovenia a few years now. The owner's son speaks excellent English and, although the menu is already translated into English, he can explain any dishes that diners are unsure of. Having been to Georgia ourselves, we were familiar with most of the dishes as the most popular specialities have been included in the "Zlato Runo" menu.
Given that I have a nut allergy the choices were a bit limited for me' walnuts feature quite prominently in Georgian cuisine, mixed variously with things like beetroot, aubergine or beans - foodstuffs I count among my favourites. There are some meat free courses but you could also order a couple of the side dishes and have them meze style together with lavashi (the Georgian take on Middle eastern lavash bread) or hachapuri (a delicious Georgian speciality bread which is stuffed with salty cheese) but it would be a good idea to tell the waiter that you want them to come as a main course otherwise they will arrive almost immediately while everyone else waits for their food.
I chose an old favourite 'hinkali' (also known as 'khinkali'), a slightly chunkier version of a Polish pierogi or a Russian vareniki; it's a parcel made from dough similar to pasta, gathered up and pinched closed at the top, with a filling of peppery minced meat. The parcels are cooked in stock which adds more flavour and when you cut into a hinkali the juices that ooze out are wonderful. There were three plump hinkali and they were excellent, the dough was thick but not too dense and the meat juicy and nicely seasoned. A liberal sprinkling of pepper over the dish might not have been to everyone's taste and I certainly wouldn't have complained had there been a bit less.
Himself chose the shaslik . It didn't arrive at the same time as my khinkali but as we both wanted to try all the food we didn't mind too much and it was worth waiting for. Speared onto a decorative skewer were tasty, juicy pieces of chicken and pork which had been nicely marinaded prior to grilling. This came with a herby, green sauce that worked well with the meat.
We asked for a recommendation for a side dish but given that it had to be nut free the only suitable thing was hachapuri (sometimes called khachapuri). Hachapuri is the most commonly eaten snack food in Georgia; when we were there Himself didn't eat meat so he became something of a hachapuri connoisseur. Sometimes they are flaky and thin, other times very doughy with the cheese almost rubbery. They are eaten on the go by students on their way to classes, as an accompaniment to a main meal or as a cheap and cheerful lunch for office workers; with so much variety of food available in the UK, the United States and western Europe these days it's difficult to imagine a food that is eaten so widely but everybody in Georgia eats hachapuri. At the "Zlato Runo" the ones Tamasz makes are excellent, they smell delicious - the smell of just baked bread is always a winner - and the crumbly almost feta like cheese was just salty enough. Apparently they've tried lots of different Slovenian cheeses to get the right one and while it's not quite as I remember hachapuri, it is pretty good. A simple green salad completed our table.
Bottles of Borjomi are placed on every table; it's a very, very salty fizzy water from Georgia and even after the break up of the Soviet Union, it's still very popular all over the Republics that made up that country. Georgians (and Russians) swear by the curative powers of the waters from Borjomi and when I was rather green one day having consumed vast excessive quantities of cheap vodka with an American student the previous evening, our Georgian driver was trying to convince me that a bottle of Borjomi would put me right. Imagine a sparkling water ten times as soapy tasting as San Pellegrino (my favourite) and you're approaching the taste of Borjomi.
Instead of Borjomi I plumped for what we call 'dva deci' (200ml; in Slovenia if you aren't having a full bottle you buy wine in 'increments' of 100ml) of Georgian wine, choosing a white one from the wine producing region we stayed in back in 2006). Georgian wine is something of an acquired taste, being usually slightly sweeter than described so if you prefer a dry wine, always ask for the driest one they have. Himself ordered a beer, not a Georgian variety alas.
We really enjoyed our meal but, from a personal point of view it would have been nice to have been able to choose from more dishes though, of course, I cannot expect a country to change its whole cuisine for my needs. The service was friendly and enthusiastic, the surroundings comfortable and more characterful than one might expect in this area and the food was authentic and tasty. With the shaslik costing Euro6.80 and the hinkali priced at just Euro3.50 this is cheap food for a capital city in central Europe.
If you're in Slovenia for just a short time I'd advise trying some Slovenian specialities before you try the "Zlato Runo" but if you're a frequent visitor to Ljubljana or have been in the country a while and fancy a change, or you are keen on Georgian food (perhaps you've spent time in any part of the Soviet Union) then I'd recommend you give this restaurant a try.
I'm going to forward a link for this review to the Ljubljana Tourist Office and urge them to recommend this restaurant. It's a great place and deserves to be full on a Saturday night.
Summary: A great alternative to local food and pizzerias in the Slovenian capital
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