koliba

MUSIC AND LAUGHTER IN THE KOLIBAS

If you ever decide to take tea in a koliba as eccentric as the one in Stara Lesna, take a fire extinguisher too. They spike your tea with a lethal dose of Slivovica and serve it in flames.

It gives you a heartburn that can only be put out by a bottle of red wine while the resident gypsy trio plays bohemian rhapsodies in this tiny village off Route 534, two miles from Tatranska Lomnica.

A stately Kalinka, Kalinka, Kalinka Ki-ya on a double bass, violin and a percussive cimbal gets the diners dancing hand-in-hand round the stone rotisserie where tiny game birds hiss and spit.

The gypsies kylinka to a halt. The diners return to their tables and raise their glasses solemnly.

Then the waiters take over, singing as they serve brynza (chopped onion and crusty bread) before the main course of kapustova polievka – dumplings with sheeps‘ cheese and fried bacon.

Kolibas really are the places to eat – smoky and boisterous, charming, funny and cheap.

They are the historic memories of the sheep sheds dotted across the mountains. For centuries those sheds were beacons to snowbound hunters. Roofs like witch’s hats pulled down against the elements, hickory smell of smoke, heavy soups, incendiary brandy and a roaring fire.

Restaurants, cafés and burger bars are springing up all over the place as Slovakia tourism booms and, because of them, an important part of the past is fading into the background.

But the real kolibas are worth tracking down. You can recognise them by the folk music behind closed doors.

Climbers and skiers like the koliba in Tatranska Lomnica because of its good beer and proximity to the ski slopes of Skalnate Pleso. Music lovers like it there too, particularly in August – it’s only a short trip to Zakopane into Poland for the International Highland Music Festival.

The kolibas and folk music are the cultural heart of Slovakia‘s society. They are the taverns they still write songs about.

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Fabrika

Fabrika is one of the words Slovaks use to describe a factory, and it’s the first thing would-be drinkers should understand about Bratislava’s latest pivovar (brewpub). The industrial chic concept might have hit other parts of the globe but it never really took off before in the Slovak capital: until now… Fabrika, with its motif of a smoking clutch of factory chimneys emblazoned on the exposed brickwork behind its looong swanky bar, makes no secret of the fact that this is the concept it’s going for. It’s Bratislava’s only real exponent of this genre of drinking/dining, and not only pulls it off the concept, but pulls in customers to near capacity on a nightly basis: for its looks, true, but also for its great beer and its superb US influenced food.

It was an audacious stunt to even try to open this place, what with another top-notch pivovar in Bratislavský meštiansky pivovar being so close. Like its competitor (and competition has been oh-so healthy for Bratislava’s expanding craft beer scene) it takes the American brewpub as the role model and straddles that divide between pub and restaurant. But whereas Bratislavský meštiansky pivovar embraces traditional Slovak food, Fabrika goes very much for the Americas with its menu options.

The huge Fabrika King burger, stuffed with a hash brown to boot, gets talked about a lot, but for the same price (11.90 Euros) the smoked cheeseburger, served with smoked Slovak sheep’s cheese, tomato salsa, red chard salad, aioli and egg easily outshines it. This Slovak interpretation of US “slow” fast food is one it would have been nice to see elaborated on: it’s almost like the food here teeters on the brink of voyaging into the “very creative”, and at the last moment falls back a notch or two into the category of “varied”.  Yet the steaks are incredible: a divinely-soft Uruguayan tenderloin with crusty potato strudel and ceps (see image below) is one the best constructed dishes in all Bratislava. Vying for your attention as well on the meat front is the ostrich steak set off perfectly by its cognac jus. Then there some inventive pasta options, such as the spaghetti with shrimps, dried tomatoes, chilli and baby spinach and a nod or five to southern US barbecue food on a starters and mains list that could almost be plucked from a classy eatery menu in Dallas or Austin (pretty new for Bratislava to have it done so well). Mains are all in the 11 to 19 Euro range.

But the main moniker Fabrika wears is “the Beer Pub” and in terms of the local craft beer scene it’s up there as a contender for THE place to quaff artisan beer, as it makes seven beers on site (see the steel tanks at one end of the large open restaurant area). Seven – incidentally – is more than Bratislavský meštiansky pivovar produces. A particularly strong Pilsner made with one of Europe’s four noble hop varieties, saaz, and a complex chocolatey dark beer are the stand-outs, along with a slightly fruity stout.

Perhaps, at the end of the day, it boils down to that question of environment – and it’s Fabrika’s cool surrounds which combine with its very decent beer and food to render the overall feel so pleasant.

On a quiet side street off the rapidly rejuvenating Štefanikova street that runs up from Michalská Brana on the edge of the Old Town to Bratislava’s train station, the nearby grandiose 19th-century architecture contrasts with this retro-cool modern oasis of craft beer and grub. But Fabrika fits in with all that, too. The attached Loft Hotel is decked up in the same style, but merges effortlessly into the also-attached 19th-century residence which President Woodrow Wilson once favoured on sojourns in the city (and where you can also stay today). Fabrika’s quiet-but-animated outside terrace, in fact, fronts both: abutting a 21st-century chic-industrial and a striking 19th century facade, which is quite something. And just like much of this deceptively relaxed, ornate, leaf-fringed neighbourhood of Bratislava, Fabrika wants you here for the long-haul, and to truly take some serious time out to contemplate some of the good tastes in life.

As the official restaurant of Loft Hotel it certainly goes down as Bratislava’s most lively and enjoyable hotel restaurant.

MAP LINK:

OPENING: 11.30am-midnight Saturday to Thursday, 11.30am to 1am Friday

RESERVATIONS: This place can get very busy because, amongst a certain sect, it’s pretty in right now (do not confuse that with generic, lacklustre tourist option, which it most certainly is not). So RESERVE HERE if you want a table inside at the time of your choice.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Best to come here on a sunny evening in spring, summer or early autumn, when you can grab your first drink outside on the terrace in the last of the day’s light before gravitating inside for more beers and a bite to eat from the extensive menu.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Fabrika, it’s 350 metres south to a great medieval-themed restaurant serving traditional Slovak classics, Traja Mušketieri.

Uruguayan steak, potato gratin ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Uruguayan steak, potato strudel… ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

Bratislava’s Best Pivovar (Brewpub-Gastropub)

This site does not usually seize on the obvious (recommending places people are more likely to know about anyway) but there is a way to subvert every trend (for example, writing about somewhere people are less likely to really know about because those people won’t be expecting me to write about anywhere people are likely to know about). Nah, I’m a contrary type on occasion, but not so contrary as all that. The reason I want to write about Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar is because it sets the standard of craft beer in Slovakia very high – and praising this establishment will achieve my ultimate aim of hoping others follow suit.

As I intimated, it’s hardly as if this pivovar, or brewery pub, is unknown: with its location right under the Crowne Plaza just off Obchodná. Even if it was less central, the audacity (OK, ingenuity too) of its design would bring in the crowds from miles around. The immediate impression is that it looks akin to some of the cool new craft brewery bars you see in the southern USA: voluminous (by the standards of the average Bratislava drinking establishment) and with high vaulted ceilings. Stairs then usher you up to a separate, more intimate dining area on the right and up again into the vaults themselves, with stalls and smaller tables arranged to form another large bar area.

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As is often the case with brewery pubs, it doubles up with food that very nearly matches its beer, making it the perfect place for those business dinners, or for men that need to meet up and would feel awkward, perhaps, in a more formal restaurant. It’s got the blend of casual/formal just right here, too (although the service could be marginally more attentive). But as I’ve lamented on this blog before, in Slovakia there are precious few eating places which are either informal with quality food, or decent quality and non-pretentious, so it’s nice to see this joint fill the gap.

So groups of guys down Ležiak (the lighter lager) or Bubák (the dark beer) in the relatively sophisticated dining area whilst Bratislava intellectuals (OK, mostly male again) browse newspapers in suave solitary beer drinking mode downstairs. And, a Meštiansky special: why not try a half light, half dark beer, mixed? It sounds crazy but strangely works (the Slovaks have never had inhibitions about mixing drinks other countries would never dream of doing – just ask them what they do with wine sometimes – but in this case they pull it off). If you ask in advance, you can get someone to show you around the brewery part of the enterprise, too – although earlier in the evening is better for this as, being a fairly well-established venue, the crowds can descend later on…

Serving beer!

Serving beer! ©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

 

Whilst the menu is diverse, though, I’m still going to personally recommend going for one of the myriad sausage options (like a simple-but-satisfying utopenec, a sausage seved with pickles and chilli). Slovaks feel at home preparing sausages. And start off with a grilled sheep’s cheese hot from the capital of sheep’s cheese in Slovakia, Liptovský Miklauš. Main meals are between 8 and 21 Euros, with the top end reserved for a rather overpriced double steak tartare.

Now we’ve dealt with the booze and the food, it’s certainly worth mentioning the history. “History” might seem like an odd word to bring into a conversation about one of the Slovak Capital’s best-designed modern drinking and dining establishments, but there is a precedent here. Actually, whilst everyone bangs on about the Czechs and their beer, Bratislava has a proud brewing history that goes back to the middle ages. Back then, of course, Bratislava was known as Pressburg (in German) as it was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And the town’s burgesses then strove, come the mid-18th century, to create one of Europe’s original brew-pubs (!) – a well-to-do restaurant attached to a working brewery that would rival the very best of Bavaria’s beer houses: and… they succeeded. Thus was born Bratislava’s original Meštiansky Pivovar (in a different location to the current one).

Bratislava’s best pivovar? Yes. The competition is not as stiff as it first appears, and even if it were there’s a high chance this place would still come up trumps. It’s a great place to come and show off to visitors one of the city’s stylish sides.

MAP LINK:

LOCATION: Drevená  8 – see the website for reservations (recommended on weekday evenings)

OPENING: 11am-11pm Monday to Wednesday & Saturday, until midnight Thursday/Friday, until 10pm on Sunday

BEST TIME TO VISIT: After work through to closing time, but get in early before the main rush (say 5:30) to guarantee a good pew.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: An 800m walk south from Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar is Verne

NB: Shortly after this I went to Zamocký Pivovar up near the castle thinking hey – seems everyone’s opening great craft breweries in Bratislava! Wrong. Zamocký Pivovar is a disappointment: terrible food, mediocre beer and despite deceptive first impressions are surprisingly bland atmosphere (3 big no-no’s) – and it will not, until it improves, get a further mention on Englishmaninslovakia. Which makes me relish Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar more.

Image by www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

The New Bistro St Germain

Wifi: slow.

My memories of the old St Germain are fond, I must say (even although the old location is now ancient, and the new one no longer quite so new). Previously tucked into a cosy little courtyard off bustling Obchodná, this dinky but dignified spot with its elegantly old-fashioned Frech decor, from the black-and white figures on the wallpaper to the ornate iron-and-stained-glass bar and tiled floor, was Bratislava’s first true bistro – and a match for a lot of what Paris could muster in quality.

RELATED POST: See which coffee shop is now locating into Bistro St Germain’s old premises

The problem with the old location was space. They were always full – especially so at lunch time – and customers were being turned away a lot of the time. With the new location there is no such issue. On the same pedestrian street as the cool art house cinema, Kino Lumière, the new location is spacious.

And for first-timers to Bistro St Germain, the effect is impressive.

The decor is the same, and provides a welcome oasis of originality in the somewhat bland environs of Špitàlska behind the monstrous Tesco’s – a bland area but a necessary one to visit if you want to do some supermarket shopping, or catch a movie. The service has actually improved. Staff are friendly as ever and perhaps a little more attentive.

The food is still great. St Germain remains one of a handful of Bratislava cafes where lunch is a real pleasure and salads are good. The burgers (7 Euros) – tanked full of avocado – are equally as delicious as in the old venue, you can’t get better ciabatta (5 Euros) or quesadilla (4.50 Euros) in the centre of town. And the cake selection (really good cheesecake) is phenomenal – in a multi-tier attention-grabbing glass counter by the bar. Besides really good coffee, their homemade lemonade is also notoriously popular for a reason. A lot of Slovak red and white wines are on offer, too: Frankovka modrá on the reds front and Château Topoľčianky on the whites (tip – the nation makes OK red wine but really delicious white). Despite the above, there’s a lightly-seasoned French feel to the menu to add to the timelessly Parisian ambience.

Indeed, for a quality-price-ambience trade-off you couldn’t do much better in the area (the only other place to rival it would be near-by Obývačka). In fact, whilst St Germain still treads a tightrope between “cafe” and “restaurant” (and is arguably both at different times of the day), in its new location it is leaning increasingly close to being more a restaurant, just like Obývačka.

And yet… the cosiness isn’t there any more. Bistro St Germain have done the best job they could in replicating the atmosphere of the old spot in a larger premises. And hey – pop in for lunch or drinks before catching a movie across the street (they are open until late). But it’s not the same. Just as many of the best Parisian bistros are in secluded serendipitous locations that you would have difficulty finding if you tried, so the St Germain of yore retained a hidden-from-the-masses magic. Now it announces itself to the masses. Why, oh why, could they not have at least retained the old locale as a second branch? Because without it, the magic has marginally diminished…

MAP LINK: Tip – The address is Rajska 7 but actually the entrance is a block back, across from the Kino Lumière cinema.

OPENING: 10am until 11pm (Monday to Friday), midday to 11pm at weekends.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Late morning or early afternoon, say eleven thirty to twelve thirty, when idling a while with one of their great coffees, a cupcake and – should you wish – an early lunch, is perfectly acceptable and a totally guilt-free activity.

BEST DISH: The burgers. But you should definitely have a cake too.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: Round off refreshing yourself at Bistro St Germain with a walk 900m west to the Bratislava City Gallery

Obývačka

It’s a fairly simple, but mind-blowingly effective recipe. Take breakfast (three-cheese omelette, eggy bread or pancakes, perhaps, alongside one of Bratislava’s best possibilities for a good macchiato). Take lunch (maybe the Obývačka special, a tasting platter of aubergine dip, feta, olives, grilled courgette, shrimps and a dash of chilli). Take dinner (the chicken and mozerella salad or the grilled river fish cooked in saffron and white wine sauce are simplistic and divine, but just a standard salad is crisp and complemented by at least three types of leaf when Slovakia’s standard is precisely no leaves whatsoever). Mix well into one effortlessly fluid, incredibly informal blend that begins with the early morning commuters and culminates with the afterwork partiers and the romantic dinner seekers.

Obývačka, which translates into English as “living room” or “living space” is, above all, relaxed. The ethos is clearly the “cosy” Slovak eatery of old mixed with a liberal smattering of youthful, trendy Bohemia. Typical Slovak cuisine, in other words, made somewhat cooler by good coffee, healthy salads, gluten-free options, decent wine and all those bright young twenty-somethings gabbing either downstairs or up top. It’s a rarity for an eatery to follow through from breakfast to lunch to dinner and come up trumps in all departments and the laid-back attitude (the staff are young, multi-lingual and eager to help or recommend the ever-changing specials) is key to this.

Let us contextualise, as we ever need to do in Slovakia. It’s not every cafe-bar-restaurant that opens for breakfast, let alone decent breakfasts with good espresso. It’s not every trendy lunch stop that offers such good-value lunches. Creative salads and good wine are far from being ubiquitous, even in Bratislava. Friendly, courteous service at dinner is not a guarantee. And the Obývačka-like interior – a bar hung with beads, retro wallpaper covered with flowers (in the design of the typical rural krčmy, or pubs, only more hip), an upstairs decorated in opened books, their pages rustling in the breeze – is conducive to lingering. One could go so far as to say it comes closest to providing anything approaching Slovak fusion cuisine in Bratislava. And it’s brightening up the ever-more lively Dunajska street in an area of town the average visitor wouldn’t stroll into unless, well, unless Englishmaninslovakia had recommended it, really…

Nothing in Obývačka is stand-out. There are better restaurants around. But for the price-quality trade-off (meals here are all between 4 and 9 Euros, about mid-range for Bratislava) – and particularly for their decent range of gluten-free options, the Old Town has few better places. And of course everything is very, very cosily convivial. Much like your living room, really.

MAP LINK

LOCATION: Dunajská 54: that’s the street leading west from the big city-centre Tesco’s. Head three blocks west on Dunajska and you’ll see it. The website is Slovak-only but staff speak good English.

OPENING: 8am until 11pm (Monday to Thursday), 8am-1am (Friday), 11am-1am (Saturday) and 11am-11pm (Sunday)

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Mid- to late evening, say around 8:30pm, for a glass of wine, then dinner and more drinks.

BEST DISH: The zubáč (a freshwater fish) in our humble opinion – pictured above in a saffron and pine nut garnish.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: 600m southwest of Obývačka is Tulip House Boutique Hotel

Verne

It’s always the way, right? You come to a beautiful city centre, you see the key sights and then you build up a thirst – or even a hunger – for after all, being a tourist or a traveller or a wanderer or whatever word you choose to use for it is, sometimes, draining. And of course when you are in afore-mentioned city centre in x country you realise nearly all the places to eat are fearfully expensive, devoid of atmosphere and certainly devoid of locals: the last places, if you are anything like me, that you would ever wish to eat.

This is where a joint like Verne comes in. You’ve come down to the Old Town through the beautiful Michael’s Gate, taken a picture (for some reason) of the compass on the cobbles, checked out each of the quirky statues in the city centre (like the bronze man emerging from the manhole) and amiably strolled through those gorgeous medieval central squares. You’re bang in the centre of things and you want lunch (or indeed dinner). Verne is there to help out… if, that is, you want your city centre meal to be the opposite of what’s described above (i.e. somewhere reasonably priced, brimming with ambience and always bustling with local clientele.

Verne is on the north side of Hviezdoslavovo Námestie, my favourite of Bratislava’s squares because of its length, leafiness and the gorgeous Slovenské Národné Divadlo (Slovak National Theatre) at one end. Its entrance, as with most under-the-tourist-radar places, is not obvious: in the hot weather they have a few tables out front but otherwise you have to descend some steps within an ornate tree-shaded building on either side of two far brasher bar-restaurants that, if you weren’t know, you’d end up in. (Fear not – with the Englishman in Slovakia, you are IN the know.)

I’ve been going to Verne on and off two years now.

This wine was actually pretty good :)

This wine was actually pretty good :)

When you come into the bar area, you’ll see why, too. In its own understated way this place exudes elegance. Namely normal, everyday Bratislava folks tucking into their food in a dimly lit underground dining area that looks a bit like the aftermath of a party in a sumptuous aristocratic house about, say, 1880: old slightly crooked standard lamps, lavish but rumpled tapestried seats, cupboards stocked with old wines that look like they’ve been sitting in the same positions since Slovakia was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A carefully orchestrated atmosphere of ailing grandeur, in other words. And, unlike quite a few city restaurants I could mention, people talk here. Conversation fairly ricochets off the beamed ceilings. But the talk is almost 100% locals – families, large groups of friends… it’s a popular ex-pat hangout too (those slightly-drunk older guys speaking about city politics in English loudly at the bar, you know).

Steak on a bed of rice… a Verne staple

Steak on a bed of rice… a Verne staple

The atmosphere is why to come to Verne.

The food is very reasonable price-wise but don’t expect top quality. The steaks are too well-done. The salads are heavy on the grated carrot which reminds one of typical English pub salads (so ask for the feta and tomato salad instead, which Verne does very well).

But there is variety. It’s the ideal place for a breakfast the morning after the night before (good, well-cooked comfort food). The soups are very tasty. The stuffed chicken with mozzerella always goes down a treat. There are a lot of different tasty pasta options (the spinach lasagne is my favourite).  The cooking mixes up the more typical Slovak fare (dumplings, potatoes and sheep’s cheese) with plenty of healthier veggie offerings. The wines? They veer from OK to wince-ably acidic.

But you’re always going to have a good-enough meal here and with prices this cheap and an atmosphere this good, the overall experience is going to be better, and a fair bit more authentic, than anywhere else in this part of Bratislava.

And if you want dinner before heading for a concert at the wonderful Slovak Philharmony or opera at the afore-mentioned Slovak National Theatre, this place is the perfect choice.

MAP LINK: The pinpoint on Google maps goes to Kogo Bar, which doesn’t exist; nevertheless this is the approximate location of Verne

LOCATION: Hviezdoslavovo Námestie 18 – there’s no website (just the Facebook page given above) which means pre-booking is tough. In any case, it’s unnecessary. Verne is a veritable rabbit warren inside with lots of tables, and it’s rare to find it with no free space. So just turn up. This is Bratislava, remember, not London or Paris.

OPENING: 9am-midnight Monday to Friday, 10am-1am Saturday, 10am-midnight Sunday.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Come in for dinner about 9-9:30pm to find this place at its liveliest – or mid-afternoon/early evening in summer you can grab a pew on the outside tables overlooking the pretty Hviezdoslavovo Námestie.

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: Precede a visit to Verne with coffee at Kava.Bar, a 700m walk northwest

Traja Mušketieri

It had been a long time in coming. Circumstances had thwarted us from visiting Traja Mušketieri, Bratislava’s medieval-themed Slovak restaurant, on many an occasion. Now we were to be thwarted no more… although its location, on one of the elegant old back streets behind the Presidential palace, can be hard to find.

As you descend into the vaulted interior to be greeted by courteous waitresses clad in medieval garb you might be forgiven for thinking of the anachronism: the traja mušketieri (aka three musketeers, of course) were 17th century, right, not medieval? OK – so let’s call the theme here “century-old” or “swashbuckling days of yore” perhaps.

As you pull up a pew at one of the heavy-set banquet tables inside, though, you’ll soon start to focus your attention on the food itself. Or let your eyes wander over the swords mounted on the walls, the old tapestries, the very fetching (but definitely medieval-looking) tankards… the cosy old-world charm, in short. And the service – which is anything but medieval. It’s actually one of the things that make the place. These staff are – by Slovakia’s “on a learning curve” standards and by English standards too, which certainly fall in the lower echelons of European table service – profession, polite, friendly and competent. They know the menu, they know which meals to recommend for dietary requirements, they know which wines to recommend for which dishes, they’ll speak English too.

Onto the food. Pretty expensive by the city’s standards but if my bank balance permits I have no problem with paying for the extra quality. I went for a deer in cranberry sauce with chantarelle buns; my dining companion for a thick juicy fillet of steak with those delicious soft-roasted rosemary potatoes Slovakia does so well. The food was really good – those chantarelle buns particularly were divinely fluffy. And for a starter, Traja Mušketieri’s pate is justifiably renowned. What I liked best is that this restaurant is happy to offer Slovak classics with a touch of classy creativity, rather than compromise and have a menu peppered by, say, French dishes which is a trend in many good Bratislava restaurants.

Deer in cranberry sauce with chantarelle buns

Deer in cranberry sauce with chantarelle buns

It was, overall, a really good eating-out experience in Bratislava. What I would say, though, is that I do not understand why you have to pay prices that would not look amiss in a central London restaurant (12-20 Euros for mains) to get good food and courteous service. Because when you start paying much below that in Bratislava (the average main meal cost in the city is probably 5-8 Euros) one of those two essential tests of quality start slipping a little when you’re talking about evening meals. So well done Traja Mušketieri for getting it right, and here’s to hoping more will follow the high standards.

MAP LINK:

LOCATION: Sládkovičova 7 (see the website for map and reservations – although reservations I would say are only necessary on Fridays or Saturdays – the place was only a third full when we were there in mid-evening)

OPENING: 11am-10pm Tuesday to Saturday.

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Mid-evening, around 8-9pm.

LAST UPDATED: April 2017

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: Dined? Time, perhaps, for drinks at Starosloviensky Pivovar, a 600m walk east

Bratislava Castle Restaurant

Slovak cuisine tastebud-tickling time. And this, primarily, for those who have been asking me about classic places to eat really good Slovak food in Bratislava Old Town.

On first examination, the question itself appears bizarre – what other kind of food would restaurants in the Slovak capital be serving up? Well, the current trend in the city centre seems to be leaning towards the international=cool approach. But traditional Slovak cuisine? More the domain of the old folks and the tourists (the old folks aren’t so bothered about gourmet, the attitude goes, and the tourists, ha, they can easily be conned into what constitutes good Slovak food), with the result that, outside of a few dingy krčmy (pubs) and a clutch of high-in-price, far-lower-in-quality joints around Hlavné námestie (the main square), really good typical Slovak restaurants are fairly elusive.

RELATED POST: Bratislava Christmas Market – A Great Op for Trying Traditional Slovak Food

©englishmaninslovakia.com

©www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk

So, dearth of top-end Slovak cuisine-oriented restaurants revealed, it was both shocking and heartening to discover that one of the very best in Bratislava is actually situated right next to Bratislava Castle. Shocking because who expects a really good showcase for national cuisine right by one of the most touristy spots in the whole country? Heartening because – well – we know that however much we celebrate off-the-beaten-track places on this site, it’s those big attractions where foreign visitors often gravitate and if they do, we would much rather they had the option of seeking refreshment in a decent restaurant (we know it’s easy to resort to the fast food stand or conveniently-close-to-where-hunger-strikes-but-bland eatery, but don’t). And one that can stand in, with some panache, as a showcase for Slovakia’s culinary offerings.

You will come across Hradná Hviezda in the stately cream-yellow courtyard buildings immediately on the west side of the castle (the side furthest away from the city centre, in other words). With a name translating as the Castle Star, it’s the sister restaurant of Modra Hviezda (Blue Star) a little further down in the Jewish Quarter near the Clock Museum – but it is the more dazzling of the two sisters. The setting exudes refinement, although inside, whilst the interior is pleasant enough with its walnut wood furniture and chandeliers, this is hardly what impresses. Nor is it the service (although, poised somewhere between the luke-warm and the congenial, the service is more than adequate). No, Hradná Hviezda will only have you planning your next visit back when you taste what it can do (cook well).

Deer and plums go so well together… ©englishmaninslovakia.com

Deer and plums go so well together… ©englishmaninslovakia.com

There are seven or eight choices of typical Slovak main courses, and each whets the curiosity (and the palate). The meat, always soft, flavoursome and embellished by rosemary and thyme, is hardest to resist. There is the mangalica (the wild boar that roams in the forests above Bratislava) with a pumpkin sauce and chestnuts – chestnuts being a typical accompaniment to Slovakia’s game-centric meat dishes. There is a rabbit served with paprika sauce and dumplings – rabbit is a common meat for country folks who regularly go out bagging them but in Bratislava it is far rarer, and enhanced here by a combo of traditional Hungarian and Slovak sides, the paprika that sets Hungarian food a-blaze and the dumplings which prop up typical Slovak food. Jeleň (venison) is also offered – with the sauce concocted from Slovakia’s signature fruit, the plum, and a rich, creamy potato puree. But Hradná Hviezda also does a mean strapačky (dumplings with sauerkraut) and one that’s enticingly presented in contrast to the sometimes colourless versions of the dish served up elsewhere.

Presentation (generous portions, yet thoughtfully arranged on the plates) is key with Hradná Hviezda’s food. The chefs clearly know exactly what they are doing. A meal here, consequently, is not cheap (mains are between 13 and 22 Euros, which puts it in a similar price bracket to one of our other favourite city centre Slovak restaurants, Traja Muškietieri).

It would have been nice to wash down the delicious food with a choice of better Slovak beers (only offering Zlaty Bažant and Krušovice, two of the dullest beers in the country, is a definite shortcoming). It’s definitely recommended, therefore, to sample their wine list which in contrast goes overboard to offer a wide variety of Slovak wines. White wines in Slovakia, especially those from the Small Carpathians (Male Karpaty) Wine region, can rival the world’s best, and the dry white from Rulandske, in the Limbach/Pezinok region, is a true delight here.

Perhaps a glass of the latter would have been better paired with their trout… But we have only ever had eyes for Hradná Hviezda’s game. You’ll spend a lot longer than the walk up here takes if you were to keep to the lower reaches of the city centre scouting around to find game that compares to that available in the serendipitously twinkling Castle Star…

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GETTING THERE: Directions are the same as for the castle, and this is an easy stroll up from the very centre, but for those with walking difficulties there is trolleybus 203, catch-able from Hodžovo námestie (and get out at the stop conveniently called “Hrad”).

OPENING: 10am-10pm. Sometimes it can be a good idea to book –  as the restaurant caters to tour groups (locals too, but also tour groups).

BEST TIME TO VISIT: Oh, a dark wintry lunchtime when huddling by their cozy fireplace seems pretty much the best thing to do. Hradná Hviezda’s best dishes are the heavy, hearty, wintery kind. And a visit in out of the cold means the perfect excuse to sample one of their oh-so-typically Slovak fruit brandies… mahrulovica (with apricots), borovička (with pears). The list goes on.

LAST UPDATED: April 2017

NEXT ON THE JOURNEY: From Hradná Hviezda it’s 2km north to another restaurant on a great viewpoint, Kamzík