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