Join me for a delicious food and wine pairing at Slovenska Hiša – Figovec restaurant where we’ll discover the flavours of one of Slovenia’s most famous enogastronomic regions: the Vipava Valley.
Ljubljana is not a hectic city. You probably won’t be so inclined to say “Oh, how I’d love to get away from the hustle and bustle”, as you would if you had to spend time in some other capital.
This Slovenian city is green and spacious. I never tire of walking its tranquil streets. But, I can still appreciate the calm oasis of a quiet garden, tucked away somewhere. And Slovenska Hiša – Figovec’s secret garden is one of them.
Secret Garden: A Food & Wine Pairing
I feel serene on entering the restaurant’s back garden where a five-course food and wine pairing dinner is about to unfold. Fairy lights add to the already romantic ambience of this intimate culinary setting. Restaurant guests whisper softly among each other as they wait for their first serving.
Wine Loves Great Company
As I sit down at my dinner table, Tina Mentol, ethnologist and cultural anthropologist, and part of the Figovec team, comes to greet me. She explains that this series of events, which they’ve named ‘Vino se rado druži’ (translated as ‘Wine loves great company’), is out to promote all wine regions in Slovenia—Podravje, Posavje, and Primorska.
“To stick to Figovec’s ideology of presenting dishes from all over the country, the event series also features typical cuisines from various Slovene regions,” she adds.
This is the second episode of ‘Vino se rado druži’. The first featured wines and cuisine from the Goriška Brda region, with a spotlight on the two wineries: Ščurek and Marjan Simčič. Today, we’ll drink wines produced by two wineries from the Vipava region: Ferjančič and Vipava 1894. And, we’ll eat Slovenska Hiša – Figovec food that tastes of Vipava. Hmm…
The Vipava Valley is one of Slovenia’s most famous wine-growing regions. And, it’s also home to simple, hearty, and seasonal dishes. You’ll find cheeses and high-quality cured ham (‘pršut’) made from the best pork produced in Slovenia.
Then there are warm dishes, namely celery soup (‘šelinka’); hotpot (‘skuha’) comprising lentils or beans, sausages and ham with spices, soured with wine; and bean hotpot (‘fižolova mineštra’). The last dish is a thick soup consisting of cooked, mashed, and whole beans, served with corn polenta. It is just one variant of countless minestrones that you’ll eat in Slovenia, but it’s the most generally available.
The Vipava Valley is also known for its ‘jota’ or stew, a local version of the originally Carnian dish. (Carnia is a historical region on the Austria-Veneto border.) The Vipava variant of jota is a sauerkraut stew with beans, potato, flour, garlic and pepper. Some locals use sour turnip, fresh cabbage, or kale or beetroot leaves instead of sauerkraut.
Finally, there’s the curd cheese dumplings or ‘štruklji’ made from leavened dough, as against the unleavened versions you’ll find outside Vipava. They’re cooked in boiling water, held together by a dishcloth, and contain a filling of curd cheese (the predominant ingredient), walnuts, raisins, and sugar.
I’ve had Vipava štruklji before, and must say they’re my favourite variant because of their soft dough. They’re best served with a juicy sauce so that the fluffy dough can easily absorb it. Vipavski štrukljii are on today’s menu, and I can’t wait to try Figovec’s version, plus the other four dishes they’re preparing this evening.
But first, what is Figovec? Is it some kind of fig?
Figovec? What’s in the name?
Tina is at the ready with an unexpected reply to my question. “There are three explanations for how Figovec got its name,” she answers. The first is rather peculiar, actually. The eatery started out back in 1770 as an inn that served as a popular haven for weary travelling traders. These tradespeople arrived on horseback. What do you get when you have many horses around? Numerous poop piles. So the ‘fig’ could be a reference to the not-so-pleasant brownish mounds lying around in front of the inn.
The second, more romanticised account states that there was a large fig tree outside the inn, hence the name Figovec.
And the final story? Figovec was an extremely popular joint among traders, travellers, students, artists, writers, and poets. In fact, Slovenia’s most famous and symbolic poet, France Prešeren, was also an avid frequenter of the inn. He was a good friend of Andrej Smole, whose parents owned the tavern.
Prešeren was also well-known for having had a good stock of figs wherever he went, which he distributed to the children around him. Birds of a feather flock together, right? Andrej’s father, the innkeeper, admired Prešeren for this, so he adopted the same habit, along with his nickname ‘Figovec’, or ‘Figovc’ in dialect (pronounced ‘figowts’. Note: the ‘v’ is pronounced ‘w’ in Slovenian).
Slovenska Hiša – Figovec as we know it now opened in December 2017 after having gone through two non-Slovene cuisine phases: one being an Indian curry, and the other a Spanish tapas. Its new owners put the restaurant back on track, and refurbished it with a modern twist. Just like it did back in the good old days (before the curry took over), Figovec now opens its doors to all sorts of clientele, be they students, travellers, or more demanding foodies. It’s a down-to-earth establishment with something for everyone.
More ‘Slovene’ than its sister restaurant Slovenska Hiša (on the Cankar Embankment of the Ljubljanica river), Figovec serves up authentic, local dishes that can please both meat-lovers and vegetarians. It’s also equipped with an impressive range of Slovene wines from all over the country.
Divine Food and Wine
We’re all hungry and eager for our food by now. Worry not, the appetiser’s out: Mint-iced-tea infused butter served alongside warm, crusty bread. This does its work as the mint freshens up the palate for what’s to come, and pairs perfectly well with Vipava 1894’s Penina Zelen. ‘Penina’ means ‘sparkling wine’, and Zelen is a grape variety indigenous to the Vipava Valley.
A noticeable characteristic of Zelen wine is its greenish colour (‘zelen’ is the Slovene word for ‘green’). It smells herbal and slightly floral, with green apple in the mouth—a good combination for the minty butter. Its light bubbles make it all the more refreshing.
(Photos by Črt Piksi)
As a cold starter, we get Karst prosciutto from Ostirjeva Kmetija (‘kmetija’ meaning ‘farm’), and sheep cheese from Škander Eco Farm, situated in the mountain town of Bovec. The accompanying wine is Ferjančič’s Pinela. With a distinct floral scent reminiscent of citrus fruits and dried flowers, its a fresh wine—typically Pinela. Tastewise, this particular Pinela is full and rich.
Italy’s Influence: Istrian Fuži
Here comes a warm starter of Istrian fuži (a type of pasta) cooked as they should be: ‘al dente’. Fuži are typically Istrian, and are a testament to Italy’s mark on western Slovene cuisine.
Istrian fuži are usually served with ‘tartufata’ (truffle sauce) and truffle shavings. However, Figovec is serving it with wild garlic (čemaž) and walnut pesto. Wild garlic lends itself perfectly well to a pesto sauce, and the walnuts are a fitting replacement for the usual pine nuts. They give the pesto an extra nutty texture.
Prestigious Lanthieri Wines
The wine accompaniment for the fuži dish is Vipava 1894’s Zelen. It emits a herbal scent that recalls chamomile and sage, making it a suitable match for the wild garlic pesto fuži. Andrej Furlan from Vipava winery tells us that their Zelen forms part of the prestigious line that they’ve named ‘Lanthieri’.
All wines belonging to this line contain a glass stopper instead of the traditional cork. “We use glass instead of cork because we bottle the wine when it’s at its best, and we wouldn’t want to change its quality,” explains Andrej. That makes sense. Oxygen exchange is much slower when glass stoppers are used, so the wine is better preserved.
‘Ciba al cartoccio’
Our first main dish consists of chicken, or ‘ciba’ as they say in Vipava. It’s been cooked ‘al cartoccio’ in a baking paper pouch together with cherry tomatoes and olives. The chicken is very tender and tasty as it has absorbed the tomato and olive juices during the cooking process.
We drink a rosé by Ferjančič, which at first smells of coffee and tastes of caramel. But winemaker Peter Ferjančič points out that the wine has notes of forest fruits. Hmm… 🤔 Where did that coffee and caramel come from? Must be the effect of the chicken or too much wine already!
Curvy, Thin Lady
There’s more to this rosé by Ferjančič. To my and everyone else’s amusement, Peter adds “This wine has a strong, dark colour, making it look more sexy. We can’t make a rosé using just Merlot, it would be like putting curves on a thin lady”.
Wine note: This rosé is a blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Barbera. Ferjančič uses Barbera in his rosé blend as it’s light in taste, but also has a very dark colour. That’s not an issue however, as the dark hue adds to the wine’s charm.
Tartare & Merlot
A second main dish comes in the form of beef tartare with a condiment of chilli pepper and mustard, and a Merlot reduction. What better wine is there to have with this than Ferjančič’s Merlot?!
Aged in oak barrels, this Merlot is an intense garnet red with ruby hues. The aroma is reminiscent of forest fruits and prunes, which turns into vanilla and roasted coffee aromas. Its soft and rounded tannins give the wine a full and elegant taste.
Finally! The Štruklji…
Time for dessert! My sweet moment has arrived. I observe a nicely decorated plate of Štruklji (these are the curd cheese dumplings I detailed above) sitting sweetly on the table before me. They’re nicely browned and partly crispy. Already off to an excellent start.
To my further enjoyment, they’re super juicy as they come with this delicious peach sauce, and an icing sugar dusting. I can safely say that this a blissful ending to a great culinary evening.
Hey Figovec, thanks for the treats. I’ll be back for more! 🙂 Perhaps next time, you’ll also have some figs. 😂
Figovec is holding another event in this series on September 11.
Where is Figovec?
Slovenska Hiša – Figovec is situated on the corner of Gosposvetska cesta and Slovenska cesta.
Address: Gosposvetska cesta 1, 1000 Ljubljana