My weekend in Ljubljana had brought me already one culinary highlight, so I was ready for the next one. Atelje had looked very interesting online, so I booked myself a table. Nothing is better than a set menu in a Michelin star restaurant.
Unfortunately Atelje has closed its doors permanently. Jorg Zupan and his team opened a new place called Aftr at the same place. The concept is completely different, away from the set meal and on to traditional, Mediterranean-influenced cuisine. Since the same team is in place, I have decided to include this review. The food was interesting, with some outstanding dishes. You can still check out the talented kitchen at the new restaurant.
I started my meal with a nice little G&T, Plymouth gin and Fever-Tree tonic. You can’t go wrong with this. The restaurant had a large bar area with different tables dotted around. The main feature was lots of dark wood, but the restaurant was perfectly lit. There was no need to read the menu though, since it’s either a seven or a nine course meal. I was not sure what would come my way, but since it’s a Michelin star restaurant, I was confident to like it.
It all began with five different kinds of amuse bouche, quite a lot you might think, when there were still seven courses to go. It was a bit much to be honest, and I could have done with half of them.
All of the amuse bouche were just bite-sized and therefore easy to eat. Unfortunately the bread roll with beef tatare and fennel had too much bread for my taste. Personally I like it better open-faced. But the tartare was nicely seasoned. The cigarette roll with trout was delicious. So crispy and just perfectly seasoned trout tartare inside.
The tortilla chip with Parmesan cream and grated Parmesan on top was a bit too rich. I felt something tickling at the back of my throat. Not sure what that was. The tartelette with the carp and the Bavarian cream, caviar and some roasted parsnip was delicious. The tramezzini with tapenade, hummus, pine nuts and sumac was also good. The tramezzini though was more like a cracker, and not soft at all.
Overall all five amuse bouche were promising and I couldn’t wait what else was to come out of this kitchen. Before the meal started I received a ‘green juice’ of cooked root vegetables with apple juice and olive oil. It had a very distinct taste of celeriac and apple, and a strong bitter note in the after taste. Definitely a palate cleanser to start the meal.
The first course was a stuffed green pepper with a scallop tartare inside and with just a hint of a spice in the end. It came with a red pimiento sauce (at least I think that’s where the spice came from, because overall there was more than a hint), which was hidden underneath an oat cake. On that I had to put the celery foam, which was served on the side. All together it was pleasant, maybe a bit chichi. So far quite a lot of tartar though.
Next up was a young braised carrot, coated in a sesame seed mix, with tomatillo and radish on top. The sauce was also milky looking, this time in yellow, and included a special spice mixture of 14 different ones. I believed to taste the turmeric, but was told it was not in it. The dish was served cool, which was quite nice at that time of the year. It had a very distinct Indian flavor, so whatever was in the spice mix, it worked.
At the time bread and butter arrived in form of focaccia. It was made with potatoes, rosemary, roasted garlic, and the butter had yeast extract inside. I didn’t like the focaccia, it was too chewy and cloying, and the butter was too cloud like. Never thought that I would use these two words in the same sentence when talking about butter. But there you have it. It had also way too much yeast extract inside. But it did look beautiful.
Next up was a slice of ox tomato, compressed in its own juice, then grilled for a bit. I cannot say that I detected any hint of smokiness, but the tomato was warm. There were buttered bread crumbs with wild garlic and pumpkin seeds on top, as well as green leaves. Maybe some was nasturtium, but I wasn’t sure. Served in shiitake dashi, the tomato was an excellent composition. So very simple, but so tasty!
A zucchini flower, stuffed with bulgur and veggie, dipped in vodka tempura came out of the kitchen up next. It lay on a bed of pine nuts and goat cheese cream, surrounded by a wreath made from zucchini leaves. I found the tempura too greasy, especially in combination with the cream. It was all rather heavy and so unlike the fresh tomato I just had before.
The main dish arrived in two parts. Part one was a beignet, filled with pulled lamb and mint, with a dollop of fig cream on top. The smell was intoxicating, when I took the top off in one bite. The filling was good, but never lived up to the smell. Which was quite disappointing, since the smell was mouthwatering. I also found the beignet a tad too sweet for the lamb, and the meat not seasoned enough to stand up to the dough. Still, this was the most fascinating dish.
Finally the moment came that a piece of meat actually materialized on my plate. The rest of the lamb came with eggplant cream, hidden underneath a slice of eggplant and a caramelized fig. It was nice enough, but it had non of the exotic innovation as the other half of the main dish.
My pre-dessert was an orange. Or rather caramelized orange shards (the waiter called it orange granita but it was not frozen but rather crunchy), topped with frozen yogurt and milk cream. The milk cream was too cloying, and overly sweet. Despite that the frozen yogurt needed something sweet, it was still too sugary. But the orange came through nicely. As a pre-dessert and therefore a palate cleanser, the orange dish was too sweet.
The real dessert was apricot röster with nougat ice cream, almond cream, and some caramelized rosemary needles. The dish looked rather mysterious at first, with its high shards hiding what was underneath in the bowl. The meringue shards got their color from apricot juice. It was actually really tasty, especially the rosemary. Such a surprising element in a dessert and it added a lot of taste.
Even though I didn’t order coffee, an array of petit four came as greetings from the kitchen. This was one long goodbye. A marshmallow made from strawberry cream was caramelized at the table. Unfortunately it was super sweet, but interesting to look at. The one half of a mini tartelette with caramel cream and three little dots of cherry jam was absolutely delicious! Another petit four was a fudge with mushroom powder. It was quite delicate in taste, and I really liked the powder which I would have never recognized as mushroom. It smelled a bit of ripe cheese.Very interesting, but also tasty.
A gummi bear made from pear schnaps, which was sharp and sweet in taste. Wow, something new! The typical Slovenian dessert was by far the largest and I liked it the least. Again it was something fried with an unidentifiable cream inside. Interestingly enough, it did hold up its shape when I was taking a bite.
The service was very friendly and unobtrusive. The restaurant had an interesting choice of music, playing James Brown and other 70s stuff. I found the atmosphere relaxed and enjoyable. There was no weird face when I stuck to gin tonic for the whole evening. Overall, I have to say I am said to learn that Atelje closed its doors. There were some really interesting dishes and the kitchen definitely deserved its Michelin star. So I am glad to say that next time I am in Ljubljana I can find Aftr at the same adress. Yours, Pollybert
1000 Ljubljana, Nazorjeva ulica 2