Staying in Friuli, we realized we weren’t that far away from restaurant Hiša Franko. A leisurely drive into Slovenia for lunch was an easy decision to make and we were treated to one of the meals of the year.
This is a restaurant that brims with energy. The staff are enthusiastic, well drilled and friendly without ever being in your face. The food is inventive yet balanced and every dish tasted good. Portions are of a sensible size and we left after an eight-course degustation feeling satisfied but were still light on our feet. Well, I was as light as a 100kg bloke can be.
The wine list has a few token selections from outside of Slovenia but we decided to embrace the large list of local offerings and kicked off with a bottle of 2015 Edi Simcic Beli Pinot Blanc. It had some bruised apple oxidation and plenty of honey. As it breathes the wine’s minerality becomes more apparent and fruits are rich and heady. It is textural and crammed with pear fruit flavour. Length is good and it worked well with the starting snacks and a couple of the early courses.
Snacks were off the charts. Cheese lollipops ignited the taste buds. Franko’s bread made with fermented apple peels and a liberal slathering of smoked anchovy butter made for an outstanding pairing. Cucumber with peach curry and rabbit liver was decadently rich, balancing sweet and savoury flavours to perfection. Lingon leaf, fermented beet, cottage cheese and forest honey kind of tasted like the weirdest and most wonderful peanut butter and honey sandwich.
The menu proper commenced with a simple and fresh sardine, with candied lemon and shot glass of warm fennel bisque. The combination of salty fishiness and earthiness worked a treat. The next dish we had is quite possibly my dish of the year. Plum with sweetbreads, smoked mascarpone, sage and ginger had real piquancy, fresh complimentary flavours and incredible length of flavour. Patrick said that his dish of salmon and sorrel at Troisgros is his dish of 2017. He likes the classics. Next up sheep cottage cheese ravioli, bone marrow, lovage, prosciutto broth and hazelnuts was a triumph of textures and flavours.
Everything was rocking along nicely and then we were struck by a short blackout. It must happen a lot here as all of the staff proceeded with service as if nothing had happened. Perhaps they knew we were from South Australia and that this is the norm in our neck of the woods too?
Around this stage of the meal we had struck up a good rapport with the excellent young Somm and he wanted to show us a few things by the glass. When he presented his first selection and let on that it was Sauvignon Blanc, my face took on the look of Stephen Rea’s character in the crying game when he removed his date’s pants to reveal meat and two veg. I was a little disappointed but the wine was good. It was a 2012 Vipavska Dolina Sutor Sauvignon Blanc that had spent some time in wood. It was plump and round with gooseberry, passionfruit and rockmelon fruits. Acidity was relatively soft. It worked well with beef tongue that was in a dashi broth made from local fish and seaweed. The Somm must have thought that I was right into my Savvy Blancs as he quickly followed up with a glass of 2009 Stemberger Sauvignon. It had a discreet nose of iodine, grass and flint. It is very fresh, linear and direct with a sharp line of minerally acidity and good intensity.
Things nearly turned serious around about now. I thought our delightful waiter called me a f*ckwit. What was I to do? I soon realized he had a strange way of saying buckwheat which was part of the trout, black currant and whey dish. Nothing was lost in translation in the description of tripe, duck jus, cave cheese, fried nettles and chanterelles. It was so rich, intense and sticky yet not heavy in any way. The accompanying glass of 2011 Batič Cabernet Franc matched up well. It has perfectly ripe berry, cherry fruits on the nose and in the mouth. There’s a suggestion of cedar and the perfume of purple flowers. It is elegant, mid-weight and perfectly balanced, with a flex of sinewy tannin on the back-end. It also went well with the last protein course of the day. The course was described as mountain rabbit on vacation in Mexico. It was a kind of a rabbit mole with fried kale and nuts. Again, balance here was supreme and flavours were underpinned but not dominated by the rich, bitter chocolate of the mole.
I’m kind of over pre-desserts, multiple desserts then post desserts. Give me one great dessert to finish with and this is what the folk at Hiša Franko did. Blood orange, black tea, granola, carrot ice cream and salty almond mousse was just the ticket. Outstanding coffee and petit fours rounded off a memorable meal. This is a seriously good restaurant in a beautiful part of the world.