mmm stories: Štorija
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mmm stories: Taverna Tatjana

This lovely Ljubljana hides for us a nest of pearls. It lines them along the streets, filled with the hustle and bustle of inquisitive tourists, here and there saving some hidden ones to be discovered again and again by the locals and those willing to appreciate their splendour.

In the oldest part of the city, where the Gornji trg square narrows on its way towards the tunnel, the colourful facades of the old townhouses, which tell stories of times gone by, invite visitors to explore their stories. Even Ivan Cankar spent a few years here together with his brother Karl, and they say that apart from the name of the street, which was once called Florjanska, and the pile of modern cars characterising its otherwise idyllic appearance, not much has changed. Well, other than that among the cars, a small terrace with a fence full of blooming water lilies stubbornly maintains its place in front of the blue house at number 38. The Taverna Tatjana restaurant is an authentic Ljubljana gem.

"A fish must have a tail and head, that's what matters."

The interior of Taverna Tatjana reflects homeliness and warmth. Passing the bar where, for almost 25 years, a diverse cast of visitors has been stopping on their way home for a glass of house wine, or a sip of herbal tea, myrtle liqueur, or Prosecco, the steps lead past portraits of friends and dignitaries, and shelves filled with slightly dusty souvenirs and trinkets, all the way to the charming garden, inviting visitors to its pleasant shade on warm summer afternoons.

Tatjana Železnik, the owner of this blue townhouse and garden, and the now-famous Taverna Tatjana restaurant, truly devotes herself to each and every guest. Some of them might occasionally be surprised by her directness, when she casually expedites an order, loudly comments on the intentions of her employees, and sets off past a chair stacked with patterned tablecloths to check on the situation in the kitchen. She offers fish because she likes it herself, she says. In a location like that, which doesn't seat many guests and almost completely shuts down in the winter months, she cannot afford to serve completely normal meals, she adds, although she does like to occasionally serve her regulars some sarma or stuffed bell peppers.

The tavern's menu otherwise consists of delicious, mostly fish dishes, prepared in a classic way. In addition to regular items such as cod, octopus salad, fish soup, and black risotto, guests are served the fish available that day. Two decades ago, when she reservedly entered the business, she personally drove down to Split twice a week to pick up a fresh catch, but today she relies on a handful of trusted suppliers from Hvar, Kvarner, and the Trieste fish market. Her menu includes everything - grouper, hake, John Dory, sea bream, sea bass, sardines and anchovies, Adriatic squid... And when something particularly good happens to be caught, she calls any regulars who might be interested and invites them over for an excellent meal. She is also known to serve multi-kilogram turbot, lobster, or spiny lobster - anything can be arranged if there's an interest. She also complements her range of fish dishes with some selected meats, from Krško Polje pig lard to homemade salami, slices of roast beef and excellent dry-aged heifer backstraps, prepared for her by Marko Butalič of Meat Business. Vegetables? Oh yes, I get them from the Ljubljana market. I wouldn't want to buy them anywhere else.

"We have good food, that's right."

Tatjana's love for good food is said to be rivalled only by her love for her hometown, where she has been actively involved in for years by working with and for neighbourhood communities and elections, even spending some time on the city council. On the wall of her tavern hang portraits of Ivan Hribar and Zoran Janković, the two mayors who, in her opinion, have done the most good for Ljubljana. Janković's portrait with a dragon hangs above a table the locals call Zoran's corner. However, Tatjana is always quick to point out that the corner is actually hers. The current mayor – who, in addition to being friends with Tatjana, shares her year of birth – stops by when he wants a bit of peace with a slice of good bread and a cuvée of selected meats.

When Tatjana takes the free Kavalir electric taxi for a drive across the city – for example to the Odprta kuhna gourmet food market on Fridays, where her stand has been a regular since the market's first season in 2013 – she observes the ever-changing city, the newly opened bars, and their tricks to attract guests. She doesn't believe in them herself, though. She doesn't use social media and, what's more, she waves her hand angrily at the first mention of Tripadvisor and similar promotional channels.

And she can definitely boast based on the level of trust she enjoys from her employees, who have been part of the tavern's story for more than a decade; based on the long list of eminent guests from all over the world; based on the long-lasting, sincere relations with her regulars; and, of course, based on a quality selection of dishes that remains unmatched far and wide.




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MMM stories is a series of online articles introducing unique local shops, small producers, farmers, and restaurants from Ljubljana and the surroundings.

Photos: Suzan Gabrijan

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