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Repovž Restaurant: An upgraded village inn that has preserved the spirit of the past

 

The narrow zigzagging road to Šentjanž, a village of 400 souls in the south-east of Slovenia, leads through forests, past pastures, up and down the hills of Dolenjska, continuing on past chapels, stables and barns, a setting from another time. A quieter time.

When you spot the church bell tower, you are practically there. At the Repovž Restaurant. Nestled between the church and the fire station, with the village on one side and an idyllic view of cultivated fields, forests and orchards on the other.

Grega Repovž, the son of chef Meta Repovž, one of the most renowned sommeliers in Slovenia and, as he himself says, a jack of all trades in the restaurant, pours homemade cider into our glasses, which slides smoothly down our throats. The cider is called “Bunka” and is made by Grega’s younger brother Anže from the apples grown in the Repovž orchard.

Grega Repovž
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

The Repovž family has always been famous for its restaurant, a kind of institution in Dolenjska, whose documents date back to the year 1870.  Since then (or even before) this building has served as an inn for the people in the village, workers and travellers.  The only time it temporarily changed its purpose was during the turbulent times of the Second World War, when most of the village was burnt down by the Germans. The Repovž family house was one of the few that survived and was therefore temporarily used as a school.

In the completely renovated and spruced up premises of the Repovž Restaurant the spirit of the past is still very much alive today. In November 2021 the restaurant opened its doors with a new look which has, however, preserved the charm of the old times and traditions. The white-green-blue range of colours, the tables covered by linen tablecloths, wooden chairs and the subtle blue wood panelling on the walls decorated by patterned panel corners brought from the old house create a warm atmosphere in the restaurant.

the interior of the restaurant
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

The 100-year-old cupboard is now painted in hunter green, in the corner there stands grandma’s small bread table, while the ceiling is decorated with old baskets and flour sieves from Ribnica collected around the house, in the attic and cellar.

Once you find yourself here on a winter’s day, you will almost wish you never had to leave because of the warmth emanating from the black cast-iron masonry stove dating back to 1860, into which Grega is just now placing a flatbread (pogača) with vegetables, eggs, cottage cheese and sour turnip.  Luckily, at the Repovž family restaurant you can actually extend lunch into dinner and dinner into breakfast without a guilty conscience, because they have rooms on the first floor and after a couple of homemade anise brandies the rooms definitely prove useful.

masonry stove
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

The restaurant has been passed down over several generations on the father’s side, which is also evident from the old family photographs hanging on the walls. In recent generations, however, the restaurant came into the domain of women – Grega’s grandmother was the innkeeper, while his grandfather took care of the farm. When Grega’s mother Meta, a Ljubljana native, married into the family, the restaurant took a slightly more ambitious path.

From a village inn it turned into one of the most distinguished (neo)restaurants in Slovenia, where traditional dishes and local and regional top-quality ingredients are combined with modern techniques and approaches. Today, Meta’s right-hand woman is her sister-in-law Sabina, a pastry specialist, while Meta’s husband Jože takes care of the farm.

The said farm is as impressive as the restaurant and uses the same sustainable approach. It covers an area of 40 hectares, 3.5 hectares of which are apple orchards, where mainly topaz apples, but also some other older apple varieties are grown. Apples are practically the trademark of the Repovž family – they are used for the production of cider, a recent product, excellent apple cider vinegar, apple juice and apple brandy, a kind of Slovenian calvados, as well as for making dried apple slices, while Sabina creates apple desserts.

The Repovž family was among the first to focus on organic production and their products qualified for organic certification already 20 years ago. Practically all the vegetables they serve are their own; so are all the grains they use to make organic flour and meal, spelt and several potato varieties; they also grow plenty of fruit and herbs in the thriving herb garden in front of the house, which in season also serves as a romantic setting for breakfast.

Meta Repovž in the garden
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

Before the renovation, the central part of the restaurant was the bar, where the locals met for a glass of Cviček for 1 euro, while guests from Ljubljana, Maribor and Zagreb would sit at the set tables. The Repovž family has always been aware that as a restaurant with tradition it must not drive away the locals and scare them off with a sophisticated “fine dining” approach and tasting menus.

But by upgrading the restaurant it has inevitably moved into a different range, a range that places it among restaurants recommended by Michelin (the Bib Gourmand symbol), one that ranks it among the highest rated Slovenian restaurants according to Gault & Millau, and one that has taken it into the Jeunes Restaurateurs d’Europe (JRE) club.

Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

How does it balance fine cuisine without losing the local crowd, its homeliness and, well, soul? Quite smoothly, actually. As Grega tells us, the entire family is involved in the local community and events, be it firehouse festivals or church feast days, and so is the staff, as they all come from within three kilometres.

They also cook lunches for the firefighters, and there will always be a table by the door ready for the village priest, who still likes to pop in for a drink. Even those villagers who used to sit at the counter have now curiously crossed the threshold to the dining room and, on special occasions, indulge in tasting menus.

The Repovž family builds part of the tasting menu on raw ingredients that grow in the garden, ingredients that are available to them, or that they sometimes obtain and are of exceptional quality, such as the truly remarkable lamb from the neighbouring hill the other day. It also featured in a lamb ragout as a warm starter and in the main course, prepared three different ways, including in a wood-fired oven.

dishes
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

The other part of the menu is based on old traditional dishes. Thus, alongside the more modern dishes, local staples are always served, such as green beans with cracklings, soup with rolled dumplings, stew, various flat cakes, meat salad (used as a stuffing for fried doughnuts the other day), sauerkraut and potato salad (with pickled pine shoots!).

For years, the Repovž Restaurant has been offering a mouth-watering assortment of cold appetizers, and Grega’s sister Urška always takes time to fill every last corner of the table with them – plate after plate, cup after cup, a charming array of dishes that are a unique mix of family heirlooms, those brought by guests from their old kitchens, and more modern ones from local potters and artisans.

cold appetizers
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

“With this selection, we try to introduce our guests to the regions of Posavje and Dolenjska and, last but not least, to our farm,” says Grega as he sets a plate of cured meats in front of us. The salami, which is served with homemade mustard, is from Sevnica, a witty tribute to the famous Salamijada, a salami competition with a 60-year tradition held in Sevnica. The bresaola is from the Society of Cured Meat Lovers, the venison salami from Biosing, and a lot of the restaurant’s meat and dried meats are sourced from the Agricultural Cooperative, which is considered to be truly first-class, as it buys from all the small farmers in the surrounding area.

Beef from Sevnica is therefore a must, and the Repovž family uses it to make a minimalist tartar, where the quality of the meat shines through, and carpaccio, which is served with fermented radishes. The trout is poached in wine, vinegar and honey, and the rabbit liver pâté is served with a selection of pickled aubergines, shallots, red onions and wild garlic buds.

steak tartare and other meat dishes
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

Special attention is also devoted to cheese and dairy products, and the family has built up a network of local suppliers. Cow cheeses are mostly provided by the organic farm Kukenberger from Trebnje, sheep cheeses by the Urban farm from Krmelj, where around 50 sheep graze on eight hectares of land, and the “funkier” sheep cheeses by the Zagode farm.

While the Urban farm specialises in semi-hard cheese aged from a few months to two years, it also supplies Repovž with yoghurts and ricotta, which completes the range of cold starters.

Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

When it comes to the finest wines, the Repovž Restaurant’s well-stocked 350-label cellar offers practically everything one could wish for, from more classic Champagnes to the pioneers of the sustainable production of amber, skin-contact wines from abroad. But Grega’s focus is on local wines, about 80 of them, because he firmly believes that Posavje is one of those hidden gems amongst the Slovenian wine-growing regions that is worth highlighting.

The restaurant most frequently collaborates with Domaine Slapšak, which is dedicated to the production of sparkling wines, which has helped it rise to the top in recent years. During the period when the Repovž family was renovating its restaurant, it temporarily joined forces with Domaine Slapšak at its estate, and the pop-up duo was sold out practically every day.

While Domaine Slapšak is building a slightly more international story with its bubbly, which is perhaps the closest approximation to champagne in Slovenia, a visit to the Frelih family is closer to the traditions of the Dolenjska region, be it because of the fairy-tale cottage where they welcome guests in the summer or their first Decanter-awarded cviček wine.

Grega opens Frelih wine
Photo: Suzan Gabrijan

After the untimely death of Peter Frelih, the winery, with more than a century-old tradition, is now run by a mother-daughter team (Veronika and Veronika junior), with the enterprising young woman aiming to take the family winery into biodynamic waters, having acquired her knowledge in France and completed her Master’s degree in Bordeaux.

Blame it on a woman’s touch, a fresh breeze, or experience gained abroad, but under the new management the Frelih wine cellar has become one of the most exciting wineries in the Posavje region today. With the stories created by local providers, Posavje is absolutely a destination that deserves our attention.

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