Hiša Franko

Certainly, anyone reading this article won’t need an introduction to Ana Roš and her Hiša Franko after the fame achieved by the episode on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, the title of World’s Best Female Chef, and, more recently, the pinnacle of three Michelin stars.To speak of Hiša Franko and its celebration of 50 years is to tell a story that could have gone wrong, a saga without princesses or evil witches, but full of characters who embody perseverance and dedication, allowing them to assert in the end: “this restaurant triumphed against all odds.”

Firstly, its age; it’s rare to find restaurants with half a century of existence that remain so relevant and influential in international gastronomy. Secondly, the restaurant is led by a self-taught woman with no culinary experience before taking over the kitchen. Finally, the restaurant’s location is almost inhospitable. It is situated in the heart of the Soča River Valley, far from any urban areas or other establishments but close to the essence of Hiša Franko.

However, Ana managed, with firmness and determination, to imbue the place with a sense of change, a unique vision of hospitality, a peculiar approach to cuisine, combinations of flavors and aromas (far from delicacies or subtleties), and above all, a certain rebelliousness that allowed a woman to stand out in a male-dominated world and assert herself in a country where gastronomy was not, and still is not a distinctive trait.

In this context, Slovenia’s calling card is its exuberant nature: vast green fields, imposing mountains, valleys flanked by turquoise rivers, and its rich fauna and flora. 

This understanding and the many gastronomic journeys of Ana and her former partner and co-owner, Valter, to the best restaurants in the world, led her to focus on a farm-to-table approach where local products would shine, from foraging in the hills near the restaurant to the trout caught in the waters of the Soča River itself, passing through game meat and a uniquely high-quality milk. Dealing personally with each producer or collector, Ana nourished and supported a system that allowed everyone to produce more and better.

The whole experience begins long before reaching the table. Upon arriving in Ljubljana (the most common and quickest route would be to fly to the Italian cities of Trieste or Venice), a journey of approximately two hours begins, including border crossings with Italy and some of the most picturesque roads Europe has to offer. The idyllic and natural scenery begins to awaken ideas and anticipations about what Hiša Franko’s menu has in store for us. 

Two flights and four countries later, we arrive in Kobarid, a small town marked by Italian influence and an indescribable natural setting. Here, we find our final destination amidst green fields, the murmur of a small stream moving a mill, and the brick-colored walls that peek through the trees.

Upon entering the house, we feel a sense of almost homely comfort that results essentially from the relaxed and warm way the team welcomes us. We were accommodated in the original dining room of the restaurant, with striking red walls, now adorned with large and comfortable tables, where the white tablecloth is more a point of brightness and comfort than a formality.

Pêssego, amendôa e calêndula
Peach, almond, sea urchin, and marigold

In a restaurant we’ve already read and heard so much about, it’s impossible not to have expectations, especially regarding how the meal will begin. Would it be a series of amuse-bouches, a presentation of unique ingredients in a dissertation-like manner that usually bothers more than benefits? No, Ana avoids the conventional and the pre-established. If the goal is to live and feel the nature of the valley surrounding the restaurant, we start precisely with that: touching, smelling, and feeling a bit of live and fresh moss in an almost spiritual introduction to the cause that moves them. 

So we start with the peach, almond, sea urchin, and marigold, clearly demonstrating the improbable combinations that inhabit Ana and her team’s minds. Sweet, salty, maritime, and fresh combine to awaken the palate like few others.

Taco de Sementes
Seed Taco

Next is the beautiful Seed Taco, filled with chickpeas, sunflower seed cream, seeds, hints of black quince, pear, and common soapwort. The taco is a hybrid between the crunchy taco, which we usually see in fine dining, and the soft taco from the streets of Mexico. This combination evokes Ana’s travels and probably the Latin origins of several of her cooks, shaped by the autumnal flavors of the region.

Mexilhão, algas e água de tomate fermentada
Mussel, seaweed, and fermented tomato water

To finish the first phase of the menu, we continue with fresh notes, with a Mussel combined with celery, fennel, and herbs, served with fermented tomato water. Flavor, freshness, and a very herbal identity where, unfortunately, the mussel loses protagonism due to its small size. 

To open the evening, we started with the most “conservative” of the wines tasted, a champagne, Bistrotage 2017 by Charles Dufour, a Blanc des Noirs, complex, with slight and good oxidation that proved to be a protagonist.

Beignet de milho, queijo cotttage fermentado, ovas de truta e cebolinho
Corn beignet, fermented cottage cheese, trout roe, and chive

After a delicate beginning, we move on to the classics – seemingly more straightforward pieces of history that have nevertheless been part of Ana Roš’s menus for several seasons. At the first bite, it’s easy to understand why they’re thriving! We start with the Beignet, filled with the fermented ricotta that marks Ana’s cuisine so much. Herbal, refined, and with high-quality roe – I could easily eat a dozen.

Batata, feno, creme azedo e caviar
Potato, hay, sour cream, and caviar

To bring us back to our roots, Ana asks, “Why do we value caviar more than a potato?” proposing a dish we would hardly find in any other three-star restaurant. A potato cooked in a crust of hay and salt, accompanied by sour cream and caviar. But make no mistake, it’s not just any potato; they are grown in a very peculiar area, developed to the desired point by the chef, and harvested one by one. Ana pays approximately the same amount for a small potato as we pay for a kilo. A dish that brings the simplicity and aroma of the countryside, combined with a cooking technique and delicacy that would justify its presence on any menu, but yes, this is where it all makes sense. 

In the glass, we followed up with a Kmetija Stekar Belo 2022, a white blend with distinct grape varieties, resulting in a fresh, salty, and quite citrusy wine.

Tomatillo, feijão, framboesa rabanete, leite de amêndoa e louro
Tomatillo, beans, raspberry, radish, almond milk, and bay leaf

We continue at a good pace with a dive into freshness and vegetable complexity in the tomatillo dish. In the same vein, we had the Autumn salad, with beans and berries that enhance the acidity and keep the menu at a high level. This delicate combination of textures is highlighted by the roasted yeast cream. Very good!

Salada de Outono - favas, frutos do bosque e creme de fermento tostado
Autumn Salad – beans, berries, and roasted yeast cream

By this time, we were toasting with an exceptional orange wine, Grande Waldo 2021, by Nikolas Juretic, the rising star of natural wines in the Italian region of Friuli. Herbaceous but delicate, solid but without bitterness, the wine perfectly complemented the fresher and more delicate dishes.

Tagliolini cortado à mão, coelho selvagem, nibs de cacau e trufa negra
Hand-cut tagliolini, wild rabbit, cocoa nibs, and black truffle

It’s time to delve into the “comfort kitchen” with dishes that reveal Italian influence, not only in the region of Kobarid but also in Ana’s life and kitchen. We started with fresh tagliolini, with a wild rabbit ragù that stands out. With a slightly bitter taste from the combination of peppers and cocoa nibs, this dish offers a deep Umami taste. It proved to be a delightful sample of the mountain’s most autumnal and comfortable flavors, elevated to the level of haute cuisine.

Similarly, a barley “risotto” with hazelnut, green beans, and yeast powder appears on the table. Perhaps the densest dish on a menu that manages to be light and delicate throughout all stages, it is another autumnal hallmark, where the beans counterbalance the heavier barley in another comforting moment.

Barley, hazelnut, green beans, and yeast powder

In the glass, we remain at a high level with another orange wine, this time a Jakot Klinec 2012. It has notable mineral notes and elegance, which have remained with age.

Trout, burnt butter, and horseradish

To highlight the protein, a Soča River Trout appears on the table, matured for two days and grilled in Japanese style. Served with a sort of burnt butter beurre blanc or hollandaise made with fish broth and roe, with the counterpoint of grated horseradish and daikon pickle. The dish of the night, without a doubt! The perfect cooking point, balance in the combination of ingredients, and the horseradish’s slight spiciness enhancing and balancing all notes. Excellent! 

It was accompanied by a Robinia Stemberger 2015, a blend of Ribolla, Welschriesling, and Istrian Malvasia, with notes of ripe white fruit, almond, and some vanilla, with great freshness.

Corço, ostra, kiwi, beterraba e verduras da montanha
Roebuck, oyster, kiwi, beetroot, and mountain greens

Suppose Ana has some favorite ingredients, such as fermented ricotta or trout. In that case, the roebuck is the last element of that trio, in a tribute to the wildlife of Kobarid and to her father, a lifelong hunter. In this dish, Ana shows us another of her skills – the unusual combination of ingredients, particularly the land/sea combinations – here brilliantly achieved (it must be said, against all expectations) with roebuck, kiwi, oyster emulsion, game jus, and beetroot.

Dosa, cabrito, iogurte salgado, agrião selvagem e folhas de caril
Dosa, goat kid, salted yogurt, watercress, and curry leaves

Having studied international relations, traveled the world to learn about restaurants, and for sharing her culinary journey, Ana has a particular passion for incorporating the world she discovers into her food without ever losing the sense of local identity. A good example of this is this Dosa (lentil pancake), filled with kid and Indian-influenced flavors. A delightful moment that invited us to lose composure at the table.

Pasta Ana

To close the savory part of the menu, an interpretation of Ana Roš’s most classic dish, first cooked by her mother with her father’s tomato sauce and named Pasta Ana. A combination of pasta, tomato, and cheese, which once again brings comfort food to the menu, but with a refinement and technique of high caliber. Agnoletti with two fillings, one with fermented ricotta, the other with a secret tomato preparation, made from Ana’s father’s original recipe, and a tomato sauce… And what a sauce! A kind of light beurre blanc made with tomato water but full of flavor. 

The pairing was done with a Kamnarjevo Kraški Trn 2016, a biodynamic red produced according to the Demeter certification, which once again proved to be a great match with the dish.

Granizado de folha de figueira
Fig leaf granita

Moving on to desserts, which tend not to be an explosion of flavors and ingredients traditionally found in desserts but rather a continuation of the menu, including some savory notes. We start with the taste and freshness of a fig leaf granita to cleanse the palate, followed by honey and bees, one of Slovenia’s most recognized products, particularly well treated here. It’s a slightly indulgent moment but refined and contained like the whole menu.

I Love bees - Brioche de mel, cera de abelha, pera e camomila
I Love bees – Honey brioche, beeswax, pear, and chamomile

To accompany, in addition to the chamomile infusion with light salty notes, the wine of the night, a Gravner Ribolla 2015, served properly in a glass designed for the purpose. Gravner is one of my favorite producers – it will always be challenging to forget the first time I tasted it. A producer who lives for the vineyard and wine as Hiša Franko lives for the kitchen and food.

Gelado de Frutos silvestres, queijo Zemljanka e Malte
Seasonal berries ice cream, Zemljanka cheese, and malt

Without the elaborate and technically aesthetic desserts commonly found in fine dining, it is in the ice creams that Ana stands out the most. And rightly so, judging by the ones we could taste, she could open an ice cream parlor following the success of her bakery. A combination of contrasts, once again with savory notes, that worked beautifully.

There was also time for a delicate and well-prepared cocktail based on gin, blueberry, and basil.

We finished with compressed Melon with shiso leaf to intensify the flavor and some buckwheat and cottage cheese caramels to take home.

A long journey before the final tea

Before final considerations, there are several notes to make. First, about the service: from the moment we arrived in Kobarid, the young team made us feel like we were not in a three-star restaurant but in a house of friends, where we were welcomed with a smile, embraced by the friendliness and generosity of those who do what they do with passion and dedication. This without ever neglecting the technical finesse required at this level – an example that many should follow, and that alone is worth visiting the restaurant.

The kitchen

Hiša Franko proposes harmonizing the menu only with natural wines produced in Slovenia or on the Italian border, breaking the usual stipulated pairings in fine dining. A dive into discovering new wines and producers that married beautifully with the dishes, demonstrating attention and finesse in the choices.

Still, on the pairing, I must highlight the work of Anjica Skrbinek, beverage director, and Davide Rovagnati. The latter was brilliant in conducting our meal and also in making the “juices” for alcohol-free pairing. Undoubtedly, it is one of the best I’ve tried, from unexpected combinations like different kombuchas, tomato water with peach, beet with chokeberry, or buckwheat with tarragon. Much more interesting than just juices, extractions, or light infusions that we often find.

The Next Day 
Part of the Hiša Franko experience is sleeping on-site and waking up to enjoy the magnificent views and breakfast at the restaurant. Don’t expect luxurious rooms or excesses; there are no millionaire investors or international chains here; true luxury is again at the table! The honey, cheeses, granolas, cookies that you feel like taking home in a packed suitcase, bread, the selection of teas and infusions, the perfectly cooked eggs, the sausages, and the service, always the service!

Receiving a warm welcome from Matjaž every morning is undoubtedly one of the factors contributing to Hiša Franko’s success and something that makes us long to return. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every morning could be like this?

Final Remarks
I’ve heard stories and reports, read praises and contradictions, saying it would be a marketing product. Obviously, I created my own expectations, even more so when we traveled for about two hours through the mountains, valleys, and along the banks of the Soča River until we reached the remote location of Hiša Franko. If there were any doubts, they were dispelled throughout the meal, from the storytelling that is much more than entertainment, to the almost alchemist combination of ingredients, from the service that involves us in the experience, to the elegant, international layout and presentation of the menu, yet another personal and genuine interpretation of the purest and most rural Slovenia! 

There is an aura of magic around Hiša Franko and Ana Roš’s kitchen is difficult to explain in words. It’s the right restaurant, in the right place, and, above all, with the right people. That’s the true magic.

As you read this text, it will no longer be possible to try the “50 Shades of Life – It’s a Celebration Time” menu that celebrated the 50 years of the restaurant, Ana’s 50 years, a new love, and a marriage that culminated, unknowingly, with the conquest of the Olympic third star. By now, the “50 Shades of Red” menu is being served – a continuation of the celebration where passion, art, and the red, which marks the restaurant in many ways, stand out.

About the keys, “I brought them with me,“… along with the desire to return. Thank you Ana, Manca, Anjica, Tilen, Yvonne, Davide, Matjaž, and the whole team for creating much more than exceptional cuisine.


Prices from 325€ (without wines)
Staro selo 1, 5222 Kobarid – Slovenia

Photos: Flavors & Senses
Text: João Oliveira
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