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Although Slovenia’s second city, Maribor, is well used to hosting international visitors (it was one of the two holders of the title of European Capital of Culture in 2012 and it hosts several annual international arts festivals), its restaurant scene is not particularly multicultural. There are numerous Chinese restaurants dotted around town (though I’ve never seen any of them particularly busy) and a pub restaurant that serves Thai food(because the owner’s wife is from Thailand). We have a couple of Mexican restaurants and a couple of Italian, and I’ve seen a mention of Swiss restaurant somewhere out of town but I’ve never been able to find anyone who knows whether it still exists. Otherwise we are decidedly parochial – or we were until we got Miyabi, a Japanese restaurant.
I’m ashamed to say it took us many months to get to Miyabi despite of saying we should visit every time we went past (and as the restaurant is just five minutes walk from the apartment we’ve just sold, we have passed Miyabi many times). We really should have tried harder, more so as we were unsure that the town could really sustain a Japanese restaurant, especially one that was not in the city centre; there was a good chance that Miyabi might have closed down before we got there.
No doubt one of the things that has helped Miyabi is that the premises comprises a restaurant in the basement, and a stylish café bar on the ground level. While a lot of Slovenians won’t want to try sushi, the vast majority drink coffee or beer so opening a café is always a good business decision. Another boost has come from the extensive and enthusiastic marketing the owner has employed to get noticed; no opportunity to showcase the food is passed by and occasions such as public holidays and Mothers’ Day, for example, are exploited as another chance to get people to come in and eat.
We didn’t book but there is probably nowhere in Maribor that requires a booking on a snowy Wednesday in January. Unsurprisingly we were the only people dining, although we could see a few people in the bar as we arrived. The café bar and restaurant have separate entrances; the restaurant can look closed but check the door because it probably isn’t. The only access is by the stairs so the restaurant is not accessible to wheelchair users.
The thing I really like about the décor is that they haven’t gone down the road of ‘theme restaurant’. The design is very simple with plain white walls and dark wood furniture that has a Japanese look. One part of the dining area has a low level table with floor cushions around it but we sat at a conventional table. The kitchen is open and you can see the chefs at work putting together sushi and assembling the platters.
Miyabi’s menu is surprisingly comprehensive and offers both sushi and hot Japanese dishes. There are colour photographs of some of the dishes. Although it was a cold night out I had my heart set on sushi so we decided to share a modest sushi selection. You can order individual sushi rolls and so on but we thought the set selection better value. We started with the miso soup which we both enjoyed very much: there were lots of cubes of tofu in the soup and it was nicely garnished with finely sliced spring onion.
The sushi was very nicely presented with lots of colour and detail to stimulate the appetite visually before we tuck in. The cute carrot flowers looked great but had perhaps been made too early and had dried out somewhat. The selection we’d chosen comprised nine pieces of maki roll (three each of tuna, cucumber and salmon) and eight pieces of nigiri. Nigiri are the little domed mounds of rice with a piece of (usually) fish laid over the top: there were two each of prawn, salmon, tuna and tamago, the last being a slightly sweet omelette.
The pieces of salmon had been cut with precision and looked as good as any I’ve seen made by an experienced Japanese sushi chef. People think that cutting fish for sushi is easy but it’s really not and Japanese sushi chefs train long and hard to gain the skills required.
The rice was well flavoured and just the right texture. The rolls were neatly made, neither too loose not too tight. It was difficult to find a complaint about the sushi: what we had was executed and presented very well but it wasn’t very exciting. Perhaps it’s just that this sushi loving reviewer has been spoiled by eating sushi in places where some of the more exotic ingredients are easier to come by. The wasabi had, I suspect, been made up according to Slovenian tastes; it was fine but lacked the kind of wasabi kick that feels like the top of your skull has just been sliced off. Call me weird but that’s how I like my wasabi.
I was all ready to go for a green tea dessert of some kind (thereas green tea and green tea tirmisu) until I spotted the hokkaido pumpkin dessert. Although it was a special kind of Japanese pumpkin that had been used the dish had a Slovenian element in that it had crushed pumpkin seeds scattered over it. This delicious dessert was a bit like a cheesecake without the biscuit base, or maybe a creme caramel made with pureed pumpkin; I'm not completely certain but I know I loved it and I'd probably go back to Miyabi just for a coffee and one of these desserts.
We thought the sushi was beautifully presented and it tasted great but you won't find anything really unusual among the sushi choices. This of course is to be expected; this is a relatively new concept in Slovenia and I can see why they would keep the menu safe and simple, at least at first. Although we didn't try any of the hot food friends who've been and eaten those dishes told us they enjoyed the food well enough but thought it wasn't really very exciting (there are things like beef teppanyaki, yakitori chicken, tempura and Japanese style curry with rice). This surprised me because this food is really quite a novelty in Maribor.
We paid about €40 for our meal including drinks. Himself drank Japanese Kirin beer while I stuck to Slovenian Radler (a low alcohol shandy like drink). This was a fair price I felt given the standard of food and the excellent service. The waitress on duty was friendly and helpful, especially when it came to checking for nuts among the ingredients.
Miyabi is just the sort of new business that Maribor needs; they offer gift vouchers, a home delivery service and a range of meal deals and it seems like they are going to continually come up with fresh ideas. The location may be a snag as this is not in the city centre but the number two bus stops just across the road and it's a three minute bus ride from the city centre.
Personally I'd like to see some different ingredients in the sushi if I'm to go back but I'm sure I will at some point for a special treat. I would recommend it as a light and fresh alternative for anyone who's fed up with what can be heavy Slovenian fare and I have to say it's a really welcome addition to Maribor's restaurant scene.
Interesting to read that the Slovenians do "Radler" - as do the Polish. If I'm strictly honest as a tourist in your town, I'd be unlikely to be seeking out an oriental eating place, preferringh the idea of local quisine.....at least until I've sampled enough of it! R.