2007/10/25

PAVEL I - THE INSTITUTION

Here comes my first report from abroad, which I bet many people are looking forward to reading! Why? Because it’s on Pavel One, the Slovenian seafood restaurant in the bay of Piran that is the favourite haunt of all travelers visiting this beautiful little gem of a city on the shores of the Adriatic. Pavel I also has a twin brother next door called Pavel II. This was necessary, because - even though there are many restaurants on this seaside strip -, nobody would be caught dead in any other place than the two Pavels. You can see it as you walk along: nobody...only a couple of people....nobody....two people...nobody....hundreds of people! Congratulations, you’ve arrived to Pavel I. As to why it became so popular I have no idea. Over the ten years I have been going to Portoroz I have never walked into any other restaurant than the two Pavels. So there is no comparison really. To be very honest I’ve never really felt the urge to go anywhere else either, because it’s such a lively place serving up consistently good food. Oh yes, and it’s close to the bar with the best view on the shore, ideal for an „afterparty”.


I also wanted to review this place because of some doubters who say that wherever you go beside the Adriatic on the Croatian/Slovenian coastline the food is exactly the same from Split to Piran. It all depends on the quality of the ingredients – they say-, because the cooking techniques are exactly the same and not overly sophisticated. To cut a long story short I tend to agree with the doubters because our meal that evening was nothing special save our main course of sea bass. More about that later.


Pavel I looks and feels like any seaside restaurant: a huge outdoor terrace fitting hundreds of covers every evening, laminated menus with bad photos of the dishes and a page full of food that I could recite when prompted woken up any time in the middle of the night: clams with white wine, mussels in tomato sauce, mixed ham, ham with melon, mixed clams, mixed razor clams, ten types of fish cooked with garlic and olive oil. Side dish? Mangold, mangold and maybe some more mangold. Ok, so what’s the trick? There is no trick. It really all depends on the ingredients and how well the garlic and white wine are applied.


We start with a big helping of mixed mussels and clams in a white wine and garlic sauce. The clams are OK, nothing special, but the sauce has a thicker consistency resembling lumps of flour and garlic. Not a winner. Then we move onto the Kraski Prsut, the Slovenian version of prosciutto crudo: thicker slices of cured ham with some gherkins on the side. The gherkins were exceptionally crunchy and pickled and springy in their texture. The ham was quite boring unfortunately. How about the rings of deep fried calamari with tartare sauce? The batter on the calamari was proportioned well, neither too thick or thin and it wasn’t oily or chewy. In fact it was a very nice try at such a typical course and the fresh and springy quality of the calamari made it a good dish. We washed all of this down with a local Saksida Pinot Gris – the one on the picture. Please don’t try this one if you’re ever down there - it cost 14 euros but wasn’t worth 1 if you ask me. The second one called Zelen and belonging to the same Saksida family, but costing us double the price was far better.

We needed a better wine to accompany the highlight of the meal, the freshly caught whole sea bass only grilled with garlic and olive oil. How can one start to describe fish of this quality? It was perfect. Perfect taste, perfect texture, delicious and discreet seasoning. It was so good I wanted to suck the head and the gills clean and then go on methodically to cleaning the fishbones one by one. Unfortunately my friend and colleague Mr. R prevented me from doing so because he also was fast on the draw and devoured a good piece of the fish before I came back to my senses. We also ordered some grilled squid and mangold to accompany the fish. The squid was also superb and we ended up scraping the remains on the huge plate with some home bread even though we were full half way along the dinner with all the starters we ordered. Come to think about it, the good thing about Pavel is that the restaurant welcomes larger groups for whom the large plates filled with spaghetti or greens and seafood are a great way to share and enjoy together. That’s why the atmosphere is also better than in some other places.

At the end of the dinner I have to draw the conclusion that the doubters are right and it all depends on the quality of the seafood and not the chef. Pavel I is just as good as most of the better seafood restaurants around the shore, but not better. If you are looking for some sophistication then this is not the place for you. Neither is it your place if you don’t want to spend 40 euros on a larger piece of fish or 32 on a mixed fish plate. As a footnote I’d like to add that we tried a second fish restaurant in the Portoroz marina the next day and everything was approximately the same - the mussels and the sauce were a bit better while the fish about the same. So don’t go expecting great surprises.

Pavel I
Piran, Slovenia
Overall 6/10

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