Traditional Italian treats despite the misleading frontage.
photo: Ján Svrček
Address: Bajkalská ulica 24 (across from the Holiday Inn)
English menu: yes
Rating: 7 out of 10
Tel: 5341 1249 (reservations recommended)
There was trouble finding Ristorante Alvarez. Friends told me Bratislava's best Italian restaurant was next to the Holiday Inn but didn't give me the name. They said I couldn't miss it.
I did miss it. I was on the look out for something ethnic and colossal, painted in green, white and red stripes perhaps with large sketches of the Italian boot. Finding nothing of the sort, I scoured the vicinity, ducking into two pizzerias and one krčma, before entering a dingy square building across the street. Aqua blue was leaking through its white paint job. A rickety iron fence emblazoned with cigarette ads lined the walkway.
Inside I discovered the cozy charm of a Slovak mountain cottage crossed with the trimmings of a four-star restaurant. The tables, chairs and bar looked to be hand-carved wood. Appetisers were spread out on five silver serving dishes on a table near the entrance. An open grill wafted the scent of finely seasoned meats. Ristorante Alvarez, the menus said.
Great service, warm surroundings.
photo: Ján Svrček
I ordered the cream of mushroom soup. It was refreshingly light for a cream-based soup but bland. Adding a few spoonfuls of the table parmesan improved the taste. My friend opted for the cold buffet as a starter, and praised the three-bean salad, pickled artichokes and "soft but slightly crunchy" broccoli.
When I lamented the absence of an Alfredo dish, our waiter, who spoke excellent English, suggested a cheesy plate of gnocchi. This was a welcome change from the typical attitude of Slovak waiters, who seem to regard interaction with customers as a burden.
Service was prompt, personable and formal throughout. Our waiter duly presented the bottle of Rizling vlašský before pouring a measure for tasting. Yet the performance clashed with a plastic Sprite bottle he had left on our table. And several of the restaurant's decorative touches - including an advertisement for a beer not on the menu - stood at vulgar variance to the candles, woodwork and fine yellow table cloths.
The gnocchi - thumb-sized, piping hot, tender and spongy, cheesy but not too rich - could not have been better. My friend's lasagne - sauceless, dry, and short on cheese - was a let down. The gritty, sweet strawberry ice-cream we shared for desert was fantastic.
On balance lunch was superb. Sometimes I think I am too hard on posh restaurants. Sometimes I think that places charging two and three times more than acceptable alternatives require brutal scrutiny. Ristorante Alvarez is fantastic but flawed. It's a fine place to dine if you've got the available cash, but not a must-eat. If you do visit, don't forget to write down the name and address before you leave the house.
29. Oct 2001 at 0:00 | Matthew J. Reynolds