Where: Panenská 31, Bratislava
Tel: 0904 290 037
Open: Monday to Friday 8:00-22:00, Saturday and Sunday 11:00-22:00
English menu: Yes
Rating: 7 out of 10
THE SIGN above the entrance to this restaurant calls it macrobiotic. The menu does not back up the claim, though, raising the question of how cultural ideas and practices are translated from culture to culture and from person to person. A restaurant review is not the place to answer such a question, which is better left to dinner discussion. And you would do well to take it up right at Art of Life over their uniquely prepared dishes.
Fennel with thyme in carrot sauce (Sk115) is a good place to start. The dish is strikingly presented, with whole quarters of perfectly cooked fennel resting in a bowl of bright orange carrot sauce and sprinkled with pumpkin seeds. Its exciting arrival at the table even snagged the attention of my bloodthirsty companion: "We have to come back here. I want what you're having."
Unfortunately, the carrot sauce was a little too heavy with cream and overpowered the delicate flavour of the fennel.
On a previous visit, however, I experienced a more successful contrast between strong and subtle flavours when I ate eggplant rolls filled with goat cheese on carrots and parsnips (Sk125). In this case, the strong feta and grilled eggplant (less oily than usual, which, in Slovakia, is either saying a lot or a little, depending on how you look at it) was delightful to nibble on in between bites of the humble root vegetables.
Some background before we go any further: The macrobiotic diet is based on the philosophy that all things have a special energy that can be yin or yang to different degrees. According to the philosophy, a diet of foods low in these special energies is the way to a long life. In practice, bread and grains make up about half of every meal. Many foods are not allowed, including cheese, eggplant, fennel, alcohol, and very salty foods. Some followers allow fish, though other meats are out of the question. Since the restaurant follows none of these rules, I wonder whether it should be called macrobiotic, or if the word has a different meaning in Slovakia than it does in the US.
The restaurant does offer vegetarian food, and their take on it is an exhilarating addition to Bratislava dining. It is featured at the front of the menu, but it does not make up the majority of the dishes. There are large dinner salads with chicken or ham, two pages of pastas, and specialties like turkey slices with liver in wine. Meat eaters will have no problems.
After a wistful glance or two at my glowing orange lunch, my omnivorous dining partner began to enjoy a Hungarian specialty, Sedmohradská koložvárska kapusta (Transylvanian Kolozsvár cabbage, Sk95), that she said was done in an unusual way. Normally, this baked dish of meat, cabbage, and rice comes meatloaf-shaped and often with potatoes. This time, the waitress suggested no side dish for the course. No surprise, the meal arrived prepared as a risotto-like pile instead of a baked square. This variation, I was told, was even nicer to eat than the classic form.
This dish was part of a themed lunch on the part of my companion, who started the meal with halászlé, a Hungarian fish soup (Sk75). The soup came with two whole filets of fish instead of the usual small pieces. A whole hot pepper bobbed in the broth, allowing the diner to choose how spicy the soup might be by either cutting it open or fishing it out. Unfortunately, there was no such choice of saltiness, which was very high.
Other soups sampled were the onion soup (Sk30), which had a tasty broth with not much more in it, and the cream of broccoli soup (Sk25), a special of the day, which was not too creamy at all.
For the macrobiotic reader, an exact definition of the restaurant's style of food is important, but for the rest of us, there is no need to split hairs. When it comes to the art of living, of which the art of eating is a crucial part, Art of Life has its own special style.
1. Dec 2003 at 0:00 | Eric Smillie