There is this little restaurant that goes by the name COB above Portorose. The name might sound a bit unusual at first, but when you enter and look at the serving table you get it – Cooking Outside the Box. And actually this is what guests get – an out of the box experience!
Building on tradition
The restaurant is the successor of the previously known fish restaurant Tomi. Taking over and building on the family heritage as a 4th generation are 2 brothers, chef Filip Matjaž and his brother and sommelier Patrik Matjaž.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Patrik when he attended our sommelier courses, but I haven’t met Filip until last year when we cooperated at a dinner in Portorose. Filip never went to culinary school, but he graduated in the field of Istrian gastronomy. He then spent learning at several Michelin starred restaurants abroad, including The Fat Duck. And besides this, he’s the ambassador of Slovenia – European Region of Gastronomy 2021.
I’ve been curious to know the guys more and see what they do, so I grasped the occasion and took my beloved Teja to dine there. We ate at COB just before the end of last year, and the menu we tasted was prepared especially for festive holidays.
Everything at COB is outside the box – even the menu. Guests are given an envelope, sealed with their logo. Inside, a greeting card autographed by the team and a roadmap of dishes that we are about to taste, or should I say experience?
The whole menu was conceived as a walk through the Istrian holiday traditions. As people were poor it was the holiday season that allowed them to afford something special. And we started with beef tartare, tramezzino white bread and gently blown butter. A delicate indulgence of flavors with a slight spiciness at the end. To note, the tartare was served on a glass tile.
Our glasses are filled with Chardonnay 2018 of Mahnič farm, while we listen to the presentation of our next dish. Kids loved “miške” – fritole (a form of fried dough), and mothers used to hide them in jars so that they lasted at least until lunch. The dish is composed of 3 miške, each filled with a different filling – herbs, tomato, and baccalà, accompanied by parsnip and butter purée.
A well-thought dish, that takes over your senses and palate as you eat it with hands. An elegance of flavors, gravitating towards sweetness which is matched by the structure, alcohol, and freshness of the wine.
We are then taken to another memory. In the old times, langoustines didn’t make it often to the table. The little times they did, people cooked with every part of them. The meat was roasted, and the rest was used for a delicious soup, only the luckiest got the tail. In this case, the tail was wrapped in threaded dough and deep-fried, it came sealed in a jar with a plate of Jerusalem artichoke puree, with crispy slices of the artichoke and parsley sprouts. Another jar is placed on the table, holding a creamy and flavourful soup.
A burst of umami, crispiness, and freshness, wrapping the langoustine in threaded dough elevated its delicate taste and kept it lasting.
Time for a glass rosé, a 100 % pinot noir by Steras, vintage 2017, fruity and fresh. And we’re taken to a time when Istrian women – Šavrinke were trading their handmade products for scallops in Croatian Istria. Traditionally they are cleaned but cooked as a whole as an addition creamy polenta with sunflower seeds and monk cress leaves. Scallops are opened with a small knife and they taste so good you feel sorry there’s only one for you. The pairing is to the point, the elevated freshness of the wine helps to pair with the creaminess and sweetness of the scallop.
Moving onward we actually take a step back with wine as we’re served with a fresh Malvazija 2018 by the Ražman family. Awkard as it may sound it actually makes sense when we listen to the presentation of our next course. Halibut a la Meuniere, parsley and caramelized carrot wrapped in flour crisps. Halibut was traditionally served around new year’s holidays, and this was a real homage of pristine flavors. The malvazija kept nicely and helped elevate the dishes’ sea flavors.
Often people would eat also braised pork shanks for holidays, and this is what we were served next. But, it was served in a form of sausage, slightly smoked on rosemary accompanied by potato cubes and a leaf of sauerkraut with pork cracklings. We take an excursion to Brda as Čarga‘s Vinovo is poured in our glasses. A delicacy of flavors marked gently by the smoked rosemary and then washed with sauerkraut and wine … well executed!
We start with our journey into sweet with a delicate, cinnamony and not too sweet rice pudding, with a scoop of cacao ice cream to remember the times when children were anticipating sweets.
In Istria they are not used to snow, and when it snows everything is slippery and people move with caution not to slip. The desert in white didn’t slip at our table, but it slipped in our tummies. A delicious white construction of white chocolate mousse, snowflakes of hazelnut oil, apple with star anise resembling the Istrian tradition enriched with lemon and icing sugar.
We finished our tasteful journey with a calming Christmas tea with ginger. As at COB they care for the health of guests we were offered a toothbrush and mandarine toothpaste – delicious!
A tale of flavors
COB is unique, it is conceived to take its guests to a unique tale of flavors and spoil their senses. Everything is peculiar, from the interior that merges modernistic, minimalistic design with a 100 years old wood stove, the kitchen counter with the view of the kitchen and the cutlery placed on the table in wooden boxes. Considering the youngness of Matjaž brothers, one can simply wonder what they will achieve!
The restaurant is now closed as the guys are full in the preparation of their new menu and on a deserved break, but they’ll be back in business 13th of February. Mark your calendars!