Michelin guide and beyond, what do we think they missed in Croatia?
2017 was a big year for Croatian gastronomy. We got ourselves a first edition of Croatia Michelin guide. Well, not a proper red book Michelin guide is famous for, though, but rather a small online edition. However, we got our first Michelin starred restaurant – Monte, Rovinj, was awarded 1 star.
This is huge for a country like Croatia for several reasons. First of all, such recognition of our gastronomy is a small step towards positioning Croatia on the gastronomical map of the world. Secondly, we are a tourist country aspiring to attract higher-income tourists. Finally, since tourism is our main industry, we’re struggling to prologue our tourist season to all year round, as opposed to just summer months. Getting recognition from a respected institution such as Michelin guide is a step in the right direction.
Let’s start with Croatian gastronomy 101. Croatia has an extremely rich gastronomical heritage. Throughout the history, different parts of Croatian territory were under direct influence of big civilizations such as Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire, Venetian Republic and France. As those were very influential cultures, we were left with a strong gastronomic heritage which is still present today. Moreover, our geographical position is to die for – we have fertile inland and fairly long coast with more than 1000 islands. Croatia has equally distributed four seasons and as a Mediterranean country more than generous amount of sun throughout the year. All this said one could argue we are a small piece of heaven on Earth. We abound in fresh produce and are equally skillful with seafood and meat. In the last ten years, Croatia underwent a gastronomical revolution as the new generation of aspiring chefs is keeping their eye on gastronomical trends and are trying to implement them into our local cuisines, which is on point with the latest culinary movements. Moreover, some of them staged under most prominent minds of today’s gastronomy and brought a breath of fresh air to Croatian cuisine. These improvements caught the eye of Michelin inspectors and the rest is history, so to say.
Michelin guide is the oldest restaurant guide and one of the most esteemed. Its first edition was published by a car tire company Michelin in 1900 and it was basically an almanac made for motorists with maps and other useful info, such as lists of hotels and restaurants. The grading system we know today with famous Michelin stars was introduced during 1930s: 1 star is awarded to very good restaurants within its category, 2 stars are for restaurants whose excellent cuisine is worth a detour, while 3 stars are for the chosen few around the world whose exceptional cuisine is worth a special journey. Restaurants are reviewed by anonymous inspectors who are sort of mythical beings because their identities managed to remain a secret over decades. Countries honored with their own Michelin guide today still represent prestigious clique everyone wants to be a part of.
When it comes to Croatia Michelin guide, the first edition focused exclusively on 2 cities and one region: Zagreb, Dubrovnik and Istria. The first ever (an only) Michelin star was awarded to restaurant Monte in Rovinj, Istria and trust us, it went to the right hands. Monte is a pioneer of fine dining and distinctive cuisine not only in Istria but in Croatia as well. They have specific service and food presentation style that was at times regarded as avant-garde, but it turned out they made the right choice by sticking to it. The restaurant is located on the top of a hill in Rovinj’s old town within the chef’s family house surrounded by Bougainvillea trees that bloom throughout summer. It has an artsy ambiance and the art they present is food. Monte is definitely one of the best restaurants in Croatia and worth a visit.
The full list of reviewed and recommended restaurants from the above-mentioned destinations can be found on Michelin official page. We don’t know why they didn’t cover the whole of Croatia, but we do know they missed out on some pretty spectacular places. What is more, people in the know argue the original list included even a few tourist traps as well as a bistro that was permanently closed. Guess we’ll have to wait for the second edition to see what the real situation is and which restaurants will keep their current position. We heard it through the grapevine that Michelin inspectors were all over Croatia this year, and some restaurants got more than one visit.
While we wait for the 2nd edition of Croatia Michelin guide, here is a list of restaurants from the overlooked parts of Croatia we believe are worth a mention, if not even a detour:
Zagreb as the capital of Croatia has the biggest and fastest growing restaurant scene in the whole of Croatia. Some of the restos we’re about to list here weren’t open during the first Michelin review and some were unrightfully overlooked:
Tač & Baltazar are the two most appreciated restaurants with Croatian cuisine. Their offer is absolutely seasonal and based on traditional Croatian ingredients. They’re the ones who will first have wild asparagus from our coast and spring lamb from our islands. Rest assured they’ll serve you the freshest fish as well and they’re the masters of traditional seasonal dishes.
Malibar is one of the first bistros opened in Zagreb and still one of the best. Ana Ugarković, owner and TV chef, is a pioneer of modern Croatian cuisine and her well-trained staff always delivers. They base their offer on Croatian seasonal produce they get from small producers and Dolac farmers’ market.
Noel is a high-end fine dining restaurant with a special focus on wines, mixology, specialty coffee and artisanal tea.
Time has a unique concept in Zagreb because it offers Asian fine dining and late night entertainment.
Xato is a particular bistro – they have a Japanese robata grill and offer tasting menus for dinner. Their cuisine is based on naturally grown Croatian ingredients influenced by various South American and Asian techniques.
Plavi podrum, Volosko
Owner and maître d’ of the restaurant Daniela Kramarić is hostess with the mostest and one of the best sommeliers in Croatia.
One of the most stunning restaurants in Croatia with their own boutique hotel and beach
Family owned gourmet oasis on the island of Krk
Boškinac, Novalja, Pag Island
Family owned winery, boutique hotel and restaurant focused on expressing the uniqueness of their local flavors
Dalmatian cuisine served on one of the prettiest terraces on the Mediterranean
Terroir based tavern with the freshest seafood you can imagine – especially famous for their tuna
Bibich winery, Skradin
We’re not quite sure if they belong here as they don’t really function as a restaurant, but their cuisine is impeccable (you can book a wine tasting called Winemakers Dinner)
Over the past few years voted the best restaurant and chef in Croatia, Pelegrini and Rudi Štefan will tell you a modern fairy tale through the flavors of their gastronomical heritage-
Split’s vibrant restaurant scene grows on a yearly basis. The city is rich with original bistros and eateries and we’ll name a just a few of most popular at the moment: Mazgoon, Bokeria, Bokamorra, Matoni, Dvor, Perivoj, Paradox, Zinfandel, Zrno soli …
LD Restaurant, Island of Korčula
Excellent service and a great palate of chef Marko Gajski are win-win for this restaurant located on a dreamy island of Korčula.
Keep in mind there are more restaurants located on Croatian islands which operate seasonally and each has a specific vibe and concept. Generally speaking, this is a good period for Croatian gastronomy. There is a palpable vibrant energy ready to explode. Don’t be surprised when we become the next big thing.
by: Lucija Bilandžić of Pleasure Seekers
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