Thursday, 12 May 2011

Northern Food on tour: Zadar, Croatia

Last weekend I visited Croatia for the first time. A friend has a friend who is opening a hostel out there, so we thought we'd go over and check the place out. Ryanair flights from Stansted weighed in at a frankly ridiculous £33 each (return, including all the extras) so it almost seemed rude not to.

First the travelogue bit. Zadar is a lovely city. It has a compact, historic old town, a scenic waterfront with views of mountains and islands, and plenty of lively bars and restaurants. The people are friendly and most of the women are very beautiful (many of them slightly intimidating six-and-a-half feet tall goddesses). I can't comment on the menfolk but I'm sure they are lovely too. There is loads to see in the surrounding countryside as well, with some rather stunning looking national parks. I'm definitely planning a return visit to the Balkans.

That's my promotional piece done for the tourist board (cheque in Sterling payable to D Williams please). Now down to business. Was the food any good? It was good, but not great. We didn't dine anywhere terrible, but nowhere was amazing either. Most of our meals were eaten in a Konoba, the Croatian word for a casual bar/restaurant. Most of these places advertised a fairly generic menu that give or take a few local specialities you could find in anywhere vaguely touristy and Mediterranean. A few pizzas, a few pasta dishes, several meat and fish dishes mostly served with chips and salad. There may well be better food out there, but this wasn't really a foodie trip and we didn't seek it out.

Breakfast: strong fags not pictured

Away from the restaurants the Italian influence is even more pronounced. Takeaway pizza is everywhere, as is Gelato style ice-cream. Breakfast also seems to be in the coffee/pastry/cigarette style beloved of the Italians. We ate a couple of pizza slices which were really good, and the coffee was great too. The pastries seemed a bit hit and miss and I wasn't impressed by the ice cream. The two we ate were both mass produced and a bit artificial tasting. Maybe we didn't chance upon the good stuff.

Ice cream: that's squirty cream on top. It's not Mr Whippy

On the booze front the beer is all standard 5% any lager, of which Karlovačko seems to be the most popular and easiest to pronounce. For fans of the strong stuff there are numerous potions available that will blow your head off, including the Maraschino cherry liqeur which is local to the area. Jägermeister is also very popular. The hostel guys have made friends with the local club owner so we got to hang out in the VIP area and order Jäger by the litre. Because drinking Jäger by the litre is what Very Important People do obviously.

Here is a summary of the main meals that we ate:

Konoba Stomorica

Our first meal got off to a poor start. In need of rehydration we both ordered soup. Tomato for me and Meat for my mate. Mmm meat soup.

I'm 99% certain that both of these soups were straight from a packet. The meat soup was probably a packet of chicken noodle soup in case you were wondering.

The mains were much better. I had the Dalmatian beef stew with gnocchi. The beef was rather tough and I left half of it, but the stew was really concentrated and packed with flavour (probably wine based I think), and the gnocchi were light rather than stodgy.

Service was dour but efficient. The bill came to about £11 each for two courses and a drink.


Konoba Dalmatia

We ate here on Saturday evening before the big night out, so needed something sturdy to set us up for the evening. Three mixed grills and three large beers then please. There were actually three of us at this point, we didn't get one each plus an extra to share.

The mixed grills consisted mostly of pork. Pork chop, pork steak, two types of sausage and a bit of chicken for variety. And plenty of chips. The meat wasn't overcooked. Not much more to say really. It did the job.

Service here was much better. Our waitress was really friendly and gets bonus points for fetching us out some free shots of local firewater. It was horrid but did warm us up a bit. We paid about £11 each again, but with more beer and a generous tip this time.


Konoba Vrulje

Sunday afternoon and it was high time that we sampled some seafood, for which the Dalmatian coast is renowned (according to Lonely Planet anyway).

A starter of marinated anchovies was fine, but the star of the day was a bowl of black cuttlefish soup.

Once you got past the weirdness of eating black food (I know there are other black foods, liquorice or whatever, but not in soup form there aren't) this was delicious. The seafood stock base of the soup was rich and perfectly seasoned and the pieces of cuttlefish were tender.

A shared platter of grilled seafood was a bit hit and miss. The shellfish (mussels, crayfish) were about two days past their best and a whole grilled fish (not sure what it was, maybe small bream?) also wasn't very fresh. The tuna was ok, but the calamari were excellent. The batter was crisp and light and they weren't in the least chewy. Very moreish with a squeeze of lemon and good sprinkling of salt.

The service was fine. Two courses, salad and a drink was about £18 each.


Restaurant Bruschetta

The final meal of the trip was probably the best, quality wise. We had planned to just grab a pizza or pasta dish at one of the cheaper, more casual places but most of them were shut on Sunday night. Bruschetta is one of the posher places in town, but prices are still reasonable. Greed took over and we accidentally ordered three starters to kick things off.

Clockwise from the top we have a mozzarella, tomato and rocket salad, a plate of cheese (a local speciality from the island of Pag just up the road) and a mixed plate of fishy patés and various other bits and pieces. All of this was good, particularly the very rich creamed cod paté and the cheese which was a grower. It seemed a bit dull at first, but was actually quite complex. The interior was mild and nutty, but the harder bits towards the crust were stronger with an almost 'blue' taste. The menu claimed it was a goat's cheese, but I think they messed up the translation. Sheep's I reckon.

Pasta mains of penne with tuna, tomato and capers, and tagliatelle with chicken, courgettes and cream were both fine though my pasta was a touch overcooked. The portions were colossal so we were a bit overfaced after eating half a loaf of bread apiece with the starters.

The service here was very good if a bit slow at times. We paid about £16 each including one drink.



Anonymous said...

I live nearby Croatia in Trieste, and have never been able to find good icecream in the coastal zones of Croatia - it is all industrial!

The lamb can be fantastic though - especially when you head inland... super grills to be found.

Unknown said...

An overview of the best restaurants in Zadar can be found here!

Unknown said...

You should also visit Konoba Griblja in Sukosan near Zadar. They have the best dalmatian food :)

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