From Dubrovnik I got a bus back to Split to meet my friend Rup who had been staying on the party/ festival island of Obonjan. Not the best bus, the air con had broken, which didn’t make for the most comfortable journey. On the way we passed through the border of Bosnia Herzegovina.
In Split I met my friend and we had an early dinner at Zinfandel. I’d wanted to dine here when I was last in Split a couple of weeks ago, however it was fully booked at the time, so glad I got a chance to go this time. The food was excellent, worth the wait.
From Split the plan was to head to meet our other friends who were in Italy. We got the overnight ferry from Split to Ancona in the Le Marche region of Italy. We’d hired a villa together in the countryside near Mondavio.
The queue for the ferry was pretty horrendous, a packed no air conditioned departures building with a massive crowd of pushing people. Absolutely no sense of order and passport control was really slow.
As there was two of us we upgraded to a cabin. My expectations for the ferry would pretty low, but actually it was ok. In no sense was it luxurious, this was no cruise liner, but it was cheap and clean. No ice on board though, so after one round of warm G&Ts we retired early to bed. Despite setting off late, we arrived on time in Ancona the next morning at 9am.
I started my Croatia trip by flying from London Heathrow to the Croatian capital, Zagreb, on Croatian Airways. The flight which I only booked less than a month in advance was less than £80 (one way) and was significantly cheaper than the normal budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet. Plus unlike those airlines I got served a free drink and snack on the flight.
I stayed at a delightful little B&B called Studio Kairos, which was recommended in the Lonely Planet guide book. They kindly sent a car to pick me up from the airport. I’d really recommend this place it’s tiny, just four rooms, but it’s centrally located, the staff couldn’t have been more welcoming and helpful, and they do an excellent breakfast.
Zagreb is a a really pretty little city, the main centre is compact and it’s easy to walk around without the need for public transport of any sort. It’s got a beautiful historic centre with a wonderful cathedral and lots of pretty pavement cafes and bars, ideal for a little coffee break or to sample some of the great local beer.
My first night I was keen to try some local Croatian food so I went to Vinodol, a pretty restaurant with beautiful vaulted ceiling and an ivy covered outside terrace. They serve traditional central European food, including many Croatian delicacies and local wines. My waiter was lovely and explained through all the menu and recommended dishes for me. The food was delicious and the Croatian wine surprisingly good.
On a side bar can I just say that I ate REALLY well in Croatia, I was expecting the food to be quite heavy/ very meat and potato based, quite Eastern European, filling but maybe a bit stogy. Anyway I couldn’t have been more wrong, the food in Croatia was stunning. If anything it was more influenced by Italy, than other Eastern European food. I had wonderful meat, fish and seafood. Great pasta and pizzas. Just really wonderful food, some of the best I’ve ever had in Europe.
My favourite meal in Zagreb was at Mali Bar though, I had a wonderful pate and also one of my favourite dishes, Vitella Tonnato, veal in a tuna sauce. Delicious, you must go here if in Zagreb.
At a the other end of the price scale I had excellent pizza at Karijola. It serves authentic crispy, thin crust pizza cooked in proper wood fired clay oven. Great value, washed down with local beer. Both Mali Bar and Karijola are on the same terraced street and are conveniently just a short walk from Studio Kairos.
My personal Zagreb highlight though was probably the Museum of Broken Relationships, a quirky museum that explores the mementoes that remain after a relationship ends. The exhibits were on a world tour for many years before settling up at this permanent site. Apparently it’s been so successful that they recently opened a second site in Hollywood. It started quite light and then went really dark with items to do with suicide, rape, abuse and even murder. Thankfully it ended on funny break ups. It’s not often you go from crying with sadness to laughing out loud. Some of the stories were genuinely heartbreaking. I felt quite drained afterwards.
Hoppers is the cheaper sister restaurant from the people behind the Michelin starred Trishna and Gymkhana. It’s named Hoppers after the traditional Sri Lakan egg pancake bowls that they serve. It’s another of those annoying no reservations restaurants. So they put your name down on a list and they give you a rough time a table will become available and then give you a buzzer that lets you know to come back when you’re table is ready. The buzzer works over quite a distance so you don’t have to stay at the restaurant, we actually went for a drink several streets away and it worked fine. We waited about an hour for a table, which given it was a Friday night we didn’t think was too bad. We had a couple of delicious Indian inspired cocktails to start and then on to the food. Obviously we had to go for the the classic Hopper which the restaurant is named after. We had it with two karis (curries) one lamb and one black pork and a rather spicy sambal (chutney). All utterly delicious with some really unusual flavours, pretty good value for Soho as well. I will be back.
For my birthday this year I decided I fancied going for dinner somewhere special, so decided to go out with my friend Marc to Dinner by Heston Blummental. I’d be wanting to go for ages so it seemed as good an excuse as any. We had a couple of cocktails at the bar at the Mandarin Oriental, the hotel in which the restaurant is situated before moving through to our table. For starters I ordered one fo their signature dishes, the meat fruit, a chicken liver parfait covered in a mandarin gel made to resemble an actual real piece of fruit. Apparently it’s the most instagrammed dish in all of London. It’s certainly impressive and realistic looking as you can see from my pictures. It wasn’t a case of style over substance either it was as delicious as it looked. For main I had pork, it was nice, but of all the dishes maybe the least successful. For dessert we had another of the restaurants signature dishes, the tipsy cake, which diners are advised to order in advance To allow for the gradual alcohol basting of the cream filled baked brioche. It’s served with a beautifully spit roasted caramelised pineapple. Delicious. We also had liquid nitrogen ice cream that they prepare table side, a bit gimmicky but impressive none the less. Also as it was my birthday they very kindly sent me another pudding on the house where the chefs had written me a happy birthday message in chocolate. A lovely meal all in all, really enjoyed myself.