While Sarajevo had been an absolute joy – hideous weather aside – the one thing it seemed to lack was a crop of really good restaurants.
One of their more celebrated places – the Four Rooms of Mrs Safiya – served me an embarrassingly poor meal on my final night about which I hope to think no further thoughts.
I had higher hopes for Zagreb not least because the Michelin Guide had seen fit to include a few of the city’s eateries in their guide to the region. All are given the Plate status, which marks out a good standard of cooking.
I thought I’d give four of these places a look over the two lunches and two dinners of my two full days in the city.
The first of these I visited was Bistro Apetit by Marin Rendic. Chef Rendic was a new name to me but he seems to be well known and regarded in these parts.
The restaurant is slightly off the beaten tourist track, up the hill and through Old Zagreb. It’s easy walking distance but unlikely to attract much in the way of passing trade.
As with my visit to their namesake – although not connected in any way – restaurant, Sarajevo’s Apetit, I had the run of the place on a quiet January Tuesday lunchtime. This was great for me but a shame for them.
I was warmly welcomed and attended to throughout by their charming and knowledgeable front of house/sommelier chap. He steered me very admirably through the menu and was even kind enough to nod and agree with most of the bollocks I said to him about the excellent wines he served me.
This opened with a glass of crisp local blanc de blancs bubbles which paired with snacks of a grana padano cracker, whipped cheese and basil, and a squid ink polenta cracker topped with white fish pate, both of which were splendid.
I’d opted for their five course tasting menu. First up we had octopus prepared in a dish of brightly varied colours to reflect the beastie’s chameleon-like skills. This included lemon, carrot and pea emulsions, spherified tomato, salt-baked beet and sour radish. It was memorably accomplished cooking.
We then had a spiced 45-day dry aged ribeye tartare with dots of carrot puree and lightly toasted focaccia. Again, this was top notch.
We moved on to Chef Rendic’s signature dish, cuttlefish ragout with basil polenta and a grana padano foam. This was pure comforting joy and oddly reminiscent of the shrimp n grits I’d sampled so frequently during my time in Charleston.
The main course was roasted duck breast, crisp polenta, caramelized beetroot, baby carrots and zucchini. This was simple and elegant. It matched beautifully with a local cab sauv/can franc blend.
Dessert was a highly production affair. Their pastry chef had created a richly chocolatey twist on a rum baba, with some excellent tempered chocolate work on top. Theatre was delivered via a bowl of aromatic citrus and herbs that were topped with liquid nitrogen to fog the whole table with their aromas. I’m not sure this quite worked, but the way it engulfed the table was quite something.
As I sipped a good closing espresso and finished the last of my dessert wine, I reflected on a really excellent meal, full of creativity and warmth. The cooking on display throughout had been highly accomplished with several of the dishes outstanding. It’s top of my list of recommendations for you next time you’re in town.
Blythe scores Apetit
4.5/5 for food
4.5/5 for presentation
5/5 for service
4/5 for setting
giving an overall 18/20
I ate: five course tasting menu
I drank: (all local/regional) blanc de blancs, sauvignon/semillon, malvasia, orange Gordia Belo, Taurus cab sauv/cab franc, bibich ambra
I wore: chamois shirt
Total bill: 806