Restaurant Vagabundo opened its door in summer 2012 and has since then mainly catered to the hotel guests of Hotel Split in Podstrana where it is housed. Somehow, they have managed to stay off the local foodies’ radar but after my recent discovery of this gastronomic gem, I hope that hedonists like myself will now add this joint to their list of places to get their memorable culinary injections with a little luxe on the side.
Proprietor and chef, Vinko ‘Vice’ Marinkovic travelled to the Americas to master his culinary craft, serving as executive chef in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and the United States. After 12 years abroad, he returned to his native Croatia and brought with him international experience and a myriad of new recipes. The result was Vagabundo, a restaurant that represents his nomadic food travels, which he opened in Bol, on the island of Brač. After the success of this vibrant eatery placed on a Croatian island, he expanded by opening Vagabundo in Split, following the same concept.
The interior of the restaurant is quite small and perhaps lacks identity with a black and white contemporary feel and bare walls overlooking a modern courtyard garden however, the real surprise is the killer rooftop terrace that can serve 180 diners in the summer with unobstructed west-facing seaviews.
The culinary genre of Vagabundo clearly represents the Mediterranean with classics such as tomato soup, Caesar salad, and homemade gnocchi dotting the menu however, most dishes have added flair and most importantly, Chef Vinko’s execution is simply spot on. No canned tomatoes, no ‘homemade gnocchi’ from a supermarket, actually freshly baked breads, and no dressings from a tube; just pure ingredients combined to make a wholesome dish. Skimming the menu, a few dishes catch my curiosity such as the vegetable filled pancakes topped with a tomato concasse and basil cream sauce, the linguini with mussels and Chorizo, Champagne risotto, brandy-flamed tournedos, and bruschetta selection.
My friend and I came for dinner at Vagabundo on a quiet Thursday evening and Chef Vinko had, to our positive surprise, already devised our menu so we just had to sit back and let our palates explore his culinary creations.
First up was a litte octopus salad contististing of a few thick slices of tentacles from what clearly must have been from a monstor-sized octopus, topped with a home-marinated anchovy, a raw jumbo shrimp, capers and drizzled with olive oil. Every restaurant here has an octopus salad but most do an overkill of onion and potatoes where you have to dig around to actually find a decent piece of octopus. Vagabundo’s approach brought the dish back to basics with two other seafood dimensions; good play.
The simplicity and naughty deliciousness of the next dish was just what the doctor ordered; breaded shrimps with a Dijon mustard honey dip. The texture of the crispy shrimp paired perfectly with the sweet and pungent sauce, although two pieces was not enough more me; this was straighforward comfort food galore.
Before we got cracking on the pasta, we got a heartwarming roasted butternut squash soup, drizzled with olive oil. I enjoyed that the soup was not grainy in the slightest and it was served steaming hot but perhaps a crostini on the side and an aromatized oil (instead of olive oil) would add some flair.
Another Dalmatian restaurant classic is the black cuttlefish risotto and for our pasta course, we got a reinterpretation of this; homemade gnocchi in squid ink with baby cuttlefish. I was surprised as I had never tried baby cuttlefish and admittedly, my sidekick was first drawn back at the thought of baby cuttlefish but we both dug in and were delighted that the texture was very soft, almost the same as the gnocchi; a perfect match.
As a maincourse we got a mini tuna steak, served on a stack of vegetables; roasted capsicum, egged potatoes dauphinoise, Swiss chard, a grilled chantarelle, and a baked cherry tomato. This dish was another tribute to ‘back to basics’ where the distinguishing flavors each ingredient combined well with the bite of the tender tuna.
To end off a good night, Chef Vinko handed over the grand finale, dessert. The nameless fluffy dessert combined raw meringe and almonds with a mouthwatering sabayon sauce, topped with strawberry sauce; simply delicious, and again I wished the portion was double in size.
After a shot of carob liquer and a cappuccino we drop back to Split in delight as we realize we have discovered something new and competitive on Split’s ‘upscale’ dining scene.
Restaruant Vagabundo on the lower floor of Croatia’s only eco-friendly hotel, Hotel Split in Podstrana, just 8 kilometers south of Split along the coast highway.
Chef Vinko owns and management four restaurants, two on Bol, one in Split, and one in Zagreb. Additionally, he owns Dalmatino Catering & Personal Chef Services where he fully caters to weddings and special functions, corporate events, private dinners in your home, and conducts cooking classes.
Vagabundo Restaurant & Bar
Strožanačka 20, 21312 Podstrana
tel.: +385 21 420 420