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My first visit to Restaurant Gariful was in 2012… 

I have never been one for very fancy restaurants, but I must admit to a mild obsession about Restaurant Gariful, ever since I started researching my guidebook a year ago. Everyone told me that it was the best, the most exclusive, and THE restaurant for all the celebrities. Just what made this restaurant so much better than the other places to eat on Hvar’s waterfront?

My work with Total Hvar has led to regular contact with the restaurant’s owner, Ivan Gospodnetić, over the last few months. I interviewed him in the kitchens of Restaurant Saran during the Days of Hvar Cuisine in Belgrade, gratefully accepted a lift with his team to the Croatia Food and Wine Festival in Zagreb, and have been an enthusiastic promoter of his several great community initiatives this winter, which have included free horse riding for children, tennis lessons for kids, a squid-hunting championship, billiards tournaments and a kids event on the main square to coincide with the opening of the Gariful Tennis Open. An impressive list.

But I had never eaten at his restaurant.

That all changed one night, as I, along with other local businesses – including our friends at Sunčani Hvar, Otok Hvar, and Foto For – were invited to enjoy a fish extravaganza at the opening night. Among my friends invited at the table were a Norwegian couple, who own one of the best restaurants in Oslo.

It was not the quality of the food which stayed with me, which was fabulous and plentiful (monkfish carpaccio and octopus salad to start, followed by seafood spaghetti with generous portions of lobster, then a selection of fish – škarpina, šampjer, tabinja and šarag – all beautifully prepared and filleted by the attentive Gariful waiters). It was not the excellent Tomić St. Klement white which never seemed to run out, an excellent local wine made from grapes on an island opposite Hvar Town, as Head Waiter Ivica explained on serving.

What stays with me was something I have rarely come across due to my lack of experience with fancy restaurants – the total luxury dining experience. 

The service was outstanding, invisible and unobtrusive, and yet on hand to tend to every request. The uncorking and serving of the wine was an art form in itself, bringing the personality of the St. Klement into the dining experience. The excellent live performance from Klapa Galešnik brought traditional Hvar music to diners at just the right time. The presentation of the fish, from the tray with the bed of ice on arrival, to the expert tableside serving was outstanding. 

“Fabulous. Just fabulous,” said Mark, finishing off the chocolate cake for dessert. “What a great restaurant for Hvar. I will definitely be recommending all my guests to come here.”

It was my Norwegian friends who I enjoyed the most though. The Bobster, whose opinions on food and wine are very respected in Norway, was more than a little impressed, while Mrs Bobster emerged with delight from the Ladies having come across the underfloor aquarium on the way; and there was double delight as I took her into the kitchen to show her the live tank there, which passers-by can see through the glass in the restaurant wall. 

The heat lamps did their job well, ensuring it was warm enough to sit outside, but there were individual blankets on hand, for anyone in need. Norwegian-style. It is the little touches.

And all through this fabulous evening, I had my back to the sea, and did not manage to enjoy another senstational aspect of the Gariful experience. The view. 

Thank you Ivan, Ivica and the whole of Team Gariful for three things. Thank you for a wonderful evening and a memorable dining experience. Thank you for the great community initiatives you put on throughout the year, which considerably increases the interesting activities available, particularly for the children. And thank you perhaps most of all for raising the level of exclusive tourism on Hvar, adding another layer of quality to the island’s already-impressive offer, making it a must-visit destination for top-spending tourists.

All photos copyright Romulic and Stojcic 

 Read more about Gariful:

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