© Sandro Sklepić
That familiar feel of Advent in Zagreb has returned. The strong scents of spiced, cooked wine and sausages on the grill. Music that makes you want to hang around and mingle. By day and by night, city residents and visitors alike are drawn to this terrace.
© Esplanade Hotel
After dark, the scene is spectacular, with seasonal lights adding to the atmosphere. But, most impressive of all is the backdrop of the Esplanade Hotel. It is their terrace that is hosting the popular Fuliranje section of Zagreb Advent in 2021. And it is the Esplanade’s head chef, Ana Grgić, who has delivered one of this Christmas’s best culinary highlights.
Chef Ana Grgić presents the Esplanade Hotel’s first street food menu © Sandro Sklepić
”The idea was to make it totally different to what we already have inside the hotel on our menus,” says Ana when she sits down with Total Croatia News to introduce the Esplanade Hotel’s first street food menu. “The food needs to be a little more simple, adapted to this kind of event. But, at the same time, we know that many people come to Fuliranje who are not necessarily so well acquainted with the Esplanade Hotel. So, the menu also needed to represent the hotel, its standards and offer an introduction.”
Part of the Esplanade Hotel’s first street food menu © Marc Rowlands
”I know that the usual kind of street food is burgers, wraps and sausage sandwiches. But, I wanted to show that this kind of food can also be street food. So far, it’s been incredibly popular. In particular, the croquettes and the beef cheeks.”
Esplanade Hotel’s First Street Food Menu
Slow-cooked beef cheeks, a big hit of the Esplanade Hotel’s first street food menu © Marc Rowlands
”The beef cheeks are first marinated for 12 hours in red wine and vegetables. Afterwards, they are removed and seared on each side, then cooked slowly inside the replenished marinade for 5 hours. In the first 5 or 6 days since we opened, we already went through 150 kilos of beef cheeks. I bought everything they have at Dolac (Zagreb central market). Now, we have to look a bit further for what we need.”
The famous strukli of the Esplanade (this is the restaurant presentation – it’s served more casually out on the terrace) © Esplanade Hotel
”We sold maybe 1000 strukli up until now. After just 3 days we’d sold 450 portions of our croquettes. There are 8 croquettes in each portion. So, that’s quite a lot. Inside there is Dalmatian prosciutto and Pag island cheese. They take quite a long time to prepare at this standard. Maybe next time I should just do burgers!”
If you only eat one thing at Fuliranje 2021, you simply must try the croquettes (left) from the Esplanade Hotel’s first street food menu © Marc Rowlands
”We have a traditional Quiche Lorraine made with very good quality Croatian bacon (slanina). The bakalar (salt cod) is always very popular. It’s a seasonal favourite here at Christmastime. On the Fuliranje terrace, we have a traditional white one and also a red one made with tomatoes. We serve it with our own focaccia, made with fresh herbs and Croatian olive oil. But, we have a special offer of bakalar in Le Bistro too – a bakalar pâté, a ravioli with bakalar, sun-dried tomatoes, broad bean and a little chilli and also a risotto.”
Chef Ana Grgić at the Esplanade Hotel Zagreb
Ana Grgić © Esplanade Hotel
2022 marks a milestone in the career of chef Ana Grgić. In spring, she will celebrate 10 years as Executive Chef at the Esplanade Hotel Zagreb. Today, Ana is well known to food fans all over Croatia, having appeared as a celebrated authority on Croatian TV’s version of Masterchef. But, her remarkable story has rarely been written in English.
Ana was born in Brčko, which is today within Bosnia and Hercegovina. But, when war broke out, both Ana and her sister were quickly evacuated. After six months in Austria, they were returned to Croatia. The girls ended up staying with a relative in Velika Gorica, where Ana still lives today.
While waiting for their mother to join them in Croatia, Ana and her sister taught themselves how to cook. By the time Ana left school at 16, she had decided that cooking was what she wanted to do. However, with no experience, she struggled to find an opportunity. Eventually, she persuaded the head chef at the Esplanade Hotel to allow her to volunteer in their kitchens.
“I decided it was better to volunteer at a top hotel than to sit at home doing nothing,” says Ana. “After six months, they offered me a job.”
© Esplanade Hotel
In the time she has been at the Esplanade Hotel, Ana Grgić has worked her way up every step of the ladder. She now holds the title of Executive Chef (Head Chef) for the entire culinary operations at the Esplanade. In detail, she personally designs menus for the hotel bar, hotel banquets for events like gala dinners and weddings, their considerable outside catering operation and for room service. Additionally, she designs the menus for each of the hotel’s two restaurants.
© Esplanade Hotel
Le Bistro offers traditional Croatian food and ingredients, with an emphasis on French cooking techniques and a distinctly seasonal menu. Zinfandel’s restaurant is one of the best fine dining experiences in Croatia, with a menu that changes four times a year reflecting the different seasons.
During her career at the Esplanade, Ana has prepared meals for politicians such as US President Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Italian President Napolitano, Austrian President Fischer, celebrities like actor Tim Roth, sportsmen Pep Guardiola, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo and entertainers like Shakira, Sade, Sting, José Carreras, Bob Geldof and Robbie Williams.
Fuliranje at the Esplanade Hotel for Zagreb Advent 2021
© Sandro Sklepić
For enthusiasts of Zagreb Advent, local media reviews of the 2021 manifestation have been painful to read. The event has received an absolute mauling in the press. With the epidemiological situation remaining difficult to predict, on paper it made sense to plan and offer a reduced Advent. But, in a city used to being celebrated as Europe’s Best Christmas Market, what’s been delivered has seemingly left many disappointed. While an impressive visual theatre can be found in Upper Town and Zrinjevac, critics claim few want to hang around. And they’ve bemoaned an absence of quality food options.
Fuliranje 2021, at night © Marc Rowlands
These criticisms have been answered in the last week with the opening of Fuliranje at the Esplanade. One of the best-established sections of Zagreb Advent, in previous years Fuliranje was on Strossmayer Square. It could always be counted on for a good atmosphere, decent music and delicious food. This latest incarnation at the Esplanade Hotel is no exception.
From the hotel. The grandiose terrace that holds Fuliranje is traditionally known as the Oleander Terrace. It overlooks the park and fountain in Ante Starčević square, part of a U-shaped stretch of Zagreb city centre parks known as Lenuzzi’s Horseshoe © Sandro Sklepić
In addition to the Esplanade Hotel’s first street food menu, you’ll find many tempting choices waiting to tantalize your tastebuds. Among them, chef Mate Janković offers seasonal handheld favourites at Sausage Institut. Ivan Pažanin’s Chef’s Burgers cover the other classic choice. Good Kut is a collaboration between two Zagreb institutions – Good Food and Kut and, like newcomer Beg’s Plant Based Butchery and Deli, they offer healthy options with vivid flavours. But there are many others too.
Fuliranje at the Esplanade Hotel is open every day from 11am to 11pm until 1st January 2022.
Fuliranje at the Esplanade Hotel © Sandro Sklepić