International Cuisine in Zagreb: Namaste

Total Croatia News

© Vedran Pažin

July 24, 2020 – Zagreb’s food offer has grown considerably in quality and choice over the last decade, with Michelin stars galore and an exciting range of international cuisine options. We continue our look at some of the best new outlets offering meals never previously available in the Croatian capital, getting the story behind these businesses and their food. In this installment, we look at the authentic Indian cuisine and fine dining experience of Namaste

Attempts at offering international cuisine are not entirely new in Zagreb. But, quite a few who’ve tried have done little but that; try. Under-spiced, lazy and way off-mark, some approximations of exotic foreign dishes leave many an international visitor to Zagreb feeling underwhelmed. Situated across from Studenski Dom Stjepan Radić, a ten-minute tram ride from the city centre, Namaste is the total antithesis to such disappointments. Offering wholly authentic Indian cuisine and specialising in the menu of the subcontinent’s south, Namaste is 100% the real deal.

An expansive set up with an exquisitely designed interior, this restaurant excels at offering a formal dining experience that will be a voyage of flavour discovery to the uninitiated. Prawn, fish, lamb and chicken curries are accompanied on the menu by freshly-prepared speciality breads, rice, salads, skewered kebabs and a myriad of paired sauces and chutneys, with a huge range of unmissable vegetarian options. To anyone passionate about food, a visit to Namaste is simply a must.

_MG_5087.jpegDev Raj, proprietor of Namaste © Vedran Pažin

Interviewer: Hello Dev Raj! Raj means king, doesn’t it?

Dev means God and, yes, Raj means king.

Interviewer: So, there’s no mistaking you are the boss here!

Ha! I guess not. I was born and brought up in the south of India, in Bangalore, one of the biggest cities in the world. I first came to Croatia in 2004. I travel extensively. My main business is in granite and marble. It’s the family business. We used to export a lot of it from India into Italy, especially Verona. I had an opportunity to go into the hospitality business in Croatia and that’s the reason I first came. I subsequently set up in Croatia as the European base for the family business and we import our granite and marble through here to all regions of the Balkans and Europe.

The next business we moved into was the export of timber from here. We send timber from Croatia to India, Vietnam, UAE and China. Croatia has some of the best timber in the world. Certainly, the oak from here is among the best. If you go to a store like Oak Furniture Land in the UK, which has around 100 stores, probably 90% of the oak furniture they have comes from Croatia, although few people know that, because it first goes to Vietnam or China before being sent to the UK. Croatia also has excellent beech. We process the wood here, ship it to be made into furniture and then it is exported to places like the UK. It’s a massive industry. On any given day, such exports from China, Vietnam, Malaysia and Cambodia total not less than $500 – 600 million.

_MG_5058.jpegNamaste © Vedran Pažin

We started the Namaste restaurant just over two years ago. It is my passion. I always wanted to have a restaurant here and I wanted to do it right. Croatia has been good to me and I wanted to be able to give something back, something really authentic. All of our spices, rice and even the wheat flour we use comes from India, every 15 days, via London. All of the vegetables, meat and herbs we use are produced here in Croatia.

Food is different all over India. When you go to the south, where we are from, you see people eating more rice and things made from rice flour, such as dosa, which are like pancakes or igli, which is like a dumpling. Biryani is from there. Every state in the south of India has its own distinct flavours. Our food is very rich in spices and therefore very rich in flavour and in medicinal value. Alternatively, in the north of India, everything is based around the oven, like a Tandor clay oven. More bread, more wheat and spices which make the dishes hotter, because it’s colder up there. We feature some cuisine from the north in our menu here.

We have a total of nine chefs in the restaurant. All of them are Indian and three of them used to work in London, so they are used to cooking for the European palette. All of them have experience working in 5-star hotels. Most of my waiting staff are also from India, the rest are from Croatia. Ours is one of the largest restaurants in south-east Europe and we set the bar extremely high. It is more like a fine dining restaurant. A lot of consideration went into the design and the furnishings and the staff always look spick and span. We selected the best of the best wine after pairing it with our food, which is normally not done. We made sure we got everything right. After a few months of being open, it worked and we could see some of the same faces coming back time and time again. We are full every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Before Corona, you would have needed a reservation to be able to eat here on one of those nights. The people who come have grown to love the flavours we do. Every time they come, they can count of the flavours being consistent and the meals just as delicious as the last time they ate here.

Namaste © Vedran Pažin

The most popular dishes here are the butter chicken, the chicken biryani and the dosa. They also love the lamb seekh, which I guess is a bit like the Indian ćevapi. My personal favourites? I love the daal, it’s excellent. I also love the Chicken Chettinad curry, which is an authentic dish from the south of India, and the garlic naan. I also love the fish dishes. The chef responsible for the fish dishes is really one of the best guys in the world at making that style. He was famed for doing so in southern India before I persuaded him to come here. We only use fresh Croatian fish in such dishes and we use Orada and Brancin, the best we can get. Everything we make is first tasted and quality checked before being put onto the plate and presented to the diner.

What do I think of Croatia as a country in which to do business? It’s a good question, a hard question. It’s a very small country for me to have come to for our international family business. But, to its advantage, it is located very centrally in Europe. East and south-east Europe are incredibly accessible from here and there are two beautiful ports in Ploce and Rijeka. If I want to travel anywhere else in Europe, I can do so from any of the large number of airports they have here. So, for good connections and logistics, Croatia gets an A star. For nature too, also an A star – Croatia has the best beaches and coast plus incredible natural resources. These are the plus points. But, they still have some distance left to travel in regards to accommodating foreign business.

Namaste © Vedran Pažin

For instance, if you’re a businessman or entrepreneur who wants to come and set up a business in Croatia, this first step of setting up a company is easy. Employing local staff is also very easy. But, if you want to bring in specialist staff from another country, it’s a huge risk, because they will only guarantee their working visa for one year. If I want to invest $100, 000 to 1 million here, why can I not bring my specialist, experienced staff from another territory in order that it succeeds? It’s a huge risk that their visa will not be extended. One good aspect is that you can approach anyone for help – the bureaucrat or even the minister – and tell them what you need. You can get that access. They will listen and understand, although sometimes the reaction can be very slow and there’s always a huge amount of paperwork. They love their paperwork. They need to get rid of a lot of that. And they need to set up a standard window of opportunity for investors from any region, with a full package designed to assist you in setting up business here. If they did that, the GDP could double within 10 years. It’s a slow progress that has been taking place since independence and the war. But, God has given them the best resources and the people are good, so I believe they will get there.

Namaste is located at Selska cesta 217

Namaste © Vedran Pažin

You can read the introduction to our series on Zagreb international cuisine and the first installment here

To follow our whole series on international cuisine and to follow the Croatian restaurant and gastro scene, keep an eye on our Gourmet pages here


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