May 3, 2018 – A lesson in Dalmatian perfection at the second Korcula Spring Food and Wine Fair, as the Bire winery celebrates 20 years of its Lumbarda winery with a six-course Lesic Dimitri special last Saturday.
Although I lived on the neighbouring island of Hvar for 13 years, Korcula had never really been on my radar until very recently. When you live in Paradise, is there really a need to explore similar islands in the neighbourhood?
And then I went to visit…
Korcula Town at the end of August was a lesson in the art of seduction. Staying out of town at Tara’s Lodge, one of the top chilling zones on the Adriatic, an invitation for lunch at five-star Lesic Dimitri was an experience I was certainly not going to miss. Apart from the chance to savour their legendary food, I was fascinated to meet the British man behind arguably Croatia’s top boutique hotel, whose vision has helped set Korcula Town on a path of upscale tourism in an era where other Croatian islands and destinations are selling the essence of what makes them special for the quick buck. It was quite a lunch, and the longer I stayed in Korcula Town, the more I realised that it was a blueprint for the upscale tourism which Croatia should be aspiring to. You can read last summer’s impressions here.
And so I did not need much persuading to spend the May bank holiday with the family on exquisite Korcula, covering a really nice festival called Korculasnke Pjatance, a Spring Food and Wine Festival showcasing the very finest Korcula culture, tradition, food and wine. A festival for gourmands certainly, but very much a family event. Foraging in the woods for herbs for ingredients on the workshop on preparing pastries with the island’s wild herbs was a highlight for some, while I have never seen my daughters so enthusiastic in the kitchen at the homemade pasta workshop at Filippi restaurant (of which much more soon).
As luck would have it, the day of our arrival coincided with rather a special evening, bringing together two of the giants of the Korcula gourmet scene, as Lesic Dimitri hosted a wonderful dinner to celebrate 20 years of the Bire winery in Lumbarda. A winery which has put the local grape variety of Grk on the international wine map, and one which is sought after far beyond the island’s shores. There are only 7-8 Grk producers in total, the most significant of whom is the very humble Frano Milina Bire. Grk only grows on the sandy soils of Lumbarda, and Bire’s annual production of about 30,000 bottles could be sold several times over, as the ever-increasing demand far outstrips supply. One way of controlling that supply, I had heard, was to limit the sale of bottles of Grk at tastings in Lumbarda to just two bottles per person.
It was a pleasure to meet the Bire legend and to ask the truth behind one of my favourite Croatian wine stories which I have heard from several sources, and I wanted to discover if it was an urban myth or not.
According to the story, part of the infamous Kennedy family was having dinner in a posh restaurant in Dubrovnik and asked for the best local white wine. One (or possibly more) bottle of Grk later and a speedboat to Lumbarda was arranged, which was followed by a tasting and an order of two pallets of Grk (1200 bottles).
“I am sorry, Sir, but we have a policy of only 2 bottles per person, as our supply is limited, and if we sold all at once, we would have nothing for guests for the rest of the year.”
“Do you not know who we are,” came the alleged reply. “We are the Kennedys from USA. We would like two pallets.”
“And I am Bire from Lumbarda,” was the supposed reply. “And you can have two bottles.”
The Kennedys then reportedly left wth their two bottle allocation and returned to the Dubrovnik restaurant, where they supposedly bought up every bottle of Grk at restaurant prices.
Was there any truth to the tale? It would appear that there was…
Fittingly, the initial Grk contact took place at Lesic Dimitri over a fine dinner, not in Dubrovnik. An order of 200 bottles was placed. They left with just a few bottles.
And they returned to Korcula the following year.
There were many things that I really enjoyed about meeting the King of Grk, one of which was his simple approach to life. Yes, he could probably plant more and sell more, but for him, what he had was more than enough. A few years ago, he sold 90% of his wine locally, and today it is just 10%, as the secret of Grk reaches a wider audience. And he is happy with that, because it means that the promotion of his beloved Korcula increases. A wonderful man and divine wines.
And so to the menu, paired with the Bire range.
Gambero rosso, with mouselin sauce, leek and chili.
Sashimi with scampi, sea bass, tobiki and horseradish.
Monk fish, gnocchi and truffles.
Foie gras with brioche breadcrumbs, caramel, apple, grapes and almonds.
Quail with gnudi, almonds, pear and egg yolk.
And a delightful dessert called Sea – chocolate, caramel, orange, cream and sea salt.
And as the Grk repertoire washed down each delicious course in some style, all the while the romantic sounds of a local a capella klapa group, whose harmonious voices throughout the night were the final touch in a perfect display of Dalmatian hospitality at its absolute finest.
And at the end of the night, deserved appluase for the two stars of the night, Lesic Dimitri chef Marko Gajski and young Bire – a fabulous combination.
It has been a pleasure to observe and get to know the Lesic team over the last ten 9 months since that first meeting. A dedicated team of hard-working individual keen to learn and improve. Under the expert guiding hand of owner Michael Unsworth, the Lesic Dimitri team has really gelled into a force which does the luxury boutique hotel justice – and I wonder how many other restaurants in Croatia can boast an expert front and back of house team as chef Marko and head sommelier, Drazen Matkovic, pictured above at the Lesic Christmas dinner in Zagreb, just one of the many teambuilding events which has helped the Lesic team to gel.
A wonderful evening, but the festival must continue, as too the Lesic Dimitri participation.
And what better way to kick start Sunday evening that with a cocktail workshop on the Lesic terrace?
Incorporating some freshly foraged herbs from the abundant island fields.
This year’s Korculanske Pjatance festival continues until May 5. Make sure you book your May Bank Holiday weekend for 2019 to catch it in all its glory next year. You can follow the festival on Facebook.