After a spectacular first year on the Split gourmet scene, Restaurant Paradigma – already a member of Jeunes Restaurateurs – is set to pop up in Zagreb next week. TCN catches up with owner Zoran Pejovic to find out more.
He was the man to introduce the wine bar to Split in 2012 with his Paradox Wine and Cheese Bar, sowing the seeds for the current vibrant wine bar scene in the Dalmatian capital. This was followed by the opening last year of a pan-Mediterranean fine dining restaurant in Split called Paradigma, which was granted membership of the prestigious Jeunes Restaurateurs after just six months. Now Zoran Pejovic and team are about to embark on their latest groundbreaking venture in Croatia, the first luxury pop-up restaurant in Zagreb. TCN caught up with Zoran on November 6, 2015, five days ahead of opening.
1. A pop-up restaurant from a regional city opening in the capital city will take some by surprise. How did the idea come about?
Our main goal is to continue improving and developing our team and our operation in all of its segments. That is hard with such a strong seasonality as there is in Split. We wanted to continue full steam ahead and therefore looked at all possible options in Split. Once we concluded that another winter in Split would mean two steps back, we decided to take the game to another field. Zagreb was the most logical choice as it is, being country’s largest city as well as the capital, the most vibrant city and activities in the winter time are abundant.
2. Zagreb already has a strong gourmet scene. Where do you see your niche?
That is true. However, there have been very little changes to the gourmet scene, especially the high end of the spectrum, in the last few years, so we see our opportunities there. We will be here temporarily and are looking to make an immediate impact.
3. It is fair to say that you created a stunning impression in your first year in Split, even becoming a member of the Jeunes Restaurateurs after just six months. What can Zagreb diners expect at Paradigma?
Thank you for your kind words. We are doing our best and hoping for the best. Split and Zagreb are definitely different markets but our focus remain the same. We want to present modern Mediterranean cuisine paired with amazing wines from the wine regions that overlook the Mediterranean sea. All that is coupled with an extremely professional, knowledgeable as well as friendly service team whose job is to guide the guests through our menus. We will be offering tasting menus only. One is called Split and reflects the best of the best that we offered so far to our guests in Split. Another one is called Zagreb and is especially designed for the Zagreb pop up. It features some of the more continental ingredients, however still very much infused with Mediterranean flair.
4. How would you compare the restaurant scene between the two cities?
As you know, and we all know, until a few years back restaurant scene in Split was rather small and limited to konobas and traditional dalmatian fare. That is changing rapidly right now. However, despite the fact that Split is the largest city on the Adriatic, restaurants are mainly oriented towards tourists. Business clientele and local guests are few and far between. Zagreb restaurants have a very different focus. There is a bit of everything in terms of markets and niches. However, I am not overly impressed with the Zagreb gourmet scene as a whole. It is missing more specialized international restaurants as well as more fine dining restaurants that need to be leading the scene and some that are a bit more on the funky side of things. Something that would make guests, say from Vienna, Ljubljana or Belgrade come to Zagreb for, if not even from London, Copenhagen or Berlin.
5. You are known as one of the innovators of the gourmet scene in Dalmatia. There are increasing international column inches about Croatian cuisine these days. Are you happy with the direction it is heading, and what improvements would you like to see?
We are seeing changes absolutely. But those changes can’t be only cosmetic changes. Yes, it is very important to have stunning looking restaurants in beautiful locations but restaurants are not just buildings and its locations. It is primarily its people. We need to keep working on changing the paradigms of hospitality. We need to change the notions that waiters are just food deliverers, among others. . . The world is talking today about creating experiences, even though that word is becoming redundant as we speak as well, but we need to play along. And not just that! We need to try to think what will be in five years time. We need to reinvent ourselves, our cuisine, our restaurant scene. . . All of it.
(Zoran Pejovic, centre, has brought a breath of fresh air to the Dalmatian gourmet scene with his Paradox Hospitality brand)
6. You are, I think, the first pop up restaurant in Croatia. Do you plan to make this a regular winter thing after the Split tourist season finishes, and if yes, are you looking at any other possible destinations?
I believe this is the first endeavor of its kind. There are many plans for the next winter but we need to leave some material to talk about it next year ;).
Pop-up Restaurant Paradigma in Zagreb will be opening on November 11. For more information and to make a reservation, click here.