With much of Croatia’s Adriatic coast closing down after a record tourist season, a visit to one of the gems of the Croatian gourmet world on October 30, 2017, Plavi Podrum, delightfully tucked away in charming Volosko on the Opatija Riviera. And open all year.
“I am taking you somewhere for lunch. There is someone I would like you to meet.”
I knew at once that an unforgettable experience would ensue. One of the things I have come to appreciate about Croatian friends over the years is that once they accept you into their circle, you become a member of the family. Perhaps there is an element of showing the foreigner who writes about Croatia that he doesn’t know ‘everything’, but such dining invitations are always a treasure.
This week’s invitation was no exception. But it was exceptional.
Leaving our meetings in Opatija and heading to Rijeka, we veered off the main road down towards the coast. The road was narrow, a one-way street, but soon we were there, transformed from the majesty of historic Opatija to a delightful little fishing village, complete with impressive stone buildings on its waterfront. Welcome to Volosko, officially the start of the Opatija Riviera and the famous Lungomare walkway which spans the 12km of the Opatija Riviera.
October 30. The Adriatic coast. It was an idyllic spot, and a reminder that Croatia has so much more to offer out of the main peak tourist season. With an Indian summer like this, it was a pity more tourists were not enjoying the weather with the locals.
Volosko has a pretty and quaint little harbour, with restaurants forming the basis of its waterfront offer. By far the best known, and the oldest on the Opatija Riviera, was our destination – Plavi Podrum. And the friend we went to meet was owner Daniela Kramaric, who has been leading the way with the local gourmet scene since taking over the restaurant in 1997. Not only is the restaurant ranked as one of the best in all Croatia, it has twice been included in the prestigious S. Pelligrino list of the best 100 restaurants in the world.
Within 30 seconds of meeting Daniela, it was not hard to understand why. Some restaurants pride themselves on their olive oil and wine selection, but not many have the selection and knowledge I encountered at Plavi Podrum. No less than six olive oils to choose from on the table. It was actually five types of olive oil, with one oil represented twice – a chance to compare last year’s harvest with the fresh pressing of 2017. All expertly introduced by Daniela, and it was pleasing to see that the choice include oil from both Dalmatia and Istria.
Some enticing cuttlefish bread to aid the olive tasting process.
I have learned in such situations not to ask to see the menu, but simply to go with the flow on what is suggested. A glass of Tomac sparkling appeared, which is when I learned that not only was Daniela the first female sommelier in Croatia, but she is also a two-time national sommelier champion and was also the best sommelier in Central and Eastern Europe. Having heard that I was a Brit and living on Hvar, it did not long for the name of Jo Ahearne MW to enter the conversation. I was telling her about Jo’s new wines, including Wild Skins, which is attracting critical acclaim for it quality use of lesser regarded indigenous Hvar grapes, but who was I to try and tell Daniela anything about wine? She had already met Jo and tasted her entire range yesterday. A true professional on top of the latest developments in her field of expertise.
The wine list was a joy to peruse. A heavy emphasis on local and Croatian wines, including some classics from older vintages, and the international selection was mouthwatering, and my mind returned to my former days as a wine merchant in the vineyards of Bordeaux as I took in the various older vintages from the Medoc and surrounding area.
And so to the food. A little seafood entree, compliments of the house, to get things started.
One of the main reasons to visit from a culinary perspective was the next dish – tuna prsut, complete with sorbet of Merlot, which shared a plate with octopus salad and a truffle sauce. One of the highlights of the year.
The only decision I had to make was ‘pasta or risotto’? Soon after, the pasta arrived, with Daniela personally grating the truffle in front of us. I tried to get her to stop… Stunning.
One of the reasons for Plavi Podrum’s success is their dedication to the freshest quality local products. Daniela works with many contacts from the fishing industry to ensure the freshest catch not just from the Kvarner and Istria region, but also from Dalmatia, and her day begins with the selection of the finest ingredients for her guests. Many ingredients in Croatia are seasonal, and quality restaurants reflect this in their menus, as we were about to find out with dessert. Nearby Lovran is famous for its chestnuts, and we had arrived at the height of the chestnut season. Chestnut mousse wrapped in white chocolate with pistachio sorbet.
As with the finest meals, it was just the right amount, and we left feeling sated but not stuffed. We ate nothing else for the rest of the day. A fine meal. As fine as was the view, and it was hard to imagine that this was the end of October, and the tourist season had ended elsewhere. Not at Plavi Podrum, however, for here is a gourmet gem which closes for just two weeks of the year to give the staff some time off. Sensational gourmet experiences, open all year – the potential of Croatia as a year-round gourmet destination is phenomenal, and experiences such as Plavi Podrum are a quality addition to that offer.
It was time to wander after lunch to take in the beauty of this hidden treat. Memories of Dalmatia, but we were further north in Kvarner, close to the border of Istria.
The calming sound of the lapping of waves and a walk around the harbour (in video above).
And just around the corner, the start of the famous Lungomare on the Opatija Riviera, a picturesque public 12-kilometre walkway which has been charming locals and tourists alike for more than 100 years. I can’t imagine a better reward for those who walk to Volosko than a fine meal at Plavi Podrum.
The tiny harbours of the Adriatic coast – timeless beauty.
And where there is a moment to relax and enjoy, there is a bench.
The harbour is free of traffic and therefore very safe for kids, and there were plenty who were taking advantage of the surroundings.
Daniela had to leave us, destination Rovinj, for a gourmet evening at Hotel Lone with Michelin stars doing the cooking (you can read more about the event here) – one more string in Croatia’s gourmet bow of potential and attractions. The weather had been fine enough to dine outside, and it was time for a wander around inside.
An indication of how the restaurant is regarded nationally and internationally.
And on the odd occasion when it is too cold for outside dining, excellent service and an outstanding view await on the inside.
The finest selection of olive oils, a fabulous and expansive wine list. It was to be expected that a Champagne fridge of quality would be found inside.
Volosko and the Plavi Podrum experience. Utterly charming from start to finish. And open 50 weeks of the year. To learn more about the restaurant, click here.