August 14, 2020 – A wonderful outpost of Croatian gourmet tourism in the heart of Brussels. Meet Maison d’Istrie for your finest Istrian specialities in the heart of Europe.
One of the more unusual things about the excellent food in Croatia is that there is not really a national cuisine. Croatia is exceptionally strong in its regional cuisine, with local specialities across the country very different from elsewhere. The truffles, pastas and Boskarin beef washed down with Mavazija and Teran in Istria contract with the excellent seafood, pasticada, Plavac Mali and Posip of Dalmatia, which is different again from the hearty meats, fis paprika and Grasevina of Slavonia. It is a wonderful combination, and the late, great Anthony Bourdain rightly commented that Croatia had ‘world-class wine, world-class food, and world-class cheese.’
But while Dalmatians will look forward to a gift of kulen from Slavonia or truffles from Istria, the region’s restaurants rarely travel. It is quite rare to find an Istrian restaurant in Dalmatia, for example, or a Dalmatian restaurant in Slavonia.
Which is why it was quite a surprise on a recent visit to Belgium to discover a restaurant very far from home – Maison d’Istrie.
Located on Avenue Louise, the restaurant introduces itself on its social media as follows:
“Maison d’Istrie is much more than just a B&B, restaurant and wine bar. Our wish is to transfer love for Istrian Mediterranean gastronomy to Belgians and beyond. It’s a concept which offers a truly unique experience of a new taste in town.”
Owner Bojan Radetic sat down with me over a glass of San Servolo to explain more about the origins of Maison d’Istrie and what they were trying to achieve. You can see the interview with the man from Pula above, as well as the incredible collection of Istrian wines, which would be the envy of many restaurants back home in Istria.
Maison d’Istrie opened two years ago and is the only Croatian restaurant in the Belgian capital. As such, it is an excellent promotional tool for Croatia and is popular with locals, Croatian expats and the many Belgian visitors to Croatia, who long for a reminder of summer on the Adriatic. During the recent Croatian Presidency of the EU, it was also a popular diplomatic meeting point, and continues to be so.
And the emphasis is very much on freshness and authentic products. More than 80% of the food is prepared on site, including Istria’s famed pasta and gnocchi, while suppliers such of Karlic for Istrian truffles, show that no expense has been spared in the search for quality.
I only discovered the restaurant due to a road trip back in June with the indefatigable Nikola Bozic, owner of leading meat restaurant Djurina Hiza in Varazdinske Toplice. Having already set up a corona lockdown steak delivery service all over Croatia back in April, Bozic expanded his operations to connect with the Croatian diaspora in parts of Europe, as well as Croatian gourmet businesses.
Bozic arrived with some gifts, which were very appreciated by the Maison d’Istrie chef – it is not every day that you find your chef singing with a quality dry-aged steak from Croatia. One early result of this first meeting is that both will be participating in the European Week of Regions and Cities initiative in October, one more chance to promote the excellence of Croatian regional cuisine.
A super friendly and welcoming place, with a really quite outstanding selection of authentic Istria, in the company of passionate Istrians more than happy to talk about their beloved region and gourmet highlights.