May 31, 2018 – Dalmatian tapas, such an obvious concept, and so rarely done well. Until now. Meet the hilarious duo with an outstanding addition to the Korcula gourmet scene – Ante and Matko from Marendin.
What is it that makes for an unforgettable dining experience?
The food of course, the service, the ambience and the company. Get all of those right and you are on the road to one of those memorable gourmet experiences.
Croatia is full of such experiences, although some restaurants of course do it better than others. And, as I discovered on Korcula at the recent Korculanske Pjatance Spring Food and Wine Festival, there was plenty of quality on show, through the diverse culinary delights of Lesic Dimitri, Filippi, Konoba Maha and Mimi’s, to name but four we had the good fortune to sample.
But I have never come across anything like the two guys who run Marendin, an eatery which opened in the old town of Korcula last summer.
Dalmatian tapas, such an obvious concept, but one I have never really seen sone well in my time here. I have had more plates of Dalmatian prsut, Pag cheese and olives than cold beers in my time in Croatia, but to try and find a place where you can sample the very finest traditional regional bites, made from the freshest local ingredients with a creative twist? Not so common.
And that is when I met Ante and Matko, for what I had planned to be a 15-minute meeting.
Marendin comes from the world ‘marenda’, meaning something akin to ‘morning snack.’ Dalmatians swear by it, and marendas can come as something very simple or an altogether grander affair. I used to hate the word for years until I realised its true meaning, for every time I went to visit the tax office or any other public institution, there would be a sign saying ‘Marenda – 10:30 – 11:00’. I would typically arrive at 10:31 and then be hanging around until the busy officials arrived back after a stressful break at about 11:25.
It was supposed to be a quick 15-minute visit to become acquainted with the establishment – which I liked very much (superbly restored authentic interior, as well as some great cosy outside space in one of those narrow alleys leading to the centre of the old town – but within 3 seconds of meeting Ante and Matko, I knew that this was going to take a while.
And what I liked about these two very jovial chaps – who do not take themselves seriously at all – is the way they were able to combine that relaxed informality with superb and attentive service to all their customers simultaneously. An older American couple were drawn in by the advertising board offering Dalmatian tapas – five bites and five wines – and left entertained, educated and sated.
The things that set Marendin apart from similar places are two-fold – passion and knowledge.
“We are just a couple of peasants in the old town, who love what we do.”
Ante told me that he can be found each morning at Rotunda market, selling the freshest local fruits and vegetable, as well as delivering them to various clients. They took such great care in explaining each dish and the origins of each ingredient that I almost got the feeling that they watered each plant themselves, caught each fish with their bare hands, and probably spent some time babysitting the pigs that went onto become such excellent prsut.
I am not going to talk about the actual food we tasted, partly because I want you to go and discover it for yourselves, and partly because I was laughing so much that I forgot to take notes or pictures, and I would rather do a fuller report when I return in a couple of weeks. But do visit these guys – it will be one of the top memories of your stay.
As with the food, so the wines.A gorgeous selection of the very finest whites of Korcula and reds from the Peljesac, including this beauty, which hardly makes it to market given its limited quantity. And with every wine, a loving introduction to both the winemakers and the wines, so that I felt I knew them personally by the end of each glass.
And where else in the world would you learn that there were four different types of indigenous almond in former Yugoslavia, two of which were from Korcula. I already knew that Ante had caressed each and every one and deemed them fit for his guests.
And the final confirmation that we had found something truly special – the local confirmation. As it was our time to leave (more than an hour after we had planned), Marendin began to fill up with locals, for this was the restaurant of choice to celebrate a birthday party. I left them to their local celebrations in very good cheer, and determined to return as soon as I can.