first encounters with croatia – exploring hvar

i’m sorry this has taken so long to pull together, but hopefully it’ll be worth the wait…

the first thing i noticed about eating and drinking on hvar was how much more expensive it was compared to split. this shouldn’t really have surprised me as i’d seen it described as a party island - the cannes of croatia – and the harbour in hvar town was home to some very large yachts, obviously owned by people with “cash to splash”. the other thing i noticed was that it wasn’t easy to find places “off the tourist trail” although admittedly we weren’t trying too hard, preferring instead to stumble from pool/beach to restaurant rather than exploring the smaller places on the island - tripadvisor scores were ever-present on restaurant doors, as were multilingual staff and groups of tourists. regardless of this we managed to eat and drink very well.

gariful, a restaurant located on the harbour and just where we were dropped off by our ferry from split, was our first stop. it was full of people who had obviously dressed up and were enjoying themselves, often with a tinge of sunburn to highlight their newness to the island and delight at the sunny weather – although most people looked a little nervous when walking across the restaurant’s glass floor, overlooking an aquarium!

i started with grilled calamari which was easily the best calamari i have ever eaten – the squid was so tender and, having been cooked over flames on a wood grill, was full of flavour. if you visit the restaurant i really recommend this as opposed to the fried calamari which they also offer, which is served as squid rings coated in batter, presumably having been deep-fried – i’m sure it would be equally tender but i doubt they could match the depth of flavour from the barbeque. david’s starter was octopus carpaccio, served with caper berries and pickled garlic; this was the prettiest looking dish and again it was beautifully tender and full of flavour. our main courses were less exciting but still good – seafood spaghetti for me (i’d have liked more seafood compared to pasta) and tagliata with chips, for david.

a better seafood pasta dish awaited me at giaxa - lobster linguine in tomato and wine sauce. i’d read about lobster linguine being a particular dish of the island and i knew i wanted to try it at some point. this was full of flavour and the presentation, sizzling in a hot pan and smelling fabulous, made it feel special. david’s main course was lamb pasticada served with proscuitto strudel. both of these dishes are local specialities (more of which, i’ll tell you in a moment) and hardly suited to a hot summer evening but we wanted to try them anyway and they were well cooked here. however, pudding was the standout dish – we shared a portion of hvar parfait (flavoured with almonds, raisins and lavender), served with wild orange jelly. this light dessert was made to showcase local ingredients and flavours, which it did fantastically.

now, back to the pasticada – this is traditionally a rich beef stew flavoured with wine, dried fruits and spices and more suited to wintery temperatures not least as it is served with gnocchi (which is sometimes stuffed, as we had at giaxa); apparently it is often served at weddings and other special meals. i tried a beef version at dalmatino and absolutely loved it. david also opted for gnocchi, this time served with truffles and pršut (the fabulous service at dalmatino was reflected in the advice given when he chose this, with our waiter explaining that the local ham is naturally salty and so shouldn’t be chosen it if that wasn’t okay). given the expected heaviness of both dishes we decided to keep our (entirely unnecessary) starters light – octopus carpaccio for me and a courgette version for david. both were delicious - my octopus was less beautiful to look at than the version i ate at gariful but had more flavour; the courgette slices were dressed with a little balsamic vinegar and garnished with finely grated hard cheese and pine nuts – really delicious. we had great wine advice here too, enjoying a wonderful red wine – a dingac from vedran kiridzija. this was the best value meal we had on the island.

our final meal in hvar town was at the golden shell, a slow food restaurant about which i’d read good things, but which was sadly very disappointing, not least as it was very salty (to be fair, so was the food at most places we ate but it was even more so here).

however, our final meal on the island was a lovely one – eaten on a terrace over-looking the ocean, at hotel podstine (we spent a few nights at amfora hotel, with its water-slide-and-over-flowing-multi-swimming pools, and then moved to hotel podstine, a smaller boutique hotel where i also had the most amazing massage). the particular magic of this meal was choosing the fish that was then  cooked on the smokey barbecue for us, while we watched from our table – i chose the pretty red scorpion fish, which was delicious. it was served with roasted vegetables and was a madly expensive meal but the perfect way to end our time in croatia.