Croatia is an interesting country. we are in southern croatia, about 20 minutes south of Dubrovnik in a gorgeous seaside village called Cavtat.
Two weeks to chill out. At 8.15 it is already 27degrees but the gentle seabreeze allows some relief. a brisk walk around a jagged peninsula is hardly exercise when the view is spectacular at every step. If you have seen the film of Mama Mia, you have seen the coast line of Croatia. Azure blue water, as clear as a Cartier diamond, sparkling, shimmering, dancing and soo inviting.Cypress trees cling to the sides of the bay, resembling a drunken crowd after a wedding, at angles defying gravity, leaning almost into the sea, hundreds of years to shade the coves and hidden inlets. Half way round, a small bathing area is overlooked by a raggle taggle of tables, chairs, bits of old boats and fishing nets, a small building with a big barbecue which makes up the restaurant Rokotin. In Croatia, they seem to understand nature. When a gigantic tree of many histories old stands in the way of their restaurant dream, do they cut it down? No, they just build around it. Rokotin is shaded by dozens of ancient and majestic conifers whose cones drop onto the table and cats chase squirrels up and down the trunk. There are many cats here, all terrifingly skinny and all scrapping for a morsel from any table, they wander in and out of restaurants, largely ignored and rarely fed. Whatever other challenges Croatians have, it would be safe to say that mice is not one of them.
Back to Rokotin, we ate there last night. Evening time is the best time to be there, all the bathers on the beach underneath the restaurant have packed up and inexplicably have left the little pebbled cove in pristine condition. I scan the whole area, not a paper, a nappy, a plastic bag- nothing to indicate that dozens of people chatted, ate and swam there an hour earlier.
The restaurant covers two terraces, we sit at a table as close to the sea as possible, it is so gorgeous it aches. Water lapping, soft balmy breeze, sun setting in a scarlet ball over Dubrovnik and the smell of the freshest fish straight from the sea.
It is easy to misunderstand how Croatians deal with food. Centuries of being harrassed by many unwanted visitors and a very recent sad period in their history seems to have given Croatians a practical approach to their food. Every fruit and vegetable imaginable grows here. We sat under a canopy of kiwis in a bar, oranges, lemons, plums, grapes, apples, pears, pomegranates grow in abundance. As we waited for the bus, three local ladies helped themselves to plump figs which grow like Irish blackberries. Tomatoes ripen before your eyes and as it rains a lot here in the winter ( and apparently a lot so far this summer) the countryside is green. Is this the very very best of all worlds?
Back to Rokotin, it is a restaurant which is not visited much by tourists as it on the flip side of glamour. The other side of the peninsula is hopping with life, a dozen cafes and restaurants vie for business, live entertainment lights up each evening, yatchs and private boats the size of small castles litter the tiny harbour. That is where it all happens, but if it is peace, tranquility and absolute relaxtion, the other side is the place to be. The waiter, who is polite but harrassed welcomes us back. Fish would be nice as a starter we suggest- fish, ok? For main course, I order sole, hubbie orders steak – he is an Irish male after all! We wonder what will arrive for the starter. As we wait, I tear myself away from the sea to study the menu. As someone who really studies menus whereever i go ( research) Croation menus are very interesting. There is absolutely no attempt to dress up the basics. Fish is fish, meat is meat – period. All menus with a few exceptions are written in the same way. A list of the food they have stated in plain short and sometimes confusing english. The message is the same, we serve fresh fish straight from the sea, we serve meat with vegetables, we serve the food we produce and we dont see the need to dress it up with fancy terms.
No menu psychology in sight. Plain and simple.
The fish arrives, fresh mackerel grilled with herbs and lemon, some oil, seasoning. Spinach, ripe tomatoes, a few steamed spuds, a feast.
Main course is similar, plain, simple and tastes fantastic.
That is why it is easy to misunderstand. They do so little to the food, it tastes great. Rokotin may not look five star but the Adriatic lapping about ten feet away sure gives it that feel.