Zinfandel’s, Esplanade Hotel, Zagreb: charms the socks off you
It’s in the Croatian capital Zagreb and it’s called Zinfandel’s.
Ana Grgic is 31 and the Executive Chef. She started her apprenticeship at Zinfandel’s at the ludicrously young age of 17. She called up the executive chef at the time and asked to work for free so she could learn. She has since worked with a couple of 2* Michelin chefs to hone her skills, holds the highest qualifications as a Master Chef, and worked under the previous exec chef James Vella for a number of years who is himself well-regarded.
Anyway, enough of that. All I need to tell you is that the food was exquisite.
Every morsel was perfectly cooked and beautifully presented. There was not one flavour combination that you noticed being slightly out-of-place. Make sure you check out the tasting menu we had.
We did have a rather amusing moment with the food. Because the tasting menu was long and Mr H and I aren’t big eaters of white carbs, we asked if we could swap the frog’s leg risotto for a delicious sounding rabbit dish, which they were very happy to do.
After the rabbit dish, we were brought the risotto anyway, but we had so much food to go we sent it back assuming that it had been a mistake. A minute later the restaurant manager (Stjepan Okun, a charming silver fox) came back with the dish and told us that there had been no mistake and that the chef insisted we must eat the dish because it was very good. Who were we to argue with that?! So, eat it we did, and enjoy it we did. She was absolutely right: chef knows best…
I fell in love with the avuncular sommelier who was also our waiter for the evening. Ivan Šneler is Croatia’s first Sommelier and the star turn.
There was no specific option on the menu for pairing wine with food but Ivan offered to do one for us. The wine list was long and reasonably priced, so we had full confidence in asking him to bring us all his best Croatian wines.
Holy smokes Croatia has some amazing vino! We’ve spent a couple of holidays in the country and have had some very passable wines, but nothing extraordinary. Ivan knocked our socks off, with a raft of wines made from Croatian grape varieties that you don’t find elsewhere.
Service was brilliant. I’ve never had this much fun with the staff at a fine dinning establishment. Ivan doubles as ‘Comedy Waiter’.
Every time he comes near the table with a dish you think it’s going to end up in your lap, or he’ll manage to sweep everything on the table to the floor.
He must do it deliberately because somehow he avoids impending disaster, finishes with an elegant flourish and your food or wine perfectly placed. It was a roller-coaster of muscle-clenching terror followed by delighted, hand-clapping relief every time he approached. He’s incredibly proud of Ana as well, which was very touching.
Because Ivan knew we were rather full, instead of the dessert intended, he brought us a champagne sherbet he prepared instead. What a sweetie.
The staff handled risotto-gate with real charm too, and seemed genuinely pleased that we’d enjoyed our meal at the end of the night.
The Ambience/The Space:
You can get a bit of a sense of the decor from the photo. The restaurant is intimately sized and very elegant.
The restaurant was very quiet that night, and we were surprised at how late guests were showing up. Once party of four arrived at getting on for 11pm and they were seated and served in a leisurely manner. No clock watching from the staff.
The seven course tasting menu was US$123 (Kn695) which was great value considering the quality of the food and the overall experience. I can’t find the exact cost of the wine, but it was less than US$100 for the pair of us.
Zinfandel’s is on the ground floor of the Esplanade Hotel, which itself is a very pleasant place to stay. Mihanovićeva ulica 1, 10000, Zagreb, Croatia. Tel: +385 1 4566 666. www.esplanade.hr
If you are looking for somewhere a bit different in Europe for a weekend break, I would highly recommend bouncing into Zagreb and staying at the Esplanade to eat at Zinfandel’s. The city is interesting, and the people friendly. It feels like a real undiscovered destination.