Dining Review: Konoba Batelina – Banjole, Istria (Croatia)
When we watched the Anthony Bourdain episode in Croatia, this was certainly one of the meals that highlighted Croatia’s seafood so well and we wanted to go. Easier said than done – this reservation only spot does not have a website and I could not find contact info anywhere – nothing on social media, nothing on pages highlighted the restaurant. I was determined to find a means to reach them to secure a reservation. After a lot of digging, I finally found an email address (<email@example.com>). There is a phone number easily accessible but that was a difficult one to utilize abroad as I wanted this reservation before we left on this trip – it is a very popular location.
The appeal of this small restaurant outside of Pula in the small town of Banjole is the tie to traditional roots. It is a family own restaurant – they fish in the morning and whatever is caught is what is served that evening for the meal. The mother-son duo are responsible for creating innovative presentations for these seemingly “basic” fishes on the menu.
We arrived to a small downtown Banjole and noted the restaurant in a house on the side of the main road. We both looks a bit of a hot mess – myself way more – because our kayak trip went late and we missed the opportunity to properly rinse off. Fortunately, this was not a fine dining establishment but we still wanted to look a bit presentable.
After being seat, we noted the size of the restaurant was indeed small with a lower and upper level of outdoor, covered seating. Even with a big sign at the entrance stating reservations only, they still turn away people on a daily basis. We met our energetic server who explained that generally they just bring a bunch of items out, which of course we were ok with – in a place like this, you want the restaurant to guide you through what they do best. And while we spotted a menu posted on the exterior of the entrance on our way out, we never saw a menu while we were dining.
First we ordered wine – we wanted to try something different that the Malvasija we have been ordering each night (and enjoyed). Our server recommended a Sauvignon Blanc which was a very good choice to compliment the seafood journey we were about to embark on.
The server explained that the first course that is typical for the restaurant and what they are known of is a series of small plates of fishes. We happily agreed and when the series of plates began to arrive, it was like we were in Be Our Guest from Beauty and the Beast – so many plates!
I will do my best to explain everything in this photo – I wish I recalled more details about each of them but without a menu and with so many plates at once, it was a challenge! For the most part if was a series of raw fish with an accoutrement to compliment the fish. One thing I cannot saw enough is how insanely fresh everything on the table was – unrivaled!
- The big plate to the left was raw sea bass cut so thin drizzled with olive oil and topped with these beads that reminded us of caviar but they were bubbles of smokey flavor – really great dish
- The top most dish was fried fish bones – Kevin loved this but I could not get behind the fishiness of them- texture was actually fine but the taste was quite potent
- Down from the fried fish bones were an octopus salad with lemon – very yummy
- The bottom center plate was a ceviche but I do not recall the fish used – it was done so well, we could not get enough
- The top right plate was shark – I really did not care for this one as much as it was a tougher texture, I think this was our least favorite on the table
- Then the four center square plates were all a series of raw fish – sardines, anchovies, smelts – prepared in different ways. I know neither of us had these like this before – so unique. The pairing with each of these was so perfect. Our favorite was the bottom right plate.
We were just blown away by this entire course. We decided to be methodical and in order to not rush this part, just take one plate at a time and experience it together. We were just giddy exploring all of these flavors and taking in everything about where we were and what we were enjoying.
Once we completed the small plates round, we were brought out a tray of fish – fish that were caught this morning and showcased to guests to chose which they wanted. And this was not a plate that is restocked once things are selected – once it is gone, it is gone.
With some assistance from our server, Kevin chose the mackerel right in the center of the plate. I am not a fish that swim person when it comes to cooked fish – I am a seafood that crawl lover. I saw him bring around a lobster to the table next to us so I asked if I could instead have the lobster as my entree. He of course agreed and asked how I wanted to prepared – I deferred to however they recommend and off to the kitchen he went.
And then more magic arrived!
The mackerel was served as a whole fish, pan fried and butterflied with a touch of olive oil and lemon. Flavor was simple and classic mackerel; rich, a bit fatty, touch of sweetness. Batelina’s dining experience met every expectation.
Lobster two ways
How beautiful is this presentation of lobster?! I love that they created two dishes in one – the left is the lobster cooked in a red sauce and the right is a simple, lightly grilled lobster tail.
And of course I was fitted with the finest bib and tools for my meal.
This was not a clean meal and to get ever morsel of lobster I had to get pretty dirty. Kevin was entertained and took a montage of photos – enjoy!
This was simply fantastic – the lobster tail was succulent and sweet. The red gravy was unbelievably good – there was not reason for it to be so darn delicious but this made eating the top half of the lobster so satisfying and quite messy which I was totally into. This meal was like a dream! I spent lots of time devouring every piece of this lobster.
And by the photos below, we clearly enjoyed our meals.
There was no way we could pass up dessert. After hearing the options, it was a tough call but we ended up with two of the fig based ones – a fig tart and a fig marscapone.
Both were so tasty and we kept going back and forth on which was our favorite. When Kevin ordered coffee, the server smiled nervously that they do not have a full espresso machine to make fancy coffees but could make a “strong coffee” and warned that it was going to be very strong. Kevin loved that and this coffee ended up being the best one he had the entire trip, so much so that he bought this coffee moka pot when we got home.
One very important thing to note is that this is a cash only establishment. We were on edge about this during the meal – we were fairly confident we came with enough cash but without a menu and accepting our server’s recommendations, we had *no clue* what our total would be. We kept going back to the wine price – we knew the bottle of wine was 150 kuna so if the wine was an indicator of the price range, we should have been fine to cover the bill with the kuna we had on us. When the bill came out, we were definitely nervous we did not have enough cash. Luckily, we were in good shape and to give you an idea, this was our bill after everything we ordered:
Of note, there is a menu at the entrance of the restaurant that we saw on our way out and I am sure if you requested a menu it would be provided.
What an incredible dining experience! No frills, just amazing food. If you are able to make it down this far south in Istria, it was well worth the journey. Everything from the venue, to the service, to the atmosphere, to every item of food we tasted – simply perfect.
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