“I know you had the Croatian artichoke speciality at Mate’s for lunch, so I won’t recommend that.”
The waiter’s opening line stopped us in our tracks. It was a first. We’ve never been in a restaurant where they already knew what we’d eaten for lunch.
Hvar in Croatia is a small island but we didn’t realise it was so small that people already knew who you were and what you’d eaten before you walked into their restaurant.
In truth, it wasn’t that amazing. We’d asked Sime Fio, manager at Hotel Podstine, to recommend some places that served authentic Croatian food and Sime had immediately suggested Konoba Menego. We’d already marked it down as an interesting looking restaurant during an explore of Hvar Town, so Sime’s recommendation sealed the deal. Being friends with just about everyone, he’d mentioned we might be popping in.
Konoba Menega is tucked away up a narrow side street leading from the harbour in Hvar Town to the fortress on the hill. I know, I know – all authentic restaurants are tucked away up side streets.
Dinko, the owner, and his staff wear traditional costume. Sime assured us this wasn’t a tourist thing, he just likes to wear traditional costume. Dinko isn’t into doing things just to please others, try asking for Coca Cola with your meal instead of wine if you don’t believe me.
Konoba Menego is located in an atmospheric old town house with dining areas that are cosily small.
It’s intimate but not in that way that means you’re on top of other diners. There’s an infectious, relaxed atmosphere about the place which is partly down to Dinko and his waiter (I didn’t get his name) who is one of those people who has a genuine smile fixed to his face all the time.
He was the one who knew what we’d eaten and how much we’d eaten (a lot) so suggested a Croatian platter consisting of paški cheese with herbs from Pag, sheep cheese matured in sheep skin and olive oil, pancetta (Dalmatian ham), prsut (cured ham) and olives.
Some of the menu descriptions were so appealing that, despite still feel stuffed from a feast of a lunch, we had to try some Dalmatian pogaca (bread stuffed with tomatoes, onions and anchovies) made to Grandma’s secret recipe. There are a lot of secret recipes on Konoba Menego’s menu.
It was the perfect combination, like a Croatian version of tapas, and we were able to take our time picking at the fresh local goodies whilst sipping some of Menego’s own wine (a litre to be exact).
Apart from the good local fare, one of the big appeals of Konoba Menego is its easy ambience. I don’t normally strike up a conversation with people around me in restaurants but in Menego’s it felt like the natural thing do do. It was prompted by the food.
When you hear someone ordering ‘drunken figs’ you’ve just got to ask what it is. And so a conversation about drunken food bounced between us, a British couple from a wooden cruise ship in the harbour and an immediately likeable American couple who were clearly relishing the Menego experience.
Subsequently it was drunken figs all round – something called drunken figs simply demands to be tried.
The drunken figs were washed down with a complimentary round of grappa.
Drunken figs let me introduce you to slightly drunken diners – it was a good match.
Konoba Menego ticked all the right boxes. Dinko and staff were genuinely friendly; I got the impression they were just being themselves. The decór was atmospheric making the restaurant the sort of place you feel completely at home in. And the food was exactly what we were looking for – authentic Croatian home cooking. Put them all together and you end up with what we had – a most convivial dining experience.
Konoba Menego; Kroz Grodu, 26; +385 21 717 411; www.menego.hr; open daily 10.30am to 2.30pm and 5.30pm to 10.30pm, platter around €17, main courses average €12
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to lots of other places. Follow Jack on Google+