Konoba Batelina has been on my restaurant wishlist for quite some time. I must actually be the last foodie in Croatia to visit konoba Batelina. Dammit, how I am even supposed to write something new about it, when it seems to me that everybody has already been there.
This place is really exceptional. It's not a hidden gem, because every foodie knows about konoba Batelina. It's even been featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservation.
But to get a table there, you really need to plan it in advance. And I am bad planning in advance.
There are few things, beside the most divine seafood, that put konoba Batelina apart. No walk ins. No credit cards. Not open at lunch time. Not open on Sundays. Not open during the first three weeks of August. No extensive wine list.
These guys are tough. And yet, they are always busy.
Here is to all of you who haven't yet had a chance to eat here!
Konoba Batelina: where the blue fish is the king, and eaten from head to tail
For majority of us, home cooks, the fish head is for the soup, the fillets are for a main course. The rest is for the seagulls and cats. At konoba Batelina, seagulls and cats are actually very skinny and furious (although when I think about it now, their cat is pretty fat. Hm, a real mystery!). Everything is used to create an amazing and delicious dishes for the guests.
Small, family-owned restaurant is located in a seaside village of Banjole, just south of Pula. The restaurant is tiny. it can accommodate maybe 30 people inside and another 40 at the outside terrace (weather permitted). It's run by family Skoko. They are fishermen. In the morning they fish, in the evening they prepare the daily menu based on the catch of the day. Awesome, isn't it?! I know what you might think: The shoemaker's children go barefoot. But trust me, at konoba Batelina it's not the case. I don't know if they are great fishermen (must be if I judge them by the freshness and variety of the fish served here), but they are certainly great cooks.
The chef star is David Skoko. All the dishes are his innovative creation, although his mother along with other family members help him in the kitchen. You'll have a chance to eat here the dishes you've never thought possible: fish tripe, catfish french fries, fish liver mousse, fish lollipops, etc… If you visit konoba Batelina, just follow a simple formula: let the chef choose the dishes for you.
On our visit to this little restaurant, we had three courses. But each course comprised of various small bites. We started with cold starters that included: marinated anchovies, sardines, red mullet, raw gilt-head bream, octopus salad, crab salad, and conger pâté. But also some catfish french fries. I'll not be repeating how delicious everything was, 'cause everything was delicious beyond the words!
Warm starters came next: potato and curd gnocchi with crab, tagliatelle with salted and dried roe (itl. bottarga), and a crab and cuttlefish stew (itl. brodetto) with scallop shell shaped cornmeal (itl. polenta). We were really full, and didn't feel like ordering the main course. Instead we jumped straight to the dessert. And this was seriously another moment when I was completely blown away.
I don't know why, but I never expected much of a dessert. I always heard a praise about this place in terms of its delicious seafood. But, the sweets we had were equally divine. We had five different desserts that we shared: a mint jelly with a chocolate mousse, chocolate cake with olive oil and chili, the mascarpone cream with wine cooked figs and home made biscuits, cheese cake, and another cake that I just forgot about (except that it was equally tasty!).
Wine list is not extensive, as I've already said. It goes with the chef's concept: this place celebrates seafood, and everything else is here to accompany it, not to steal the spotlight from it. Thus, the wine served is local and very good, but don't start asking for the fancy bottles. You'll get none. And you might even annoy the chef.
On the final note: at konoba Batelina, they managed to turn underrated bluefish into a sublime, gourmet experience. The place is unpretentious, sincere, and charming. The prices are affordable (20 – 40 € per person with drinks; it depends on number of courses and choices of dishes). A must visit restaurant in Istria!
Contacts: Čimulje 25, Banjole; t: +385 52 573 767; Not open on Sundays. Cash only. Reservation needed.
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