The Croatian food is at a consistent, high level.
Pizza, pasta, cevapi, grilled fish, cheese, ham and other local specialties.
But then there is the always someone who is pushing it a bit further. And further and further.
At the top of a hill on Ciovo, with great views of the Okrug bay sits the small restaurant Mali Raj - "The little paradise."
In this case, the name is bulls eye.
Having frequented the place for a number of years, I have yet to have a meal that is below 100%.
If you´re not opposed to bending the rules a bit, I am willing to say many dishes has been above 100%.
Even in high season, with 250-300 noon servings a night in the small restaurant, the food quality is at an excellent level.
Mid-summer is naturally busier, the staff has more servings, but after all, you´re on vacation.
Just sit back and relax, and everything will be just fine and dandy.
And this is where teamwork comes to show. Behind every man is a woman, as we know - also in this case.
Astro is a skilled businessman, waiter and host, but the wife is in charge of the kitchen.
- She is the brains behind the operation, he admits. Without her, Mali Raj would have been like every other place. Her creativity and the joy of creating is the fundament of everything we serve here.
THE EXTRA MILE
The couple has decided to invest in solid expertise to raise the quality a little each year.
In addition to Tina's talented hands,they invite one of Croatia's many talented chefs each year.
They spend a week or two in Okrug every spring, Work with Tina they put their distinctive mark on the menu.
The result is well worth a visit.
The most tender steaks, lovely fish dishes and appetizers you can not find anywhere else along the coast.
A quiet evening in April I got a peek behind the scenes before we ate and got to see the making of two simple tuna dishes.
Fresh ruccola salad, grated apple in the middle and marinated tuna on top.
Also, sliced tuna in sesame seeds, served with wasabi mayonnaise.
So simple, professionally done and so incredibly tasty.
In short, lovely!
See how the job was done:
All ingredients are from around Ciovo island, where the restaurant is situated. All except the truffles, which are grown in the northern part of Croatia, in Istria.
Hams and sausages are handmade on the farm Radosic, located in the mountains a half hour drive away.
Radosic itself is worth a visit, and Astro will happily organize trips for his guests.
Mali Raj also has traditional specialties on the menu. Gregada, a fish stew, and Peka which is a traditional meat dish served with a lamb or calf. Lamb in the spring, calf the rest of the year.
In addition to the restaurant, Astro has used his profits to buy an apartment building with beds for a total of 34 people.
For 2016, all apartments are taken pretty much throughout the year, and he has a growing number of requests.
Therefore, he is thinking about buying another apartment building.
This summer he has also gotten a boat that can take visitors around the islands on various adventures.
I guess the tours will include delicious food, in any case.
He is also toying with the idea of buying a minibus. With it, he can bring the guests to the restaurant. For free.
- It´s an extra service, he smiles. Everything for guests.
- Don´t you ever get satisfied?
- No, he replies, adding a brief grin. I've got to do something all the time. Rethink, innovate. It's all about being in constant motion, or else I will get lazy. It is also a constant desire to provide the best for my guests. Food, beverages, experiences. I want them to go home with their hearts full of memories.
Many people have discovered Ciovo, and a number of Norwegians have bought apartments in the area and spend a lot of time in Croatia.
- I have most guests from Norway, and I know every single one of them. They are my friends. So many of them invite me to Norway, and it would have taken me two months and a fast car to visit them all.
For years he has hosted party on the Norwegian national day, May 17th, for his Norwegian friends.
- A month in advance now, I have 60 reservations. It's absolutely fantastic!
He stays clear off the traditional Norwegian dishes. Instead he serves a tasty menu, filled with local specialities.
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Address: 30.svibnja 4 a Okrug Gornji