Zinfandel’s Restaurant is located in the Esplanade Luxury Hotel in Zagreb, Croatia.
Chef de Cuisine
Chef Ana Grgić is the Chef de cuisine at the Esplanade Hotel, Zagreb and the first female in the position since the hotel opened in 1925.
Since her appointment in 2012, ‘Zinfandel’s Restaurant’ and ‘Le Bistro’ have garnered awards and certificates culminating in her superb risotto featuring as one of the 101 world’s best risottos in both the 9th and 10th editions of the prestigious Guida Gallo (2013 – 2016).
H.R.H. The Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall ate her risotto and commanded their personal chef to ask Ana for the recipe.
In 2016, Ana was invited by Masterchef Croatia and Nova TV to become the first female jury member of the special Celebrity MasterChef series.
I met Chef Ana when she graciously stopped for a chat after dinner service. Only in her mid-thirties, this talented and charming lady trained with famous Michelin-star chefs like Yves Mattagne at the ‘Sea Grill Restaurant’ in Brussels and Christian Lohse from the acclaimed ‘Fisher’s Fritz’ in Berlin. She continues to learn by inviting guest chefs such as Xavier Mathieu and Pascal Tingaud to cook at the hotel. Ana prepared Korean dishes under the guidance of Sook-Ja JOON (President of the Korean Food Institute and leading chef of Royal Korean cuisine). Now, Korean dishes are available on the menu at ‘Le Bistro’ at the hotel.
Ana’s style of food preparation is a combination of Mediterranean and Continental classic dishes, prepared in a modern style. She sometimes plays with molecular gastronomy, with unusual combinations of flavours, pleasing to the eye and palate. Special attention is paid to the selection of top quality fresh local ingredients, and food presentation – ensuring each and every dish placed in front guests represents a unique work of art.
This pre-starter took me by surprise as it was “off the menu” and with compliments from the chef. One is immediately taken by the visual impact that sets the scene for the style of cooking to come. It was a lightly poached white fish (I believe it was sea bass) with citrus foam and pickles.
Parene okruglice sa skutom, mladi špinat, krema od pinjola, poširano jaje.
Steamed dumplings with ricotta, baby spinach, pine nut cream and poached egg.
The vivid colours and composition of this plate was like a Jackson Pollock art piece. I am usually wary of steamed dumplings but had no reason to worry here. They were light puffs of creamy goodness and every element had a contributory purpose to the whole.
I tried various combinations of dumpling, pine nut cream or egg to discover that one should just trust the chef; the whole melange produced the best taste of rich ricotta, fresh pine nut and unctuous egg.
Pošiana sipa, krema od crne riže, kopriva, hrskava riža.
Poached cuttlefish, black rice cream, nettles, crispy rice.
The dish arrived with its evocative cloche and indeed, when opened, there emanated an hint of smokiness to reveal an intriguing composition.
The cuttlefish tubes were tenderly poached but the tentacles additionally sautéed for extra flavour. I was fascinated by the “black rice cream” with it’s chewy texture as counterpoint to the soft cuttlefish and nettle puree. The final element of puffed black rice added a toasty crunchy textural and taste. Again, the whole evoked more than the individual elements.
I was ready to declare this my favourite course…until the next one reached the table!
Istarski fuži u kremastom umaku od tartafu.
Istrain fuzi pasta, creamy truffle sauce.
They had me at “pasta” and then they added truffles and cream. One forgets that various cultures and cuisines have passed through the region over millennia including the Romans, Franks, Venetians, Ottomans, and Austro-Hungarian.
This dish is the culmination of all of the above and was my favourite course of the dinner.
Štrukli Esplanade – lagano zapeěeni slatkom vrhnju.
Strukli Esplanade – signature dish with lightly glazed cream.
I was replete by now but had heard of the Zagorski Štrukli, a dish inducted into the list of Croatia’s intangible cultural heritage in 2007. My waiter informed me that it is a local “snack”, both sweet and savoury, eaten at any time but usually served at 11 a.m.; what I would call “elevenses”.
This is the baked version with my generous sprinkling of sugar on top.
Pastry is rolled out flat and very thin, before a mixture of cottage cheese, eggs, sour cream and salt is spread thinly over the pastry. The pastry is rolled lengthwise and cut into 10 – 20 cm long pieces. The pieces are covered with clotted cream and baked.
I liked the sweet, salty, creamy, cheesy tang and what’s not to like about baked pasta? Particularly when served with a sweet wine. I was too full though and only had a tiny morsel; yummy all the same!
The patisserie cook did her best but I was really “hors de combat” by now, so I can only report on the tiny nibbles that I took. The chocolates were tempered well but the fillings too sweet for me. The macaroon was of the right consistency and quite tasty.
Tomac Millennium Brut sparkling wine from Plešivica-Okić.
This Croatian bubbly is made with the same method as champagne. Very refreshing with the fish amuse bouche and steamed dumplings.
Benvenuti Malvazija 2016 from Istra.
A white wine with lemon and cut grass on the nose. On the palate, it was fresh and mineral with a hint of elderberries and salt. It paired with the cuttlefish and pasta dishes.
Iločki Podrumi Graševina Principovac 2010.
Called a Welschriesling in the Balkans, this amber wine was produced from over-ripe Graševina grapes and redolent with all the aromas of honey and apricot. It is heavy oily wine but not sweet despite the bouquet and has a good acidity. Perfect with the creamy cheese of the baked strukli.
Overall, Zinfandel’s Restaurant gets an AlphaLuxe Three-Tongues Award.
There is attention to detail, fresh ingredients, and artistic flair. The kitchens are old and far from the dining rooms so it is always a challenge for the dishes to arrive expeditiously. However, I hear rumours of a renovation soon…..
There is scope for improvement in the training of the younger service personnel but they receive full marks for enthusiasm and congeniality.
Come back for the next review of the award-winning risotto and steak tartare at Zinfandel’s Restaurant, soon…..
AlphaLuxe articles about Zagreb:
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web-zine.
He is also a moderator on PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
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