You cannot miss boat hotel (botel) Marina; it is docked right in the centre of the Rijeka’s city port, recognisable by the red chimney. Inside is an unusual and very popular boat hostel, a cosy bar just perfect for the lazy afternoons, and a restaurant serving local and fresh cuisine. It is in this restaurant that we tried the delicacies for the annual days of sardines in Rijeka, with a help of the manager Andrej Kušeta and his dedicated staff.
The ship was not always here. It was built for the Swedish crown princess and she walked the same halls as one can walk today inside this yacht-like ship. In the sixties, it sailed to Yugoslavia, to the port of Rijeka, where it served on the cruise line between Rijeka, the island of Cres, and the island of Susak. Marina was favourite among the locals who cherished the structure of the ship, being built for the northern seas, and which sustained the heavy blows of the strong bura wind. As a testimony to the glorious time, the menu in Marina consists of many dishes bearing the names of the ship’s destination during her prime days.
Its working days are now done, and the ship was bought and reconstructed by the Arhipelag company from the island of Lošinj. Now it surprises the guests who dream about sleeping aboard a ship, even if it is stationed in the harbour. They may dream about the food also, as it is wonderful aboard Marina and gives a special feeling of dining in maritime surroundings. While honouring the history, we raised our glass of cocktail with its beautiful colour consisting of orange juice, brandy and grenadine.
Very friendly staff greeted us with elaborative sardine menu, confirming the knowledge of making fish dishes. The skill of doing sardine fillet is especially noticeable as our first meal of the visit was done surgeon-precise, using the long and sharp knife on the body of small but strong fish. It came with ricola and toast, blending the salty and somewhat robust sardine with the softness of bread and bitterness of herb.
Next, we tried excellent sardine brodetto with aromatised polenta, which was very pleasing in its arrangement and skilfully combined in tastes. It is not unusual that the brodetto sauce takes over and indeed many locals like it that way, as the joy is in dipping some bread in the sauce and just feel the richness of its taste. In this case, advantage was given to the sardine itself but even more to the polenta which was visibly and tastefully aromatised with the Mediterranean herbs, adding to the rosemary and basil that came atop this dish. Indeed, a skilful play of mild brodetto and pure taste of the sardines!
It seems unavoidable thing to have some of the Kvarner’s sardine classics on the menu, and Marina is not an exception. Locals just love fried sardines, almost like a snack. One often eats it as an appetizer, or just a side dish with some wine. In Marina we had fried sardines with potato salad and radicchio, a slightly changed traditional recipe of very known taste.
It suited excellent with the wonderful open Cabernet Sauvignon Pavlomir wine, originating from the beautiful and awarded vineyard of Mr Miroslav Palinkaš. A leading red wine in the Kvarner area invites for more, and we had it with the cherry pie, a sweet finish of our sail through the Marina’s culinary adventure.
The restaurant is very friendly to various flavours and options, including the gluten free diet. In its beautiful wooden ship atmosphere and cosy interior, it serves local foods, mostly classics, but with rather unusual and healthy additions such as chick peas, traditionally not used in this area. Modern gastronomy goes healthy, especially in various kinds of beans, and Marina is not an exception. Overall, Marina is a very cosy and inspiring maritime place, with lots of tradition and skills, excellent place for brunch and in the very centre of Rijeka, where guests can soak in the atmosphere of city’s maritime glory.
Text by: Vedran Obućina
Photos by: Edvard Badurina & Vedran Obućina