Hotel Continental is the oldest still working hotel in Rijeka, opened in 1888, at the time in town of Sušak which is now eastern part of the city. When opened, it gained much popularity for its interior, many activities, and excellent position on the bank of the Rječina River, after which Rijeka got its name. Among the other things, this hotel was famous for its old-style coffeehouse and a restaurant.
Still today, the hotel is one of the most recognisable buildings in Rijeka and the square in front of it, the Kont, is popular gathering point for youth in summer. Some things stayed without much change, others seized to exist, but every generation of Rijeka citizens knows by heart the summer evenings on the terrace and the splendid restaurant and café offering refreshments and combination of classic Kvarner and continental foods. It continues somewhat the tradition: in 1914, an invitation to the hotel emphasised the restaurant with beautiful garden, excellent homemade and German cuisine, good wines and always fresh Budweiser beer.
Our arrival at the hotel coincided with the festival “Sardines are IN”, and we enjoyed exciting sardine meals in various combinations. The friendliness of the staff and their easy-going attitude make a particular Rijeka atmosphere, while the terrace provided us with cosiness although the rain was falling (which is quite often in this indeed rainy city).
The old facades of the hotel and the pictures inside the restaurant evoke the memories of the past and days when this city was the glorious harbour of the Austro-Hungary, and when the town’s elite gathered in this very spot to chat and conspire.
The chef “conspired” with fruits and fish, giving us indeed an unusual starter, marinated anchovies with marinated orange fillets. Soft and fresh anchovies, marinated in lemon, sits on a basis of ricola, fennel, and onion rings, while the orange slices and cherry tomatoes give a festival of colours on plate. It is a refreshing and joyful combination, where tastes combine and blend in a unique late spring starter. A few drops of Blato Amfora extra virgin olive oil makes it even better.
How about deep-fried sardines with cabbage and potatoes? One would say there is nothing special in this very traditional and classic dish. But, the surprise comes after first bite – the sardines are filled with mild sheep cheese! It was another example how much this small fish can give. More than that, it regained its status as the feeder of the islanders. For a long time, sardine was completely underestimated in the gastronomy, given banally only as a salty fried starter or as a snack in summer fishermen nights. The young chef in Hotel Kontinental showed yet again that sardine is a small fish with big opportunities.
As the Days of Cherries and sardine week combine, the cook also gave us such combination, consisting of fillets of fried sardines, polenta with olives and Mediterranean herbs, and cherry sauce. Again, very specific dish, which is predominantly mild and gives lots of flavour within the aromatised polenta. The cherry addition is very ingenious and playful, which is always a sign of a confident cook. Everything blends greatly with wine of the house, red blend named Namori, containing a ruby colour and full taste with fruity background.
Cherries were the basis of our dessert too. We tried the cherry pie with maracuya or passion fruit sauce, excellent finish for anyone into not-so-sweet desserts. Whole experience in Kontinental shows simple but imaginative approach to the combination of fish and fruits, which resembles in a way the history of Croatian biggest port. For decades, it has been fisheries’ harbour but also entry point for southern fruits and citrus fruits, giving colourfulness and enjoyment to the elites.