You cannot miss the Peteani boutique hotel. It lies exactly on the main road to the Labin Old Town and its elegance is visible already from the street itself. It can easily be among the finest gastronomy experiences in Labin, which is the main destination of the eastern Istrian coast. This picturesque medieval town of long history is also the birthplace of Matthias Flacius Illyricus, the reformer and collaborator of Martin Luther, which might be interesting in 2017, when 500th anniversary of Reformism takes place.
But our place in Labin was dedicated to excellent time with Serđo Peteani, an experienced restaurateur and hotelier of this region. Mr Peteani took us to every corner of his new hotel, made within the belle époque villa from the turn of the century. Modest and self-effacing, Mr Peteani shows us spacious and unique rooms for stylish holiday. Nevertheless, it shows how much experience he has and how much love all of his family and staff give to this new project which already turns to be a blissful success.
There is something basic and earthy in this hotel. Its white-and-dark colours, its feeling of elegance but without much fuss, stone and wood, and of course some iron… all of these remind guests they are in Labin, town of miners whose time has faded away. This feeling was made on purpose and it fits great, as the details are really small and they do not change the overall atmosphere of relaxed place for fine dining.
Meeting the chefs and kitchen staff showed us something else – Peteani gives lots of space and innovation to the young people. Very young staff is ready to combine traditional Istrian cuisine with a touch of modernity, just as they themselves have chosen to live in Labin just to engage more into the tastes of the northern Adriatic. They are headed by Peteani Junior, who is running the everyday business of the hotel and the restaurant. And its food… it is really splendid!
Peteanis were kind enough to invite us to lunch although they had a dinner party for over 50 people and were preparing for major event. Luckily, this event was intended to show more of the Peteani cuisine and we came just in moment to try some things from the elaborate menu. Classic fish and meat menu is too humble to describe ideas stemming from the kitchen one floor below.
After a strong Muscat rakija (brandy) a line of five meals were introduced to us, beginning with marinated cuttlefish and shrimps with wild garlic (marinirana sipa i gamberi s medvjeđim lukom). Sea is felt all around this appetizer consisting of indeed fresh ingredients that come every day from verifiably trusted fishermen. Surprisingly mild wild garlic gives flavours to the seafood, with additional carrot dough. We enjoy the gold-awarded Medea Chardonnay 2015, dry and fruity wine with strong floral scents of acacia and lemon. Fresh, rich, and very drinkable, this wine fits great with seafood served in Peteani Restaurant.
Salted cake with pancetta and sheep curd (slana tortica od pancete i skute) is an exciting combination of salty and smoked Istrian pancetta with elegant and mild sheep curd, together with celery, root vegetables, and wild garlic paste. By itself, this meal shows essence of Istrian husbandry; pigs and sheep or rather goats are somewhat a symbol of Istrian countryside.
First main course is stewed octopus with pasta (šufigana hobotnica s pasuticama), so tender and sweet, it almost melts in mouth. Homemade pasutice is traditional Istrian pasta as it was done in past times by hard working Istrian women. It is best to add some drops of olive oil inside and when we speak of olive oil then it must be locals’ favourite Negri, made from the olive groves situated just south of Labin. William and Anessa Negri are descendants of old Labin noble family and their olive oil was part of the best extra virgin olive oils in the world by Flos Olei 2011 guide. Local Negri oil and locally caught octopus, with masterly done pasta combine in a very Mediterranean meal.
And to add a bit more of Mediterranean, we drink Chardonnay Epicuria 2013 and red blend Nomade 2013 by Koquelicot production from Central Istria. This is a very specific wine story which shows arrival of foreign wine makers to Istria, recognising its global potentials. In Gračišće, on road from Labin to Pazin, a French-Croatian marital connection brought the French style burgundy type wines in the Istrian peninsula. Perfect blend of two quite different styles contributes to the restaurants all around the peninsula, giving it a chance for more nuanced pairing of wine and foods. In our case Epicuria balances the octopus with wine vinified in French burgundy oak barriques for ten months, while Nomade is a delicate blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Teran also vinified in same barriques for two years.
Second main course is tranche of flounder fish on aromatised potatoes. Immediately when I have tried the potatoes I stated: this is potato of flounder! Such is the intensity of this very rewarding fish which is baked together with potatoes. Skill and knowledge of Peteani kitchen staff in preparing fish is immaculate, and when one sees how neatly the potato is cut then one cannot wonder where on earth did Peteani find his people!
When in Labin, one must also try krafi. Without it, the visit to Labin would be a waste of time. It is indeed curious that krafi cannot be found anywhere else in Istria in same fashion. Krafi is kind of big ravioli stuffed with cow curd or cow’s grated cheese, raisins, and lemon zest. They may be served with salty or sweet sauces and Mr Peteani opted for sweet version. The sauce is magnificent. It is made of reduced Muscat wine and dry figs, thus giving a bit of acidity and natural sugar of figs. This very local dessert, of which Labin people are especially proud (in nearby Kršan they even have Krafifest!), is also best eaten with some sweet wine. We are indeed honoured to be offered by Benvenuti Corona Grande, a blend of Istrian Malvasia and Muscat made in the cellars of Istrian family Benvenuti. This sweet wine goes perfectly with Peteani’s krafi as it is aromatic, harmonic, with acacia honey and raisins aromas.
Truly magnificent food is a new must-see place in Istria, which also revives the Labin Old Town in the most splendid way.