The symbol of Rijeka is a small black-skinned Arab-looking guy, with a broad smile and Venetian stature, completely alien to anything Rijeka represents today, but somehow still very significant due to the maritime history of the town. Corto Maltese would be proud of Morčić, a chubby and black person wearing a white turban and diamond necklace, an image you would probably thing to find in the Caribbeans or in some places near Malacca Strait. But no, it is the symbol of Rijeka, often depicted on street murals and town's signs. History teaches us it is a remnant of the 17th-century Venetian obsession with Orient, its people, lands, and culture. People coming from these regions, selling clothes and spices, were soon called Moretto. And this is how Morčić came to Kvarner, as the region was under heavy influence of Venice.
One such Morčić mural is to be seen in fairly distant part of the town, on a beautiful terrace of Restaurant Morčić on Gornji Zamet. A year's long tradition of mixing traditional Kvarner cuisine, enjoyable ambient, very cosy staff and gastronomy delights makes the Morčić prime place for brunches and thematic dinners. Surrounded by evergreen trees, Morčić looks like a place far away from the hustle and bustle of the town, and yet there are roads leading to the centre of Rijeka and to the nearby Viškovo.
Morčić is known to be a quite jolly place. Live music, Carnival dances in winter, weddings and family gatherings, and thematic weekends are all taking place here. We arrived at the beginning of autumn to take part in the Highlanders' evening (dedicated to the music and gastronomy of Gorski Kotar). Well, the musicians did play lots of other stuff, not only accordion-based tunes from the hills, but everything to make already jolly guests even happier. To us, the happiest moment was when we heard that the whole menu is based on the signature ingredient of the highlands – porcini mushrooms (vrganj).
Incredibly hospitable staff and the owner had worked beyond imagination, but they professionally cared for our table and tried to appease our curiosities about mushrooms. In the end, we managed to understand it is more than satisfying to know that all mushrooms are edible, but some only once in a lifetime. Luckily, these were not the ones. Knowledgeable eyes of mushroom pickers and forest gazers brought the finest fungi from the misty woodlands of Gorski Kotar. In Morčić, they made imaginable meals from it.
The restaurant is known for meat pleasures (fish is for the serious pilgrims to Morčić kinda... fishy). Thus, the beef carpaccio with prosciutto and porcini was an excellent start. The marinated carpaccio with cheese and onion, cold and full of flavour can only match with the mature and smoked Drniš prosciutto, wrapped around a curd and served on the warm toast. Everything fits well with incredibly mild horseradish sauce and juicy porcini. Not to kill the mild essence of mushrooms we ordered Malvasia Gržinić, also a mild, fruity and floral wine from Istria.
To retain the geographical combinations, they presented us as a warm appetizer the mushroom risotto. Excellently done risotto is cooked with plain vegetables and later the juicy porcini are added. Still, the greatest flavour is from 18 months aged Gran Padano cheese, whose saltiness gives a specific taste to this risotto – and calls for more! At the same time, one cannot but to wonder how many Rijeka's memorabilia are in the restaurant, giving it something very local-patriotic in spirit. Don't come here and tell you're not a fan of Rijeka FC!
After all, Morčić is not denouncing local cuisine. It can be best described when you get an ombolo (pork loin steak), with prosciutto, gnocchi, and mushrooms. And while ombolo was soft and really well spiced (sometimes you can find this glorious portion of meat with absolutely too much salt), here the prosciutto wrapped around the ombolo gives salty flavour. The gnocchi was particularly good, filled with curd and gouda cheese. In a city where Veneto region gave so much in terms of cooking, it is a matter of pride to have good gnocchi. Morčić is, without doubt, one of such places. The star of the night, porcini, was served with honey and prosecco sauce, a hint of traditional sweetness of highland dishes but with a curious twist.
Morčić wants to offer you a homely atmosphere and it is visible in the beautiful fireplace, shabby chic furniture but above all in brunches when meals are delivered in grandma's style pots and pans. No wonder many workers come here, as the portions are plentiful and good, always with soup and later with cakes. Our own dessert was again with a hint of highlands, as it was crostata with pumpkin, with the addition of mascarpone, orange, nuts, vodka, and turmeric. Of course, the turmeric colour is visually very appealing, while the nuts and orange give a substantial taste of joy.
Thus, don't hesitate to drive the narrow roads and reach Morčić for brunch or for dinner. It is indeed a gastronomy sight in Rijeka not to miss!
(video by Restaurant Morčić)