Updated: Mar 2, 2019
In 1996 Mr Dragan Jurdana decided it is time to approach the guests with a direct offer „from sea to the table“. Simple, original and natural – these are the buzz words in the restaurant Johnson, situated on green slopes of Mount Učka, between medieval hilltop town of Mošćenice and the beautiful beaches of Mošćenička Draga. The result? Gault Millau gave the restaurant this year 17 points and two culinary caps. We’ve decided to learn why.
A hot and humid afternoon didn’t stop guests to arrive at Johnson and the place was packed. We were given a small table for several hours. The menus were placed to rest near the exit: always a good sign as the waiter suggests what may come from the kitchen. Fresh quality fish, scampi and clamps are why people cherish Johnson, and all of these comes directly from the local fishermen and is being served the same day. Mediterranean aromatic herbs and lots of vegetables visibly grow all around the restaurant and are used every day by the chef Ivan Jadreškić. Sorry guys, no pre-prepared sauces here!
Mr Dragan goes every morning to the port to buy the best catch of the day. Every fisherman knows him by heart and they obviously compete to offer something for the ever changing and delicate fish menu. Nope, there is no artificial preservative here, only minimum cream and flour, and the maximum combination of sea and woods, depending on the season.
Our summer visit is dedicated to the sea and various fish plates. It started (no wonder in that) with some grappa and immediately afterwards with excellent, semi-sweet, and non-aggressive Millenium Tomac Brut, which served as a great refreshment in these hot summer days. It was also an introduction to the starter: fresh and raw chunks of scampi and bream (orada) marinated in lemon and olive oil, with homemade rucola. The chef cleaned the scampi just a few moments before it materialised before us. Tonight, this scampi was still roaming the Adriatic seafloor and now its jelly and rich texture is the source of our immense enjoyment.
Meaty bream has a rich taste, contextualised with great red pepper. It is fresh and one can sense sea! Together with it comes a delicate flavour of extra virgin olive oil. In Johnson, they care for such basic ingredients, and olive oil is constantly being offered from the best Istrian olive groves. The one on the table is of Mate Vekić, a famed Savudrija olive oil maker. His oil is greenish in colour, mild in flavour, and has a scent of trimmed grass: a balance that calls for more, and we are not ashamed to dip some homemade bread (from Roč flour), while sipping mild and fresh Kozlović Valle 2016, a refreshing blend of Istrian Malvasia and Sauvignon Blanc, perfect summer drink.
Jacobs’ Scallops (kapešante) with polenta in a fish broth is a great example of a sea-woods combination. Famous scallops, meaty and chewy, stem from the western coast of Istria, where a festival exists dedicated only to these small sea creatures. Dipped in gorgeous fish broth, it is followed by magnificent and pure taste polenta, milled in Grobnik (and they know how to make polenta). It blends perfectly, although some waiters’ eyes were scared by the scene of complete disappearance of polenta in just under a minute…
Pink-reddish surmullet (trilja kamenjarka) was a feast for eyes as well as for the palates. Very mild fish, but with a particular texture, is served with young Istrian potato and zucchini. It is also a showcase of Johnson’s cuisine. Reduced cooking is a constant here and fillets such as these come in the end for just a finishing touch. In that way, fish stays beautifully soft and fresh. We fixed the stronger taste of potato and zucchini with Istrian Malvasia Rožanić 2014, a complex wine with caramel scent, a true testimony to ever better mature wines.
It seems we were so astonished by the original tastes that Mr Dragan decided to bring us some grilled scampi, rich and meaty, almost live in hands! The surgery-looking tools were readily declined as the sweet taste is cherished best when scampi is eaten with hands. Few last drops of wine was a toast to the excellence of the chef Ivan and the family Jurdana, in a restaurant where no one comes by chance, and where the enjoyment and passion for this business keep both staff and owners immaculate and loyal to the true flavours!
Johnson is for many years listed on the Gastronaut’s 100 Leading Croatian restaurants.
You’ve decided it is time to follow our example and grab fresh scampi with hands? No problem, just follow the main coastal road from Rijeka and Opatija to Istria. Eventually, you’ll reach Mošćenička Draga – just turn on the roundabout to Mošćenice and Johnson will appear on your right side. Enjoy!
Photos by: Andrea Seifert, Mint Media