To visit Split is always a great feeling. This lovely city is the second biggest in Croatia, with a distinctive Mediterranean flair of enjoying the life, nature and specific southern charm. No wonder that the Roman Emperor Diocletian chose this area to spend his retirement years. It was in 4th century AD, when Split had a unique city centre of a typical ancient Mediterranean town founded on the Roman palaces. Every street is full of history, while you literally see people living in two thousand years old appartments. From their homes but also from the taverns along, passion of Mediterranean foods is also spreading all the way.
Split, along being one of the few Croatian cities with an internationally pronouncable name, is also the largest dwelling in Dalmatia. From Roman times it rose to become a cultural and economic centre with equally good development in tourism. Until very recently, Split was a transit port city, but now it becomes a major tourist attraction. A special charm of the city is in its inhabitants, known for strong opinions and beautiful girls walking down the seafront. Exactly where famous Split riva ends – or begins – is a showcase of wealth of Mediterranean flavours and aromas and a true monument to the rising Dalmatian gastronomy scene. So, we went to the exquisite Split place – Zrno Soli or Pinch of Salt in English.
So, here we are, sitting in the middle of Split ACI Marina, with a view of whole city and the mountains of Kozjak surrounding it, while sea gives a rhythm of waves hitting the terrace. Yes, we’re some lucky guys indeed. But the owners are evidently even more so, as they and their excellent staff enjoy this million-dollars-worth view every single day. It was a good bet for Mr Ivo Vrdoljak, the owner of the place, who devoted some time for us and chatted a bit. One of the greatest promotor of his restaurant is Mrs Katarina Ševo, the manager of Zrno Soli, who charmingly led us through the place and who told us more about its philosophy and unforgettable menu. Her charm and professionalism is shared by the rest of staff.
They brought us very quickly the cold sea plate, the best choices of edible Split aquatorium. Scampi pate, sabrefish tartare with capers, tuna carpaccio, tuna pate with parmesan chips are featured on this course and they instantly give the clear essence of this restaurant – the taste of the sea. Pure and fresh, joyful and light, it is divine. And when talking about divine, here is a story how the restaurant got its name. The Gospel of Matthew teaches us what Jesus said to the apostles: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Religion is an important part of this restaurant and Mr Ivo looks upon his staff as his family, which is easily visible in their efforts. This almost-family team work is transferred to the guests themselves.
With sea scent and views, mostly seafood specialties are offered. The scampi in the restaurant come alive and, together with fresh shellfish and fish, are prepared in imaginative ways. Beside fish and shellfish, meat and vegetarian specialties are also offered, but we naturally opted for fish. This philosophy of freshly caught fish and seafood is evident in all our courses, but the second course also introduced us to imaginative solutions of serving a warm greenish tortelline filled with fresh goat's cheese and prosciutto in a shrimp sauce on a strawberry stand. The dough mixed with a mild flavour of cow's cheese and shrimps is top combination and it blends perfectly with the prosciutto. These ideas come from the kitchen of chef Stjepan Vukadin, but we had the pleasure to be in the hands of younger su-chef Josip Vrdoljak. No… he is not the son of the owner, but they share the surname. Josip came to Zrno Soli as his culinary school practice and stayed.
True chef can do many things of same ingredient and Josip is not an exception. We all love squids, right? The Adriatic coast is full of them, especially those tasteless imported gummy-flavoured ones. But locally caught squids fried in polenta and turmeric and served on celery puree with sweet-and-sour sauce made of honey and mustard is so exciting combination! Squids will never be the same again and we sincerely hope these kinds of dishes remain memorable for Danish queen Margarethe II, Thailand’s Princes Bajrakitijaba Mahidol and Zucchero. What do they have in common? Together with some other celebrities, they dined in Zrno Soli!
Our main course was Adriatic tuna grilled with sesame seeds and served with sweet potato, fried cauliflower and cooked chickpea puree, alongside the white wine and lime sauce. Again, remarkable tastes pleasing the palate, nose and eyes, and with obvious experience in perfect fish grilling. It runs in blood of Dalmatians (men, not dogs). The fish, which is drenched of moisture, is laid on a grid of previously heavily grill and is coated with rosemary olive oil. When the fish is roasted, it is left in a bowl sprinkled with a special mixture of homemade olive oil, vinegar, finely chopped garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Traditionally, this dish is served home-made wine. The old Dalmatian saying says the fish swims three times: the first time in the sea, the second time in the oil, and the third time in the wine. And wine they serve in Zrno Soli is possibly part of one of the biggest wine lists in Croatia, serving both Croatian and international sorts.
Sweet endings… with a selection of sweets that combine the simplicity of berries and beautiful crème cakes, and especially the chocolate truffles… is simply an addition to the sweetness of life while sitting by the sea and having a million-dollar worth view. This Split’s delight, a place for well known Split nights, has been twice listed in the Gastonaut’s 100 best Croatian restaurants and now it is time to be nominated again for Michelin. By our simple standards, it is the star of the sea!
Uvala Baluni 8, 21000, Split
+385 91 434 3050
Gallery (photos by Zrno Soli & Taste of Adriatic)