Aneta and I spent five days in Rovinj, a beautiful town in Istria in Croatia. Monte, Croatia’s first (and at the time of writing, the only) restaurant that was awarded a Michelin star, is located in Rovinj, and naturally we were eager to test it. I will not go into the classification system here, as this is a complex subject on its own, but according to Michelin, a star denotes “a very good restaurant in its category”, two stars mean “excellent cooking, worth a detour”, while three stars are awarded only to restaurants with “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey”. I cannot claim that I have much experience with Michelin starred restaurants, up until one I only tried one (CIAK – In The Kitchen in Hong Kong) and one that previously had a star (Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong). I have noticed that one Michelin star is not the same in every country in the world – restaurants that have, for example, been awarded a Michelin star in Hong Kong would never have gotten that star in Sweden, meaning that the criteria in Sweden is tougher.
I am by no means a professional restaurant reviewer, I don’t even posses any cooking skills myself, but I have had regular contact with fine dining in the recent years. Other than great quality of the food and service, what I look for in fine dining is the element of surprise – I love it when a course that on paper sounds strange turns out to be great in practice. I also try to keep an open mind and order things I normally don’t like. This is why set menus are great – I get to try several courses which both contain elements that I do and don’t like.
We made a reservation at Monte roughly two months in advance and it was no problem to get a table. I don’t know how much in advance you normally have to book there. When we arrived at the restaurant around 20.30 not all tables were taken yet, but soon after the restaurant got full. There was even a party that came without a reservation and they were turned down. The restaurant has an a la carte menu, but we wanted to try a set menu. We just needed to decide between the 5-course menu that uses local ingredients and prepares them to emphasize their original flavor and the 7-course menu that uses local ingredients but prepares them using modern and innovative techniques. We felt that the latter menu had more potential to give us the desired element of surprise so we opted for it.
So what did we like? A lot of things. First, the service. More often than not is service in Croatian restaurants rather unfriendly and arrogant, I have no idea why. We were worried that would also be the case here and that it would ruin the experience. It wasn’t! The service was very friendly, although at times it felt like they were intimidated that they would do something wrong. This improved during the course of the dinner and they became more relaxed. One of the members of staff we liked in particular – he was knowledgeable and at the same time very easy going, exactly as we prefer in this type of restaurants.
The food was of exceptional quality, but that is how it has to be in a place like this so I will not comment more on it. What really stood out were the desserts. They gave us exactly that “I would not order this based on the description, but wow did it turn out good” feeling. One of them was even based on a treat that was popular in ex-Yugoslavia in the early nineties and in that way brought us back to our childhood.
What did we dislike? Well, again a lot of aspects :-). In the first five minutes after having taken our place, we had contact with five different members of staff which was a bit overwhelming. The synchronization between the staff was a bit off at some points – for instance food would arrive while the sommelier was presenting the wine to go with that course, or food would arrive while one of us was not at the table. It also happened that one course was just put on the table without being presented. We missed an alcohol free alternative to the wine pairing. Croatia has so much fruit and vegetables to offer, I am sure a very good drink package containing fresh juices can be offered. In the meat courses, the meat was too fat and too heavy for the rest of the plate, and in that way it completely overshadowed the other, otherwise great components. It may sound that I am nitpicking, as these all are small mistakes, but these should not be present at this level of dining.
But the biggest drawback of the whole experience was the price. The food is priced fairly, but the drinks are way overpriced in our opinion. Comparing to similar restaurants in Sweden (where restaurants are generally more expensive than in the rest of the world), here the whole meal was roughly 100 euros more expensive. Of course, we could have been more conservative with the drinks, which would have gotten the final price down considerably, but when eating in a restaurant like this we typically go all in.
In general this was a great dinner, but with too many small mistakes and with a too high final price in our opinion. Would we eat here again? Yes, but for our second visit we would focus on the food and be quite careful with the drinks. Is this the best restaurant in Croatia? I hope not.