Croatia is becoming increasingly renowned as a foodie hotspot. Think seafood as fresh as anything you’ll find along the Mediterranean, unique flavours like truffle, prsut (smoked ham) and salty sheep cheese.
Meals are eaten in the open air, usually beside the sea, accompanied by robust local wines that come with neither the fanfare nor the price tag of their Italian or French counterparts. The region of Istria has traditionally been the epicentre of Croatian food explorations, but Southern Dalmatia is quickly making a name for itself, with Dubrovnik at the forefront.
Here are our picks for the top 10 restaurants in Southern Dalmatia.
Located in the otherwise un-noteworthy neighbourhood of Gruz (home to the ferry and bus terminals), you’ll find the best restaurant in Dubrovnik. Amfora is known for simple dishes made with the freshest ingredients chosen by its young, creative owner who brings a holistic approach to sourcing and creating his menu (in fact, he himself can often be found scouring the bustling local fresh fruit & veggie market across the street to bring ingredients back for lunch). You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but if sesame-crusted bluefin tuna is available, that’s the winner.
Head way off the tourist track in the neighbourhood of Lapad to find this Dubrovnik favourite. Co-owned by a celebrated local food blogger, the interior is straight out of an Instagram dream. But it’s not the quirky décor, colourful walls or stacks of cookbooks (one written by the co-owner herself) that attract locals in droves. It’s the traditional, home-cooked cuisine that they remember from their childhood, hard to find in today’s modern restaurant landscape (such as the delicious “komiza bread” starter). Even the name, Pantarul, means “fork” in Dubrovnik dialect. Make reservations for a dinner that will show you a more homey side of this ever-changing city.
One of the most modern restaurants in Dubrovnik, a meal at Azur is exciting, breezy and fun. The cuisine is Dalmatian-Asian fusion (the local owners also run a European-style restaurant in China) and their terrace is one of the shadiest in the city for lunch. If you enjoyed the al fresco dining experience here, head to the other side of the Old Town later in the evening for an al fresco cocktail at The Bar by Azur.
Trying new restaurants is one of the great perks of travel, but sometimes all you want is to sit on a blanket with a bottle of wine, delicious snacks, and a beautiful view. Enter Piknik, a unique company that organises the private picnic of your dreams – traditional deli meats and cheese, a bottle of Croatian wine, homemade juice and cakes, all packed in a cute insulated backpack. The owner is a local foodie and hiking enthusiast who will also give you a map to some of the best secret spots in the region from which to enjoy your casual gourmet meal.
Bota Sare, Ston
Since my first visit to Southern Dalmatia, there has been one image that immediately comes to mind whenever I think of the region: oysters. Fresh out of the sea and onto your plate, with a squeeze of lemon and a side of white wine, fried, raw, blended into soups and hidden in cocktails, plentiful and affordable.
You’ll find oysters on the menu of all the best restaurants and the tiniest roadside stalls, but the best place to try them is on the Peljesac Peninsula, a couple of hours north of Dubrovnik. Specifically the restaurant Bota Sare in the small town of Mali Ston where you can have an oyster feast beside the channel where they are grown– they also organize wine and oyster tastings on a barge right in the middle of the channel. It doesn’t get any fresher than that!
Half an hour’s drive down the coast from Dubrovnik is the charming town of Cavtat, capital of the Konavle region which is considered the breadbasket of Southern Dalmatia. It’s also home to one of the region’s most sophisticated restaurants: Bugenvila. Its outdoor terrace is one in a line of café-bars overlooking Cavtat harbor, but Bugenvila is a million miles above the rest. The ambiance is breezy and casual, but the menu– think butter-poached lobster, green lettuce gazpacho, mojito sorbet – wouldn’t be out of place in the finest restaurants around the world. This is fine dining in flip-flops.
Restoran Obala, Lopud
Lovely Lopud – one of the Elafiti Islands, an hour away from Dubrovnik by ferry – has several great eating options to choose from. But Obala stands out for its perfect blend of laid-back seaside location, impeccable black-tie service and five-star quality food. Trust the waiters’ recommendations for the catch of the day, but don’t miss the prawn and truffle risotto.
Eko Skoj, Korcula
It’s not easy to find this agritourism treasure hidden in the dark pine-covered hills of Korcula, but once you do it might be your favourite experience of the trip. Built by the Marovic family inside their tiny stone house, Eko Skoj is part tasting-room (you can sample homemade jams, marmalades and liqueurs); part olive oil factory (they’ll give you a lesson on how they produce their award-winning oils by hand, as well as a tasting of the goods); and part restaurant.
The dish of the day is whatever the family has foraged from the local gardens and transformed into an incredibly delicious, home-cooked meal. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to try some of their homemade ice cream. Call ahead to make reservations as Eko Skoj does not follow regular opening hours.
With a wide terrace overlooking the old harbour in Korcula Town, this restaurant uses ingredients not often seen around these parts in their light tapas-style dishes: basil, aubergine, goat cheese, pesto. Perfect when you’re ready for something a little different; order the “small plate” to sample them all.
Konobo Feral, Korcula
You came to Southern Dalmatia to eat seafood, and this family-run beachside restaurant in Lumbarda is the place to get it. Fresh or fried octopus is the hero here, although you can’t go wrong with a plate of mussels or perfectly-cooked white fish either. The brothers who run the restaurant are also one of only a handful of families who produce the famous Grk white wine (which is only produced in Lumbarda), so this also makes a perfect place for a wine-tasting to wash down your meal.
Ready to sample the delights of beautiful Croatia? Check out Intrepid’s range of small group tours there.