Restaurant choices in Istria are huge. Even the tiniest hamlet will usually boast a konoba, serving food of an excellent quality. If you love pasta, gnocchi, stews and truffles, then Istria is definitely for you, as these do form the staples of many restaurant menus. I think it’s also fair to say that quite a few of the restaurants (mainly the konobas) follow a similar theme, decor-wise. Lots of dark wood, exposed stonework, large open fireplace, red and white checked tablecloths – you get the picture. And so sometimes we do crave for somewhere that’s a little bit different, a bit more comtemporary – and this is where Stari Podrum comes into play.
Prior to this summer, even though we’d read lots about it, we always completely underestimated its popularity, turning up on spec many times, only to be turned away, repeatedly being asked, “Do you have a reservation?” And followed by much shaking of heads, when we said we didn’t. So, this year, we were determined that we’d get to experience Stari Podrum – and we have done so, taking visiting friends who’ve been as equally bowled over as us.
First, its location. To reach Stari Podrum, certainly coming from the direction in which we live, you will either drive through the beautiful village of Momjan or wind your way through vineyards and rolling hills. You will know when you’ve reached it – whatever time of day, whatever day of the week (apart from a Wednesday, when it is closed) – by the number of cars parked in both the small car park and the grassed verges outside. Look at the plates too – people don’t half travel some distances to come here. Opposite the restaurant, beyond the river, and perched up on a rocky outcrop is the ruin of Momjan Castle. Quite a view!
The family run restaurant is set within beautiful grounds – a perfectly manicured garden, full of olive trees and scented flowers and climbers and vines, with, as you might imagine, a very popular eating area. We were lucky enough to book a table here a couple of times in the summer, and it really is a very special place to eat. There’s something quite magical about eating outdoors, on a balmy evening, with the moon silhouetting a medieval castle tower. No wonder you can’t stroll into Stari Podrum and bag a table.
When evenings get a bit chillier or the weather’s a bit more inclement, you can dine in a gorgeous dining room, just off the garden, with super stylish black crittal doors – meaning that you get the experience of outdoor eating, just a bit more inside. As I said earlier, many Istrian restaurants follow a similar pattern decor-wise, but not Stari Podrum. It’s very contemporary, with bold artwork and big, overhead black and copper lightshades, which perfectly complement the black framed windows.
However, the star of the show is undoubtedly the food. The menu is relatively simple and does not seem to change very often, if at all. We shall find out in the winter. For me, it’s hard to steer myself away from the cheese selection for starters, with marinated mushrooms and seasonal vegetables. OK, maybe doesn’t sound too interesting, but believe me, the local cheeses are superb, especially the ubiquitous truffle cheese and the marinated vegetables just delicious. All accompanied with homemade breads and local olive oils.
If you are a meat-eater, we have it on very good authority from at least two friends, that the steak they had was the “best ever”. I don’t eat red meat, but I have to say, it did look good – and the appreciative sounds did indicate that it was pretty amazing. The pasta dishes are just a notch above your usual, standard fare – wild, foraged mushrooms are my favourite ingredient with traditional hand rolled pljukanci, which is just the perfect size, shape and texture for soaking up the mouth-watering sauce. On our last visit, my main course was an omelette. Never before have I ordered an omelette as a main course. I mean, why would you? But wow, am I glad I did! I’ve certainly never made an omelette like this one. Fish doesn’t appear on the menu – because Stari Podrum is inland, and no-one 10 kms from the sea would include fish on the menu. Just doesn’t happen here.
These dishes are all well and good, but we’ll let you into a secret. They VERY best one on the menu, by a country mile, is the side dish of potatoes. Now, we love a potato and quite consider ourselves to be good judges of potato based dishes. But this one, quite literally, blows all others out of the water. To be honest, everything with a potato in it is judged against this one, and many now fall short. Think of bubble and squeak – but just so much more perfect. We did get the recipe for it from one of the lovely waiting on staff – but after a couple of litres of the house wine (deemed, by a friend who knows his wine, as the “best house wine” he’s had) and complimentary digestivos, I’m afraid I can’t remember it all. I suppose what happens with the potatoes in Stari Podrum, stays in Stari Podrum.
It’s definitely not a rock-up-from-the-beach-for-a-bite-to-eat kind of place. Although it’s not stuffy or pretentious, in any way, and definitely NO more expensive than all restaurants around, it just has that feel of being a little bit more of a class act. The owner and staff are wonderful – warm, welcoming people who effortlessly make you feel completely at ease in their beautiful Istrian restaurant.
An utter class act.