Fancita – Vrsar’s best kept culinary secret

“Where should I eat in Vrsar?” I’d asked local, Natalija. “Fancita,” was the prompt reply. “They have a dynamic young chef, Paolo, and produce some of the best food in town. I’ll arrange you a table.”

Waiting for my dinner, Fancita, Vrsar, IstriaWe were in town for the Montraker rock festival (Director of Vrsar Tourism, Natalija, is one of the organizers) and the deal we agreed was simple – a meal for an article in Live Istria. And immediately after the first course, I knew who got the best end of the deal – me!

Arriving in Fancita (pronounced ‘Fancheeta’, by the way – the ‘c’ has an accent on it that my web-hosting software doesn’t like :)), we were greeted by a waitress with a broad smile. “This way please,” she said, leading us to the best table on the terrace. “Paolo’s prepared a five-course dinner for you.” Wow! We were hugely impressed. We’d have been happy with a pizza and beer, but they were rolling out the red carpet for us. What had Natalija told them?

 

One of my best dinners ever!

After a glass of sparkling, crisp prosecco, a plate of Istrian cheese with truffles and foccacia drizzled with Istrian olive oil arrived. Beautifully presented, it could have graced any top restaurant worldwide. Simple and delicious, it was perfect to get the taste buds tingling for what was to come.

Trio starter, Fancita, Vrsar, IstriaNext was a trio of beef carpaccio on rocket leaves with black truffle shavings; tiny dark anchovies with slivers of red onion; and marinated sardines. All three are very traditional and again, all were delicious – but for me the highlight were the anchovies: amazingly mild and sweet, I’d never realised they could taste so good.

sea bass in Fancita, Vrsar, IstriaAfter a short pause and a few more sips of the excellent Istrian malvazia wine Paolo had chosen for us, it was time for the fish course: grilled sea bass and prawn skewers, on a bed of saffron potato with courgette scrapings. It completely overturned my prejudice that sea bass is bland and the tender prawns were skewered on a rosemary twig – what a clever idea.

By now I was feeling rather full, but we were only now coming up to the pièce-de-la-resistance: grilled lamb and home-made ravioli stuffed with brie and truffle. This was some of the most succulent and tasty lamb I’ve ever tasted and the ravioli – words defy me, quite simply WOW! You have to taste it for yourself.

Now I was positively groaning (although that’s not Paolo’s fault – my appetite is quite small, and I think the quantities Fancita semi-freddo dessert, Vrsar, Istriaand timings would be well judged for most people). But there’s always room for dessert … and we got two! First up was a semi-freddo duet with a candy floss swirl: I particularly liked the hazel nut with a caramel drizzle, lovely and nutty. And then came the sorbetto – quite simply the best sorbetto I have ever tasted (and I’m a sorbetto aficionado!).

All-in-all, this was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten, anywhere in the world, in a lovely relaxed setting with friendly, attentive service.

 

Why Fancita’s so fantastic

Having eaten his magnificent food, I was keen to talk to Paolo about Fancita and ask: why had he been so generous to us? But dinner-time is no time to talk to the chef, so I arranged to come back a couple of days later, just before the lunchtime rush.

As I knew Paolo loves meeting other chefs, I took along Stef, a Belgian chef who was staying with me, and we arrived to find Paolo having a coffee with regulars, Tony and Nadine (also Belgian!). They have been eating in Fancita since it opened in 1994, and couldn’t sing its praises loudly enough.

Lunch with Stef, Tony, Nadine & Paolo, Fancita, Vrsar, Istria“We come to Vrsar on holiday every year and now don’t eat anywhere else,” said Nadine. “They have dishes here no-one else has and the quality is second to none.” “It’s also really good value,” added Tony, “and everyone is so, so friendly.”

That’s quite some recommendation!

Enough from Fancita’s unofficial PR department! I wanted to talk to Paolo, who had given us such a fantastic meal: why had he been so generous? “It’s simple,” he said, “I wanted to give you a real taste of our restaurant. We have a broad menu, so there’s something for everyone – pizza, pasta, grills, whatever you fancy – but I wanted to show you what Fancita is really capable of.”

And why does he think his food’s so good? “It’s all down to high-quality, fresh, local ingredients,” he said modestly. But I think there’s more: it’s also to do with passion. Paolo is passionate about food. “I love my job,” he said. “I love experimenting: I’m always learning and seeking new ideas, but I also love the older, traditional dishes as well. I have a really good chef in my kitchen, who knows all the old dishes, real, authentic Mediterranean food. She helps keep me grounded in my traditions. It is important for us younger chefs to learn from the old masters and keep the traditions alive.”

 

Sharing ideas

And this isn’t all talk. Paolo’s a member of The World Master Chef Society and in the winter, when the restaurant’s closed, he travels, meeting chefs worldwide and taking part in culinary competitions as part of the Croatian team.

Chefs also come and visit him. “We’ve a famous chef coming from Kranj (Slovenia) this evening,” he said, “and we’ve some jazz musicians as well. It’ll be a great party – do join us!”

Fancita's team, Vrsar, IstriaThrough his contacts, Paolo’s also helping develop Istria’s next generation of chefs. For example, in October a group of Texan master chefs is coming to show how things are done, Texan-style. They’ll be working with students from the Porec and Rovinj catering schools, sharing ideas and techniques, and afterwards, there will be a celebratory dinner, where we can all get a taste of what they’ve learnt!

But Paolo’s keen to stress that great food isn’t just about restaurants – it’s for everyone. Over the winter, when things are quieter, he’s organizing a pasta school for locals, with a chef from Italy. “We did it for the first time last year and it proved so popular, we’re doing it again this year,” he said.

Which brings me to Stef. Like Paolo, Stef’s passionate about food. His idea of a great holiday is visiting local restaurants, talking with other chefs and learning regional dishes. He’s also an educator – a dessert specialist, teaching in Leuven’s catering school. Now, if there’s one area Istria’s lacking, it’s desserts: all too often it’s just a choice of pancakes or factory-made ice-cream. So when Stef started talking about home-made desserts, sorbets and ice-creams, Paolo’s eyes lit up. Stef was just the man he’d been looking for!

When I left, Stef and Paolo had their heads together trying to match schedules, so Stef can come and give a dessert school. Here’s hoping they do and we can all come along and taste the results.

 

Eating in Fancita

Fancita restaurant, Vrsar, IstriaAs you’ll gather from this piece, I think Fancita’s wonderful and highly recommend it. Yes, we got it for free and Paolo prepared us a top-end feast, but I’m sure anyone tasting any of his dishes would agree they are all of the highest quality. And if you’re looking for something simpler, there’s still plenty to choose from.

One small word of warning: Fancita’s so popular, I’d strongly recommend booking or else you could be in for a long wait.

 

Where is Fancita?

Their address is: Dalmatinska 38, 52450 Vrsar. T.: +385(0) 52 441 019

Staf uncovering Fancita's hidden sign, Vrsar, IstriaYou’re very unlikely to stumble across Fancita by accident. It is up a side street, with its sign covered by vines. Dalmatinska’s a long street which runs across Vrsar and has two branches: Fancita’s at the sea-side end of it, where the road’s one-way, coming from the coast. There’s no parking outside, so it’s best to park in Vrsar’s main big car park and stroll back (about one minute away). Dalmatinska is the street opposite the fish market – there is a sign at the bottom of the street (which I walked past twice!).

You can read more reviews on Trip Advisor and they also have a website.

 

Other recommended places to eat in Vrsar are Srdela and Monte Carlo.

 

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