Sveti Nikola – slow-dining at its best?

Outside Sv NikolaSituated on the seafront in Porec, facing its island namesake, Sv. Nikola is a wonderful restaurant, my favourite place for a treat. It’s where we go to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries (and when we need a touch of luxury), so it was one of the restaurants I was most looking forward to reviewing for Live Istria. (In case you’re wondering, Sveti is Croatian for Saint, and Sv. is its abbreviation – so, in English, Sv. Nikola is St. Nicholas.)

Sv. Nikola’s reputation is well-established. It has long been the place to eat in Porec: presidents and kings have eaten here, and many an important business deal’s been signed on the back of a good meal. So, I must admit, the first time I came, I was somewhat apprehensive – would it be too posh: all style, expense and no substance? Would I need a mortgage to cover the bill?

Nicky savouring the wonderful MisalI needn’t have worried. Everything is judged to perfection: the food is delicious, the surroundings classy, yet comfortable, and the service attentive and friendly. This is fine dining as it should be, without any snobbery or pretentions, and it always makes me feel special. As for the mortgage? Well, Sv. Nikola does cater to those on a budget – for example, it has some excellent value fixed-price lunch menus. But I think it’s at its best for a slow, à la carte dining experience and, while you wouldn’t call it cheap, for the quality of its food and wines, it is outstanding value (especially if you compare it to what a similar experience would cost in Northern Europe).

A few days before my Live Istria visit, I popped in and arranged for us to do a review, explaining to owner and head waiter, Nikola that this was his opportunity to present Sv. Nikola to my readers

 

Istrian fine dining at its best

Our cutlery array at Sv Nikola, PorecWaitresses Gordana and Andreja warmly welcomed us and, while perusing the menu, Nikola arrived to ask if we’d like to choose ourselves, or try a menu he proposed. We gladly left the choice to him, merely specifying fish rather than meat. Then, with a glass of delicious, fresh sparkling Misal from Višnjan – white for me and rosé for P – we sat back to see what would come.

First to arrive was a cutlery upgrade! As Andreja added more and more implements, we could see we were in for a feast: we were being treated to a five-course menu with a selection of wines, showcasing the very best of Istrian produce.

We started with a small appetiser of marinated sardine and courgette with carrot pâté, accompanied by various homemade breads and local olive oil: perfect to get us going. (I was delighted to see the oil came from Kovaci, a tiny village where we have a holiday house – despite its size, Kovaci is famous for the quality of its oils and wines.)

pre-starter at Sv Nikola, PorecNext came a seafood pâté duo – one scampi, the other prawn, topped with black and red caviar, accompanied by a light and fruity, Arman white Sauvignon from Vižinada. The pâtés were a real delight: unusual, surprisingly dense and very tasty.

Soup followed, which provoked a major argument. P said his sea bass with sparkling wine was the best. I disagreed: my cream soup with scampi definitely had the edge. What we both agreed was that they were both awesome, perhaps slightly too salty, but almost certainly the best soups we’d ever tasted.

After the soup came the risotto – a lovely risotto noir, with a luxurious creamy texture, delicately flavoured with black cuttlefish ink. It was also time for a wine change and we were offered a choice of Malvazias. P opted for a Benvenuti from Motovun and I for a Kozlovic from Momjan. Both were delicious, completely overturning our impression of Malvazia as an acceptable, but often rather characterless, pale white wine (an image formed from supermarket-bought vino). These were golden in colour and full of flavour – I guess it pays to know your wine producers.

main course at Sv Nikola, PorecIn anticipation of the main course, we experimented further with Istrian wines. I stuck with Malvazia:, this time a mature Benvenuti, an even darker gold and wonderfully rich – heaven! P also stayed with Benvenuti, but elected to go for a red. He tried their Teran, and was instantly smitten – Istria isn’t generally known for its red wines, but this was exceptional; a dark, full-bodied, ruby red. We were so much into the wine at this point, we almost overlooked the food – which would be totally unfair, as it was a tender sea bass garnished with marinated dandelion buds (yes, dandelion!), with oysters and black truffle. A surprising and totally delicious combination of flavours.

To finish, Nikola treated us to a medley of flavours. For P there was cream-cheese semi-freddo capped with a fig concoction, accompanied by a selection of marmalades … elderberry and, unexpectedly, sage. Made with olive oil, they were another Istrian gastronomic marvel. But while P’s desert was lovely, mine was mind-blowing: black truffle ice-cream with dark chocolate semi-freddo. I swear, black truffle ice-cream is the best ice-cream ever invented. Truffles are great in your main course or starter – but in ice cream is absolutely the best way to eat truffle!

After coming back to earth with a shot of espresso, we went to find Nikola, to thank him for this wonderful meal … and ask what makes Sv. Nikola so special?

 

Making Sv. Nikola special

“I have a wonderful team,” explained Nikola with a smile, “both in the kitchen and the restaurant.”

Nikola Gordana & Andreja at Sv Nikola, PorecGetting the atmosphere right is where it all starts for Nikola, and the quality of his waiting team is an essential ingredient. “It’s extremely important to me that we all have time for our guests, so we have a very high waiter-to-guest ratio. It’s also essential everyone is knowledgeable about the food and wines they serve,” he said. Most of his team has been with him for many years and are as important a part of the Sv. Nikola experience as Nikola himself, or the food. Which brings me onto the wonderful cuisine.

“My chef is young and very creative, and loves trying out new things,” explained Nikola. “He trained in Porec’s chef school and has contacts throughout Istria’s growing gastronomy sector. He has many friends with unusual food ideas, like the dandelion bud garnish and sage marmalade you tried earlier. These are things you’d never think of yourself, but are wonderful and different.”

And the wine? “That’s my job,” replied Nikola, his smile turning up a few notches. “A good wine list is essential and I pride myself on offering a selection of Istria’s best wines, wines which perfectly complement the food.”  In the winter, when it’s quieter, Nikola travels round the vineyards with friends and colleagues from Istria’s other top restaurants. “We talk and taste, and find out what’s new,” he said. And knowing Nikola – and from our personal experience – he ensures the best of the best ends up in his cellar.

 

Lunch-time treat

view at Sv Nikola, PorecA short while later found us in Sv. Nikola again: this time sitting outside (in late October!!!) for the first time, having lunch for P’s birthday. Eating outside, overlooking the sea, watching people promenade on a virtually car-free road in the Sunday sunshine, brought a new dimension to Sv. Nikola – its wonderful location. It confirmed my opinion: for me, Sv. Nikola is the best restaurant in town.

Sv. Nikola is open all year round and, if you’re looking to enjoy the Sv. Nikola experience on a lower budget, as I said, there is a choice of fish and meat set menus. While we ourselves went à la carte for P’s birthday, we saw a couple having the fish menu – it looked fabulous.

And in case you were wondering (I know I was), it is just a fortuitous coincidence that the owner and restaurant have the same name. The restaurant’s named after Porec’s island, Sveti Nikola, and was named long before Nikola took control.

 

Where is Sv. Nikola?

Their address is Obala M. Tita 23, 52440 Porec. T: +385- 52-423018, e-mail: info@svnikola.com

To get to Sv. Nikola walk along the harbour front, keeping the sea to your left. It is on the right towards the end, a short distance before the Palazzo Hotel.

For more reviews see Trip Advisor; for more information see their website.

 

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