Time Out's restaurant, bar and café awards in Zagreb: the winners

Written by
Justin McDonnell
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Time Out has paired up with R'n'B Weekend where we'll be awarding three of the best bars, cafés and restaurants in Zagreb. Tonight, we'll toast Zagreb's finest venues, acknowledging the most daring, cool and original places in the city. Find out the winners below.

Our selection criteria

Anonymity: Time Out Croatia's team of reviewers visit restaurants throughout the year, always paying for their own meals. This ensures they experience every meal as a regular paying customer and receive no special treatment.

Independence: Time Out’s team of reviewers are not influenced in any way by Time Out advertisers, partners or friends.

Expertise: Time Out reviewers are serial “doers”. They’re out every night of the week, in all corners of the city, to ensure they’re real local experts. And with a team comprised of nationalities from all over the world, who’ve lived and dined in countries all over the world, there is no dish too daring, no trend too twee, for them to sink their teeth into.

Value for money: The Time Out brand is committed to telling its readers the best things to do and places to eat in town, saving its readers both time and money. A restaurant’s value for money offering is assessed with every review. We do not set a limit on the cost of the final bill, there is no numeric cut-off point. It is the overall quality of the dining experience, measured against a number of criteria, that determines a restaurant’s value.

The winners

The bravest restaurant: NAV

Tvrto Šakota's NAV is one of Croatia's most innovative restaurants. Here's what Jonathan Bousfield had to say about NAV:

If there is such a thing as contemporary Croatian cuisine then one of the best places to find it is NAV, the new venture of owner-chef Tvrto Šakota. Previously seen brandishing the spoons at much-talked-about Mundoaka and Xató, Šakota has built an impressive reputation, not only for being an outstandingly creative chef, but also as a leading devotee of locally reared, high-quality produce. A nine-table upstairs room with no interior-design fripperies and no outdoor terrace, NAV is an intimate and welcoming space in which to focus on some of the capital’s most glorious food. The gravelly murmour of Bruce Springsteen, who seems to be on permanent rotation in the background, is the only sensory distraction. There’s a semi-open kitchen behind glass walls which, with four or more people busying themselves inside, is a constant source of interest. Šakota occasionally pops out of his glass box to greet new arrivals – the restaurant has only been open since January 2019 but already has a devoted body of regulars.

Pretty much everything we saw on the (seasonally changing) menu displayed a high degree of imagination and a high level of intricacy in preparation, kicking off with the cream-cheese profiterole that came as an (unbilled) amuse-bouche. The appetizer tells you straight away that NAV is all about attention to detail – not just from the people preparing the food, but from those sitting down to eat it too.

Aptly illustrating NAV’s dedication to the reinvention of tradition was the Jagli  (65Kn), a traditional cornmeal porridge here transformed into a rare velvety pleasure, flavoured with tangy olive oil and mini chunks of parmesan cheese. Mains (90-195Kn) revolve around steaks and at least one seafood choice (currently squid although there may well be seasonal changes), although there’s an intriguing side menu (entitled ‘Garden’) that has some of the most daring vegetarian dishes (really side dishes as they are quite small) in Croatia – the fried čimulica or young cabbage with orange butter (62Kn) had a simultaneously sweet and tangy quality that sat on the tongue for a long time; the pumpkin with fermented paprika looked equally as tempting. An equal amount of attention is lavished on the desserts: the chocolate mousse with chili and olive oil (45Kn) was a luxuriant way of rounding off a faultless meal. The prices are eminently reasonable for what you’re getting; and the 5- and 7-course tasting menus (290-390Kn) are well worth considering.

Eating in a great restaurant is a bit like an outstanding theatre performance that leaves you with plenty to talk about after it’s over – and in this sense NAV definitely fits the bill.

The most original bar: Swanky Monkey Garden

Swanky Monkey Garden is one of Zagreb's most happening venues with fabulous cocktails, a swimming pool and its own pop-up festival in summer. Here's what Marc Rowlands had to say about it:

If you're staying at its attached hostel, you really don't have to travel far to experience one of the most singular bars in the city centre. The team behind this place are big music enthusiasts and are attached to several major events in the city's calendar. There are DJ-led parties here on some evenings, especially towards the weekend. The atmosphere often buzzing, thanks to its heady mix of backpackers and locals, and if you enjoy expertly-made cocktails, it's a good place to drink them casually without breaking the bank.

The best coffee: Cogito

Zagreb's coffee chain Cogito has its eyes set on world domination. Aside from opening a crop of new cafés on the coast, Cogito crossed the Atlantic this year with its first coffee franchise in Chicago. Here's what Jonathan Bousfield had to say about their flagship branch:

Flagship city-centre bar of the Cogito bean-roasting outfit, this clinic for unrepentant caffeine-a-holics is just off the main street, at the start of the mysterious, half-hidden passageway which leads from Varšavska through to Masarykova. Minimally decorated, it serves a hard-to-beat coffee, cold brews and some freshly-squeezed juices. 

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