Where to eat in Hvar...
For traditional Dalmatian food with a mercurial twist, there are few better places than Giaxa, a relatively new venture from the team responsible for the highly-regarded Luna, a few doors down the same alley. Transforming local dishes with a touch of contemporary invention is Giaxa’s main strength. Creativity runs through the whole menu, and it’s a good idea to come sufficiently hungry to work your way through a full three-course meal. Signature dishes include a grilled octopus salad flavoured with pine nuts and peppercorns; while the pršut-stuffed gnocchi in asparagus sauce represent the perfect marriage between tradition and invention. Mains feature poached sea-bass stuffed with scampi and wild herbs; and lobster in tomato and white wine sauce. The gregada or Hvar fish stew is served the traditional way with juicy bones-and-all hunks of fresh fish. The delectable desserts run from chocolate mousse to the divine, melt-in-the-mouth Split cake made from nuts, sponge cake and dried fruit. In summer, look out for the daily three-course tasting menus, which make best use of what’s fresh and seasonal. Giaxa also bake their own bread. 'It’s good to feel a bit of hard manual labour in the food you eat,' says owner Tomislav Rudan. The setting is as splendid as the food, a fifteenth-century gothic palace that once belonged to the Jakša family – of which Giaxa is a Venetian-dialect rendition. A trio of stone columns run down the centre of the dining room, overlooked by brightly coloure
The heart of a growing funky scene in Stari Grad, Antika is part traditional, part laid-back modern. A hodgepodge of dining-room furniture crowds pine floors upstairs and stone tiles below; candlesticks overflow with years of coloured wax under wooden beam ceilings; and plaster walls with framed photos and faded paintings fill a house built in 1566. Outdoor tables line the alley and piazza round the corner. The food veers from grilled fish fare without subjecting you to pizza. Starters include tuna carpaccio and chicken breast salad; mains (45kn-85kn) shark in a sour cream and chives sauce, and made-to-order steak in a garlic, green pepper or stroganoff sauce. Opposite, Antika’s café-bar serves cocktails (25kn-35kn); White Russians are the speciality. Pull up a converted tractor seat downstairs or have the friendly staff pulley up your drink to the breezy terrace as you lounge on the faded orange cushion of a brown wicker couch.
Gariful ('Carnation' in local dialect) is based at the waterfront promenade of the Riva, alongside the superyachts berthed in the port. Unsurprisingly, it's a top-class seafood establishment, its fare based on the catch of the day prepared in any given way known in Dalmatia: grilled, brodetto, baked in salt, and so on. You can also get an Adriatic lobster and international dishes such as steak and caviar. The wine list has been created from the best possible Croatian selection, with a few top foreign labels and champagnes thrown in. 'Elite' is the word you're looking for. The service suits the surroundings, and if they can't show you to a table on the terrace, there's a glass-floor interior with an aquarium underneath. Naturally, Gariful is a VIP magnet, attracting the likes of Prince Harry, Roman Abramovich and Giorgio Armani.
Huljić is a real find. Guests are looked after over reds and whites made by owner Teo Huljić before a meal at the four-storey collection of terraces that is the restaurant proper. The design theme is handcrafted sturdy: wood and stone on stone tiles. An old wine press sits in the corner as world music wafts. The bar centrepiecing the restaurant has a terracotta roof and a tree sprouting through it. The philosophy, according to Teo, is part Dalmatian and part New Age. Example: grilled tuna with fruit sauce of figs, melon, wine and herbs. Booking is recommended.
About a 45-minute trek from Hvar town towards Milna on a path along the sea, Robinson – without electricity or water (hence the name) – sits on a secluded bay prized by sailboats. (If you would prefer, call Domagoj, owner, chef and waiter, to set you up with a boat.) After you get to the spot you put in your order then take a swim in water even bluer than usual because the beach stones are bleached white. The beach empties when Domagoj calls for lunch and a beer under a thatched roof. Specialities of the hut include gregada, pašticada, brodetto, grilled fish, lobster, lamb and octopus salad. What he doesn’t catch or grow there is boated over every day.
Under the same ownership as the Villa Nora, this celebrated restaurant with an atmospheric stone interior is presided over by jovial chef-owner Antun Matković, who frequently emerges from the kitchen to join customers at their table – and whose motto is: ‘No food is good unless the cook preparing it does so with his own hands’. Plenty of seafood, plus local specialities such as goat with potatoes roasted in a brick oven. Reservations recommended.
In a deserted village of the same name surrounded by lavender fields some eight kilometres east of Jelsa signposted on the bumpy main road to Sućuraj, this traditional konoba serves all the classic Dalmatian specialities by candlelight on an open flame. This is no gimmick – as well as no permanent inhabitants, Humac has no electricity. The restaurant is also where to gather for tours of the nearby Grapčeva Cave.
For that unpretentious, homely dining experience, this former basic wine cellar and family house behind the church on the main square now lead to a roof terrace restaurant. Essentially this is that family-run eaterie serving age-old Dalmatian favourites, but with a panoramic view. Specialities include daily fresh fish or lamb, baked in a wood oven with vegetables.