Noel is sizzling restaurant dedicated to the flux of contemporary trends in gastro-cooking. Orientated towards a smart, swanky crowd, the menu mixes the best of Croatian with European with mains like the pork belly with shrimp and passion fruit. Portions are small but well garnished, and more extravagant diners can opt for the taster menu - options include four, six or nine courses costing between 220 and 450kn. The decor is polished, and the attentive staff boast military timing.
Zinfandel's is an outstanding spot which transfers the elegance of Art Deco hotel, the Esplanade, built for the Orient Express back in 1925, to the dining room. Beneath the chandeliers, a pianist strokes the keys for a room overlooking the Oleander terrace. Dishes include duck, a daily selection of fresh fish, pan-roasted veal with foie gras or wild boar with a chestnut, truffle and pumpkin mousseline – the menu changes often to reflect the season. Sunday brunch buffet from noon runs the gamut – the best Croatian cheeses and sausage. Don't overlook in-house Le Bistro either, French in style and approach but with stand-out local štrukli.
Located in an artfully-lit brick cellar beneath the exhibition halls of the City Museum, Stara Vura ('The Old Clock') has the semi-hidden air of a select retreat. With tinkling piano music, attentive service and a starched-napkin approach to laying the table, it’s the ideal venue for a leisurely and intimate meal. It’s a slightly different experience in spring and summer, when diners move out into a cobbled courtyard filled with potted Mediterranean plants. The kitchen specializes in high-level Croatian food at reasonable cost: porky Croatian classics like punjeni lungić (tenderloin filled with cheese and pršut) weigh in at 85Kn. Adriatic seafood takes up a good page of the menu; they’ll bring fresh fish out on a tray for you to peruse the daily offering. All in all it’s a fine venue for a relaxed three-courser accompanied by a bottle or two of good local wine.
Bota is part of a well respected chain, with venues in Split and Dubrovnik, and two in Croatia’s oyster paradise around Mali Ston. That makes their oysters a must-try, the same as Bota’s Dalmatian specialities that complement the wide selection of makis, nigiris, rolls and sashimis.
Though called an Italian restaurant in local tourist brochures, Mano is actually a high-end steakhouse fit to bring your best girl to for an anniversary dinner or the business associate you're trying to impress. A better description of Mano – 'hand' in Italian (as in 'hand-made') – would likely be a fusion tribute to the grill. Fine cuts are grilled on charcoal in a kitchen set behind glass so that patrons can watch the process. Order the Steak Mano or T-bone and the waiter will bring the cut of meat, marinated in rosemary, olive oil and Dijon mustard, to your table with a mini-grill so that you can cook the steak to your own specifications. Simple, sleek and modish wooden chairs and tables sit on tongue-and-groove floors under exposed brick. The wines – a long, international list – are in a glass room for your inspection. Reservations recommended.
Opened in 2010 by former staff of the legendary Okrugljak, Carpaccio delivers stylish Italian-themed dining in a wonderfully convenient bang-in-the centre location. For starters, there's a generous list of carpaccios, with marinated Adriatic fish or salmon among the most succulent choices. There are plenty of vegetarian options among the risottos and pastas, and substantial steaks and veal cutlets among the meaty mains. Leave room for dessert: the house semifreddo and tiramisu are difficult to choose between. Chic black furnishings, reproduction Art Nouveau posters, and a soundtrack of Italian pop provide the backdrop. There is a lengthy list of quality Croatian and Italian wines, a reasonable number of which are available by the glass.
Well prepared Central European fare at moderate prices attracts a mixed bag of local and overseas patrons. You can dine on the covered patio terrace accessed through an ivy-clad passageway off Teslina; the winter alternative is a massive dining hall with vaulted stone ceilings. The service is swift and the cuisine heavy on meat. Highlights include the succulent lamb; veal and potatoes under peka (traditionally baked in a coal oven); and more unusual options like pork fillets with dried plum sauce. Of the lighter alternatives, go for trout with almonds or grilled local wild mushrooms. It's a popular spot at lunchtime, so be prepared to wait for a table.
Trilogija sits just above the Stone Gate. Cobblestones lead from the door and inside. Tables sit on individual landings under vaulted, brick ceilings. The cosy dining room includes a bar area where folks can snack on a steak-and-cheese sandwich with caramelised onions (60kn). The idea is that even if you're in a hurry you can still enjoy a quality feed and glass of wine. More time lets you sample wonderful natural ingredients. Daily specials change per artistic mood and supplies on hand; mains run from 75kn to 145kn. Entrée examples include sea bass in lobster sauce and beefsteak in port wine. As well, you won’t regret the black tiger shrimp risotto with mango and spinach. For dessert, try the ravioli with sweet walnut filling.
The first sushi restaurant in Croatia, Takenoko is still one of the very few Asian restaurants in town worth experimenting with – and although it will set you back a wad of kunas it is usually well worth it. It’s a swirl of mellow mood music mixed with the soft sound of chefs chopping behind a central cooking station. Leafy plants sit in tall vases around heavy wooden tables below track lighting. Try the Tokyo platter: 11 nori makis (tuna and salmon) and seven nigiris. There’s a handsome choice of wok-fried dishes and some truly inventive exercises in east-west fusion, with fish, chicken and veal dressed in exotic spice combinations.
Thank to a gaggle of designer stores the narrow, arcade-like Dežmanova is fast becoming one of Zagreb’s coolest addresses, an impression only bolstered by the opening of this chic new café-bar. The interior is as modernist as they come but soothing with it. Matt-black walls jostle with warm woody tones, and geometric light fittings convey an arty bent. As far as the drinks are concerned the accent is very much on quality at a decent price – coffee is supplied by local direct-trade roasting outfit Cogito, beers include the locally brewed Zmajsko Pale Ale, long drinks a refreshing Bellini (25kn), and there’s a good wine list with plenty of sparkling options. The cakes are hard to turn down, and there’s an evening menu of pršut and cheese platters.
Located in a wooded dell between the Upper Town and the Tuškanac woods, it features a cool minimalist interior full of dark-brown furniture tones and low-key lighting. Seafood remains the kitchen's strong point, and both the baked fish (420kn/kg) and a 12-course tasting menu (465kn per person) are well worth the splash-out. Otherwise choose between exquisitely prepared and presented mains such as monkfish in black-olive paste, rack of lamb or ox tail, all in the 130kn range. It's also a stylish venue for an intimate drink, with hundreds of wines to choose from and a tempting menu of nibble-snacks chalked up on a board beside the bar.
This might be one of the cosiest locales in Zagreb – on a narrow passage among the cobbled streets behind St Mark's Church and the Croatian Parliament in the Upper Town. But even as quaint as this is, the food matches it. This is Dalmatian food with a Neretva Valley twist. Frogs' legs with prosciutto and eels speak of the owner's heritage and may not be for everyone but other choices such as pasta with snails (75kn), the veal (70kn) and baked lamb for two (170kn) are also well-prepared. The interior is faux Neretva village, with stone walls, red-checked tablecloths and dried tobacco leaves hanging from sturdy wooden beams. A meal for two with a litre of good house wine will run between 200kn and 250kn.
Bistro Apetit offers superb standards of food, wine and service – standards imposed by Austrian chef and owner Christian Cabalier, previously of Vienna’s Cantinetta Antinori. One key to its success is the location, hidden in a hedged garden on a tranquil residential street, just a short walk north of the city’s Gradec old quarter. The cooking mixes the best of Croatian/Adriatic cuisine with the contemporary European main- stream. At 70kn-90kn for a starter and 120kn-160kn for a main, Bistro Apetit is by no means beyond the average pocket, and there are always some truly outstanding dishes on the seasonally-changing menu. And the desserts are truly heavenly.
The brightest spot on the gentrifying Tkalčićeva thoroughfare, Agava offers a professional and cosmopolitan approach to dining. It comprises a cabin-like main interior and the terrace below. The menu features starters such as mushroom carpaccio at 45kn; a good choice of pastas and risottos from 70kn, and a dozen or so mains (baked octopus 90kn; roast duck breast 105kn). Before your dish arrives, a side basket of warm focaccia bread sprinkled with rosemary keeps hunger at bay. A fair selection of Istrian and Slavonian wines may complement the meal; plums in red wine (30kn) provide a suitable dessert.
Located in the Radnička cesta business district, Tekka attracts a sharp-suited clientele, and has cultivated the elegant decor and uber-attentive staff to go with it. The recently revamped menu is near impeccable: sushi here is a masterful blend of flavour and finesse. For something with a bit more novelty, order from the Adriatic-Asian fusion section. The wine-list, featuring several Croatian award-winners, is well-tailored to the menu. It’s neither central or cheap, but as one of Croatia’s best sushi restaurants, it’s worth the pilgrimage.