Montenegro: The epicurean haven the crowds haven’t discovered yet.
October 14th, 2022
The epicurean haven the crowds haven’t discovered yet.
For some time now, Montenegro has covertly been making waves in terms of produce, cuisine, and bloody good wine. Located on the Adriatic coast and sharing a border with five other Balkan countries, Montenegro has the landscape, weather, and people required for a culinary revolution.
A country abundant in world class producers and growers, Montenegro holds its own, negating a heavy reliance on lengthy food miles. The fish on your plate was likely swimming in the sea a mere 5 hours ago. The wine in your glass may be from a cask stored under a mountain a few miles from where you sit (seriously). And Montenegro’s secret weapon in all of this? Its people. Whether you’re after an intimate, hosted dinner, or a more formal dining affair, there’s a chef primed and ready to knock the socks off any seasoned epicurean.
Restaurant: Marko Zivkovic, Executive Chef at Murano, Regent Porto Montenegro
Working his way up the kitchen ladder since joining Regent Porto Montenegro as Chef de Partie in 2015, Executive Chef Marko clearly understood the assignment when it came to formulating a menu that is clean, elegant, and downright delicious.
From his glistening clean kitchen, burgeoned by a seamless team of culinary professionals, Marko has been quietly creating impeccable dishes with an attention to flavour and flair synonymous with the quality and grandeur of the restaurant interior. With a focus on Adriatic seafood and local, seasonal ingredients, this is the closest you will get to Michelin Star quality dining outside of a Michelin Star restaurant. The dishes pack a punch whilst retaining simplicity, the balance of land and sea harmonised on the plate. The dining room, with its high ceilings, chandeliers, and opulent Murano glass artwork is the perfect setting for a three-course feast, whereas the outdoor seating in the Italian Garden provides a more relaxing al-fresco option for the warmer months.
Whilst Murano is known for both fish and meat dishes, spend 5 minutes in the kitchen with Marko and you’ll see that this man seriously knows his seafood. A keen fisherman in his spare time, Chef Zivkovic knows just how to prepare, preserve, and present the best of the Adriatic in a way that honours the sea itself. “It’s important to respect your ingredients and their origins” he tells me as he deftly fillets a sparkling seabass. “We do our best to ensure nothing goes to waste in this kitchen, we use and repurpose what we can to get the very best out of what we cook”. This is unsurprising, given the Montenegrin tendency to find new and innovative ways to improve and elevate everything they get their hands on. Apply this attitude to food and, like Marko, you’re in line to create magic.
Making light work of prepping prawns, Marko glides through his next recipe: prawn ceviche with zingy tangerine pearls that burst with flavour upon your tongue. “You need that citrus kick to finish the dish” he explains, spooning an elegant swirl of pesto dunked spaghetti onto the plate, a bed for our tangy carpaccio prawns. “Every time I’m playing about with recipes, I ask myself if there’s anything, however small, that can take it to the next level. These tangerine pearls are what does it here”. And they certainly do: this showstopping dish was whipped together in Marko’s trademark casual style, a dash of sauce here, a sprinkle of seasoning there. “Our mantra is ‘global, yet local’” he explains; this philosophy clearly holding strong as local produce zhuzhed up to world class standards leaves the pass. As a busy day of serving up the best seafood Montenegro has to offer comes to an end, Marko assures me he will likely “do nothing” that weekend, but there’s a twinkle in his eye that says he’s probably going to fish.
Standout dishes: Prawn ceviche, tuna steak with roasted pepper and carrot salad, and any/all of Murano’s desserts.
Bookings can for Murano can be made directly here. You can keep an eye on their culinary offerings on their Instagram at @murano_restaurant
Home: Damir Moškov, Private Chef
For those in want of a dining experience that hits those culinary high notes but is a less formal affair, Chef Damir Moškov is the guy you’re going to want to know. Damir is a pioneer of the “eat with a local” concept gaining rapid momentum amongst foodies looking for an authentic culinary experience (and the bragging rights that go with it). A private chef popular in the home dining and competitive cooking scene on Montenegro’s coast, Damir will either arrange to for you and your guests to dine in his home (boasting spectacular views across the bay), or in your own local accommodation. Give that man a kitchen, and he will sort the rest, no stress on your part. Wonderful.
Arriving at Damir’s home, we uncork a bottle of crisp white wine as Damir got cracking in the kitchen. For a chef working solo, he is swift, adept, and downright entertaining as he skilfully gets to work on our first course. As I was travelling alone, his beautiful wife (and fellow foodie) Anita joined us for drinks and the sort of conversation that you often struggle to find as a lone traveller (or even in a group, for that matter). Sure, restaurants are an absolute must when you’re exploring another country: they’re experts in their craft and will produce showstopping dishes for you to enjoy. But most often than not, they’re busy and expected to work in a certain manner, one that does not include shooting the breeze with the diners for an hour or two. Things are different here. It’s relaxed, we have time to talk about the yachts and the sea, to get nerdy over prawns and mackerel paste. There’s no one coughing impatiently at the next table, trying to get the sommeliers attention as I’m trying to find out where that glass of delicious red came from. Here, at Damir and Anita’s dining table, that knowledge is imparted freely. We talk about home, how we both live in close proximity to family, and how important that is to us. We discuss wild asparagus, photography, and debate the correct icing sugar to cake ratios (answer: there is no bad ratio). And all the while Damir is cooking, plating, and serving up. A one-man restaurant who makes it all look so darn easy.
We devour course after course as the evening flies by, enjoying buttery shrimps, all manner of locally sourced vegetables, fresh seafood, and home-made sourdough, finishing with a beautiful traditional cake made using Damir’s mum’s recipe. It was a glorious evening of food, wine, and good conversation, the type of experience you will not find in a commercial setting. As the night drew to a close, I cheekily requested an extra slice of cake to take back to my hotel room, something Damir (thankfully) agreed to, wrapping not one but two slices for my eagerly anticipated midnight feast. I left with a full heart and stomach, and two new friends for life. Now you don’t get that at many restaurants, do you?
You can book a private dining experience with Damir via his website. You can also check out his recipes over on Instagram at @gastrolomije.me