In a building only five minutes away from the centre of the capital is a restaurant in many ways unique for Zagreb and Croatia, situated behind a charming doorway on the first floor. Its name is NAV, and its owner and chef Tvrtko Šakota, a well-known Zagrebian, implements a different vision of fine dining. You can eat there only if you book your table beforehand to enjoy a lunch of seven or a supper of ten and twelve courses. When you enter the restaurant, i.e. a large living room with a transparent kitchen, the chef will welcome you and ask only two questions: what do you dislike and whether you have any allergies. And the fantasy can begin...
In this small space you can hear good rock'n roll and blues playing from the background, see a de-cently set dry ageing cabinet, a couple of bottles, a few paintings, and generally, feel as if you are in a pleasant brown-tone-filled large room of your best friend, the one who has the best records and cigars. The team of only five people take care of the homely atmosphere and selected micro-seasonal products. They prepare the meals in front of you, take them to the table and then present them. NAV does not have a menu - its guests eat seven dishes offered by the nature, that is, the ingredients currently growing on the farms of their suppliers throughout Croatia.
According to the old Slavic mythology, NAV denotes “a treetop house of the gods” or “the entrance to hell,” although NAV restaurant reminds one more of paradise. When the first starter arrives on your table, it seems as if you are in a fairy tale, left to the imagination and creativity of chef Šakota’s team. You begin with the cheese made of organic milk with amaranth, from their suppliers from Bjelovar, after which the fennel flower from Istria and their home-made soy sauce arrive on the table. A great sparkling wine, Tomac Millennium from the old Plešivica varieties, aged in an amphora, is served with the first starter. Following is the absolute softness, a starter made of bread with home-made fermented cream and lentils they supply from the vicinity of Dubrovnik. Moreover, the whole dish celebrates an old secret recipe from the south of Croatia.
The next wine is an old wine variety called Zlatarica, of the Prović Winery in the Neretva delta, 2018 vintage, soft, smooth and perfect for serving with a new dish, made of the pumpkin usually used for strudel. The pumpkin is used in its entirety, there are no leftovers – the cream is made with pumpkin seed oil, while the sauce is fermented in the soy sauce style, which makes for a phenomenal combination with wine, probably the best of all combinations we have mentioned so far. To complement the break between the courses, they serve home-made butter and bread made of vegetable peel powder. They take care of everything here, almost nothing ends up being thrown away. The restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays, when they handle dozens of foodstuffs they process and ferment by themselves.
The following is beetroot chips with beetroot mousse and two kinds of chilli served with Grk Bire, one of the best indigenous white wines of the region. Wrapped in some kind of a cigar, you do not know whether you should take a picture of it or eat it. It is a feast for the eyes and the palate. The next wine, Piquentum Malvasia, is made following a French method applied on Istrian soil, served with a dish with its own story. Namely, a former athletic coach, Nikola Borić, who retreated from the city rush and bought an estate in Slavonia, lives in the middle of a dense forest, where he produces each and every ingredient for the “Man from the forest” dish, a farmer’s plate with egg yolk, houndstongue, potatoes, pork cracklings and lard, all obtained from the same man and the same micro-location – absolutely delicious!
Tvrtko is not called the “king of bread” for no reason! We ate the bread made of purple sweet potatoes with enormous pleasure, served with pork fat, finely minced smoked paprika, and lemon from Vis. Somebody at the table next to us commented “this is a pig sorbet”. Marvellous! Tomac Riesling from Plešivica matches the risotto. The rice is from Piedmont, served with lemon, chilli oil, tekka, and a couple of their own ingredients, of great importance for the restaurant. Plavac Miloš, a brilliant wine and the pride of Pelješac, was served with the belly of the swordfish, a la green curry, accompanied with daikon, Japanese turnip, oil, fennel, lemongrass, and ginger, the only thing not prepared there being the coconut milk.
Piquentum Refošk, a suckling pig with vegetable soup, a dessert from fermented blue cheese on apples, fermented honey and apples, and then fritters made of sweet starter with salted caramel, filled with dry figs and orange peel and sprinkled with sweet potato powder, close this performance of the best ingredients, tamed in the masterful creations of this great chef.
NAV will soon broaden its offer from 60 to 80 wine labels. Their plan is not to expand, but rather to continue telling their story slowly and diligently, to reveal the Croatian gastronomy in a completely new light, and disclose to us the world of food we haven’t known so far. You will remember NAV and return to it. This is probably the most original story from Croatia, and you certainly must visit it.
Contact number: +385 1 202 9961
Working hours: TUESDAY - SATURDAY 12:00 - 23:00
Region: City of Zagreb
Address: Masarykova 11, Zagreb
Price range: more than 300kn