Monday, 13 July 2020

Can Good Communication Save The Season? Boškinac on Pag Busier Than In 2019

July 13, 2020 - Marc Rowlands interviews Boris Šuljić, owner of Boškinac on Pag, a Michelin-starred restaurant, to try and discover the secret to success in the challenging summer of 2020

Among the neverending doom and gloom of this year, a ray of sunshine through the clouds. At Boškinac on Pag, the restaurant, hotel and winery, business is booming. With better numbers than at this point in 2019, is it possible the luxury sector is suffering less this season from COVID-19? And what is the secret to Boškinac's success so far in 2020?

“I am very satisfied with this year's business,” Boškinac owner Boris Šuljić told TCN with a smile and a carefree tone to his voice. “It's definitely busier than last year. Some days are better than others but, generally, more people are coming.”

An island within an island. Pag's Boškinac is located within a lush green and neighbourless section of the island's interior © Boškinac

In a year where, depending on who you believe and how you extrapolate the info, tourism in Croatia is down by at least 50%, people sit comfortably isolated on Boškinac's large terrace. There, they take in the view of the olive trees and Boškinac's vineyards, with not a neighbour in sight. With special measures in place, seats in their Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant are similarly full. But just where are these guests coming from?

“Most of them this year have been from Croatia and Slovenia,” says Šuljić, not unsurprised. “I'd say the next largest group is foreign nationals, ex-pats, who now live in Croatia. But, also we've had quite a few from Germany, Austria, and Belgium. It's not so difficult for us to get busy. We are a relatively small hotel - 11 rooms, 55 seats in the fine dining restaurant, and 40 seats in our more informal tavern.”

Boris Šuljić welcoming guests to Boškinac with a glass of their own-made wine in summer 2019 © Fabio Šimićev

Šuljić estimates that in total around 60% of 2020's guests have come from Croatia, 40% from other countries, a distinct change in the usual demographic they receive. Awarded a Michelin star in February of 2020, the hotel and restaurant have earned a reputation internationally for high-quality food, wines, service, and an experience much more unhurried and relaxing than that found in many places on the popular island. So, has he dropped his prices to encourage this year's draw?

“No, not at all” Šuljić tells us, “our prices remained normal. We are not so expensive like some other 4 or 5-star hotels in Dubrovnik, Rovinj, or Split. The average room price is around €200. Until 15 July, we arranged some special packages with the room and fine dining. We kept the food at the same price but offered the rooms a little cheaper in combination. It was successful. It seemed to attract people who'd heard of the hotel and restaurant, who maybe decided that right now was the best time to come and look. It's not so far to come here to check us out when you only have to travel from Split or Istria, even Zagreb, which is where many of these guests have been coming from. They stayed for one or two nights and enjoyed our Michelin-starred restaurant.”

The flair with which Boškinac on Pag use their fresh, locally-sourced and premium ingredients earned them a Michelin star earlier in 2020 © Boškinac

Always keeping on top of developments in Croatia's gastro scene (you can stay updated on our Gourmet pages), one of TCN's most recent reports from Boškinac noted the venue's fluctuating success of the 2019 season. The summer's unusually variable weather was considered as perhaps one factor in the lack of footfall. With the sun shining reliably on Pag this summer, could it be that visitors care more about the weather than they do about Coronavirus? Is sun-seeking really a greater deciding factor for those looking at Croatia holidays than the ever-updating COVID-19 situation? Šuljić thinks not.

“I definitely think we're busier this year because of the Michelin star,” he says. “People seem to really recognise this international sign of quality. We got a lot of attention because of this. I think it is also because of our communication. We capitalised on the attention and we have been sending out very positive messages. We have every reason to be optimistic and it is this optimistic message we have been sending out; we are here, we are a small place, isolated, we have no neighbours, with allocations for relatively few people, but with lots of room and air and enough terrace for everyone. This is not the usual kind of busy hotel that's packed with people. We are very passionate about our food and our hotel experience. Ours is a business that concentrates on quality, not quantity.”

A platter of distinctly Dalmatian delights, an example of the food on offer at Boškinac on Pag's less-formal tavern restaurant © Boškinac on Pag

Though Šuljić's international recognition, unique premises and isolated location undoubtedly offer an advantage in attracting high-end clientele, could other Croatian businesses learn something from the clear and optimistic communication Boškinac has been sending out since the season's start? Well, it's an option to all but, since opening in 200, Boškinac's message and communications have been of premium importance to the business.

“We were very ambitious as soon as we opened, especially with our food,” remembers Šuljić. “But, at that time, this kind of fine dining experience was not so much recognised in Croatia. It was a very high cuisine for the time. People didn't understand what we were trying to do. Slowly we grew with our guests. It was a journey we made together. It was a gradual process. On our part, a mixture of good social media communication, some PR and word-of-mouth recommendations from previous guests was what worked best.”

Spectacular presentation, one of the many wow factors attracting curious visitors to Boškinac on Pag © Boškinac on Pag

Of course, it's too early to tell if Boškinac will maintain its story of success through summer 2020. Šuljić is aware of this. And, even though it is even more difficult to predict the rest of the season than in any other year, he remains decidedly unworried because of their experiences so far.

“It is really interesting,” he says, when asked about future bookings for this summer, “I've never known anything like it. We have so far not had any bookings further than three or four weeks in advance. It's much more week to week. For instance, right now we have zero bookings for August. Usually, I would be concerned. But, it was the same one month ago and now we are almost full. All of the bookings are last minute. People are making their decisions based on the status and the quality of the information available. They check the news and the websites for advice, make a decision and then off they go.”

© Boškinac on Pag

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Monday, 13 July 2020

Rešetka's Superior Summer Street Food Brings Fine-Dining Quality at Coastal Pop-ups

July 13, 2020 - In their first venture to the Croatian coast, Rešetka's summer menu brings fine-dining quality to seaside streets in 2020

Sometimes you just want a burger, a sandwich, or something you can just eat from your hands. But, just because you haven't got the time or can't be bothered with the faff of fine dining, that doesn't mean you're volunteering for a drastic drop in quality.

That's where Rešetka comes in. Street food providers renowned for sourcing and selling only quality meats, the grill specialists have been a highlight of Zagreb Burger Fest and several pop-ups in recent times. This summer, the experience that has won over the Croatian capital's burger connoisseurs can be found instead along the coast.

Rešetka owner Nikola Božić has embarked on the summer venture with chef Katarina Vrenc. You'll be able to find their new concept 'Fine Street Food by Reshetka & Katarina Vrenc' at several pop-up locations along the Adriatic this summer. They'll be visiting Istria, Kvarner and Dalmatia, including the islands of Cres and Pag.

Rešetka and Đurina Hiža are renowned for using only high quality, locally sourced produce within their dishes including, this year, beef from a hybrid of Japan's famed wagyu and Holstein, sourced from the first range herd of its kind in Croatia © Rešetka

With a commitment to cooking only with high quality, locally sourced produce and ingredients, the team is known to use premium meats and seafood for their dishes. This year they will offer beef from a hybrid of Japan's famed wagyu and Holstein, sourced from the first range herd of its kind in Croatia. Within a summer menu that combines the best of continental and coastal Croatian ingredients, you'll also find superior snacks such as rich pork belly paired with octopus.

Nikola Božić is also the proprietor of Đurina Hiža near Varaždinske Toplice. As recently covered in TCN, thanks to some quick and positive thinking, though the restaurant closed for a while in the Coronavirus lockdown, Nikola was able to adapt his business in order to remain successful during the period; relying on high quality, locally sourced ingredients, he became a bridge between the small producers he'd spent time finding, and those shopping online from their homes. Their 'Deda Goes Around the World' service delivered meats and other produce throughout Croatia during the restaurant's temporary closure.

If you're planning to visit Dubrovnik, Biograd, Pula, Premantura or Split this summer and can't face another pizza slice, kebab or burger of questionable origin, be sure to look out for the Rešetka logo. Fine Street Food by Reshetka & Katarina Vrenc will visit Plavica Bar on island Cres on 7 & 8 August and the Michelin-starred Boškinac on Pag in the middle of September. Further inland, they'll also be available at the High Grounds Festival in Varaždinske Toplice on 31 July, 1 & 2 August. Grab yourself a handful of delicious food and pick a spot to watch the stunning Croatian sunset, the Adriatic coast and its breathtaking backdrop has long been lacking exactly this standard of street food to accompany.

© Rešetka

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Boškinac Hotel, Restaurant and Winery on Pag Present their 2019 Novelties

When you get an invitation to visit the Michelin-recommended Boškinac hotel, restaurant and winery on the island of Pag, the only thing you can do is say "Thank you, of course I will visit" and count yourself lucky. That's precisely what I did when I was kindly invited, as a part of a group of Croatian journalists, for the presentation of the newly renovated rooms in the hotel and the introduction of the new menu created by the JRE chef Matija Bregeš (which was to be paired with the new vintages of Boškinac wines).

When we arrived at Pag, another thing we were to be thankful for was the weather. With the volatile spring weather we've been having, we were lucky to be welcomed by a fantastic sunny warm day. In Lun Boris and Mirela Šuljić, Boškinac owners met us and joined us on a ride among the olive trees to the location where one of the oldest olives in Croatia is still thriving. And the olive gardens of Lun (you can read more about them in a previous article on TCN) were where the welcome lunch was also served.


After a few bites of amazing lamb stew and octopus salad-like dish, some wine and a story of the gardens, we were taken to Boškinac to wind down a bit, take a look around the hotel and the property and get ready for the spectacle that was supposed to happen in the evening. I have not previously visited the Boškinac hotel, so I can't tell you exactly how the rooms are different from what they've been before, but what I can tell you is that now, after the renovation, they are among the most comfortable and amazingly cosy hotel rooms I've ever been to.


The architect Ana Penavić did the interior design of the Boškinac hotel, and it brings together the influences of the local surroundings, the fields of the island of Pag, with the modern materials and design trends to create an atmosphere in each room that make you feel like you belong there. All of the furniture is custom-made, and one of the things you'll notice in each room are the beds (this is a normal-sized backpack on the bed; I believe it's somewhere around 3 meters wide and well over 2 meters long).


The hotel is located around 700 meters from the closest beach, so of course it has a swimming pool for their guests to enjoy. And while it was nice and warm during our visit, none of us were brave enough to jump in, although I have to say that just imagining a sweltering summer's day and spending it in this shade, on the lounge chairs and just going to take a dip between some cocktails served here made me smile.


The rest of the surroundings of the hotel has also been designed with care and attention to detail, so there's a kids' playground (featuring small wine barrels inside the "tree-house" and on the seesaw), beautiful outside seating area and an open grill. We mentioned the combination of the traditional and the modern, so let's also not forget the three Tesla chargers located by the hotel, so if you arrive with the electric car, not only will you be able to charge it, but you'll also get the best parking spots!


Our evening started (and ended, but let's not spill all of our secrets!) in the "konoba" (wine cellar), where the amazing wines of the Boškinac winery are created and kept, which has also been renovated - Boris told us that the finishing touches on the shelves were done a few days before our visit. After a welcome drink, several words by our host and some fantastic music by a female klapa "Muštre", it was time for our dinner to start.

And what an experience that was! Seven-course meal, with three creatively served welcomes from the kitchen, each course served with carefully paired Boškinac wine, it indeed was a night to remember. The new chef created the menu at Boškinac, this year’s winner of the prestigious Gault&Millau “Great Chef of Tomorrow” award, Matija Bregeš, who has been allowed to show all of his talents in creating this tasting menu.

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The courses were creative, unusual unexpected combinations reflecting the heritage and the wealth of the island of Pag, combining the traditional ingredients you'd expect with surprising spices and unbelievable twists. One of the things Pag is mostly known for is the sheep farming, and one of the reasons for that are the native herbs that grow on Pag, which free-roaming sheep eat and which make their meat taste so delicate, flavourful and amazing. So, lamb, mutton, and the herbs from the fields of Pag were the greatest stars of the menu, but the amazingly fresh seafood (shrimp tasted as if it was taken from the Velebit channel 10 minutes before we got it on our plates!) added a whole other layer of complexity to the menu.

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(from left to right: celery ragu with black garlic cream; shrimp with basil emulsion, Gegić gel and shrimp cracker; cuttlefish and mutton "pasta carbonara")

Like I said before, each of the courses was served with a different wine from the Boškinac cellars, and those wines were given the fantastic opportunity to shine along with those excellent dishes. Each of them helped tell the story of the wealth of Pag, be it the local indigenous Gegić white wine served with the shrimp, which you can only have as a varietal wine in Boškinac, or the spectacular reds served toward the end of the meal. Special mention goes out to Ocu 2015, which was served with the cuttlefish and mutton version of pasta carbonara, a blend of Gegić, Debit (another local wine), Chardonnay and Sauvignon, created by spontaneous fermentation (without added yeasts) and macerated for 21 days, producing a stunning wine which is difficult to compare to any other Croatian wine.

Of course, we'd be amiss if we didn't mention the reds, Boškinčić (which is, admittedly, a nightmare for any foreigner to pronounce, and it means "little Boškinac") and Boškinac, two variations of the Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but given their character by the extreme Pag terroir. Boškinčić is a younger, more elegant wine, and should go along lighter meals. Boškinac is an extremely serious red wine, aged in oak barrels for two years and has a full body, so it should be served with darker meats - and it's a work of art that they managed to create a combination of spices and a demi-glace which made Boškinac a perfect partner to very, very young Pag lamb.

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(Pouring wine from a 1.5 litre Magnum bottle using one hand was not a problem for our waiter, but 4.5 litre Jeroboam bottle proved to be a bit too much even for him!) 

The dessert gave a chance to the Boškinac Prošek 2012 to shine, and it was a rare opportunity for me to enjoy a dessert after such a fantastic meal. I don't enjoy chocolate, and usually desserts include at least some of it, so having an apple and caramel sphere of joy at the end of this evening was an unexpected blessing.

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Boškinac kitchen crew (chef Matija Bregeš first on the left of the photo) after the dinner, taking a well-deserved break:

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The morning brought some hangover, but it also brought one of the most sumptuous breakfast spreads ever. I can't even begin to tell you all the things that were offered for breakfast, but let me just give you an idea: cured shark meat, and tuna prosciutto. And almost a dozen various pies, amazing fresh fruit and fruit juices, too bad I don't really do breakfast.


To conclude: if you ever get the chance to visit Boškinac hotel, enjoy the beautiful hotel with the view of Pag fields, huge beds, unbelievable creative cuisine by chef Matija Bregeš, their wines and the hospitality by the owners Boris and Mirela Šuljić, there's no excuse not to go.


(All photos by Iva T.)

Friday, 6 April 2018

Boškinac Winery & Restaurant, A Quintessential Pag Island Experience

Continuing our coverage of the recent Gastronaut tour of Pag island, a look to a glorious gastronomic destination on April 6, 2018