Saturday, 12 September 2020

Djurina Hiza in Varazdinske Toplice Named Best Restaurant in Continental Croatia

September 12, 2020 - 2020 is turning out to be quite a year for Nikola Bozic and the Djurina Hiza team in Varazdinske Toplice, now named the best restaurant in continental Croatia. 

How many people do you know who are having a good year in 2020? They seem to be few and far between. I know one guy, and his good year has nothing to do with luck, and everything to do with hard work, vision and determination. 

And the results are remarkable. 

Given the amount of time I have spent with Nikola Bozic this year, it is perhaps surprising that I had only seen him once before this year - for an excellent dinner at his Djurina Hiza restaurant - since our first meeting in Zagreb four years ago. 

That changed in 2020, as I found myself with one of Croatia's true gourmet visionaries in a variety of situations - and locations - watching a fantastic success story unfold as everyone around went into lockdown, and restaurants laid off their staff. 


An invitation to dinner in February from legendary gourmet blogger and all-round hero, Ribafish, meant a second visit to the restaurant, which is renowned for its high-quality meat, and one of the few restaurants that regularly has diners from Zagreb driving out of the capital for lunch and dinner. 


And with the temptations of Nikola's dry-aged meat selection prominently on show in the restaurant, diners can feast on what is soon to be on their plates. 

The Hiza 2020 success story begins - for me at least - during the most depressing part of the year. Lockdown. What to do when you own a restaurant at a time when restaurants are closed, and people more or less confined to their houses? The answer for the majority of restaurants was to lay staff off, at least temporarily, then sit, wait and pray for the situation to improve. 

Not young Bozic...


I think I am correct in saying that his was the only restaurant in the whole country during lockdown that not only did not fire anyone, but actually hired more staff, as he adapted his business model to the new realities. The introduction of a nationwide steak delivery service, accompanied by other gourmet goodies such as quality olive oil, wine, burgers and natural juices, was a complete hit. Deliveries were across the whole country, from Osijek to Istria, and as far down as Makarska on the Dalmatian coast. 

The service brought plenty of media attention, and with it increased business to his core business at the restaurant in Varazdinske Toplice. So much business, in fact, that soon after reopening post-lockdown, Hiza recorded its best night's takings in its history. 

Crisis? What crisis?


Somehow I found myself in a car heading for Brussels and Munich with Nikola in mid-June as the borders reopened. If a national delivery service of quality Croatian products was successful, what about a European-wide service for Croatia's diaspora in various European cities? The take-up on the service, advertised on expat Facebook groups, was impressive, and slices of Croatian goodness were delivered to various addresses in the heart of Europe. 

New contacts were made, including the excellent Maison d'Istrie, an Istrian restaurant in Brussels. A relationship was formed, which will see Nikola return to the Belgian capital next month to present his food at a European street food festival. 

Speaking of street food, there was something to be salvaged from the summer season, and an innovative quality street food concept, in partnership with Katarina Vrenc, brought something a little different to various locations around Croatia. 

One only has to be in Nikola's presence for a minute when talking about food to see his passion for the very best quality and production methods. He has no time for fakers, and he is slowly realising that the best way to guarantee quality is to control the entire production process himself. 

"I am getting the first free-range Japanese Wagyu cows in Croatia next week. Want to come and see?"


A crazy notion from almost anyone else, but I knew he was deadly serious. And I knew it would be quite a story. And so it was that four black Japanese cows became the first residents of an abandoned village in Zumberak Nature Park, the first cows to graze there in more than 40 years. Learn more in Medjimurje to Zumberak: Transporting Croatia's 1st Free-Range Wagyu Cows.


September meant the Zagreb Burger Festival, where his Reshetka stand has been one of the most popular stands of all. Again. Last year's winner as best burger at the festival could well be repeated, as the Reshetka range of innovative burgers has been an unqualified success. 

But in the unlikely event that burger success eludes him, Nikola has another reason to celebrate today, as influential gourmet media Kult Plame Kamenice has just published its list of top 11 best restaurants in continental Croatia. And top of the list is... you guessed it. Djurina Hiza. You can read the full list here

Can you succeed in the hospitality industry in the middle of a pandemic? It is certainly not easy, but hard work, vision, a quality product, great team, and determination are qualities which are helping this man succeed. And with 3.5 months still to go in this unusual year, I wouldn't bet against more innovative stuff coming from Nikola. Especially after hearing some of his plans. 

I salute you, Sir! And we all look forward to the next chapter. 

You can follow the Djurina Hiza story on Facebook

Friday, 14 August 2020

Maison d'Istrie in Brussels, Istrian Gourmet Heaven at the Heart of Europe

August 14, 2020 - A wonderful outpost of Croatian gourmet tourism in the heart of Brussels. Meet Maison d'Istrie for your finest Istrian specialities in the heart of Europe.  

One of the more unusual things about the excellent food in Croatia is that there is not really a national cuisine. Croatia is exceptionally strong in its regional cuisine, with local specialities across the country very different from elsewhere. The truffles, pastas and Boskarin beef washed down with Mavazija and Teran in Istria contract with the excellent seafood, pasticada, Plavac Mali and Posip of Dalmatia, which is different again from the hearty meats, fis paprika and Grasevina of Slavonia. It is a wonderful combination, and the late, great Anthony Bourdain rightly commented that Croatia had 'world-class wine, world-class food, and world-class cheese.'

But while Dalmatians will look forward to a gift of kulen from Slavonia or truffles from Istria, the region's restaurants rarely travel. It is quite rare to find an Istrian restaurant in Dalmatia, for example, or a Dalmatian restaurant in Slavonia. 

Which is why it was quite a surprise on a recent visit to Belgium to discover a restaurant very far from home - Maison d'Istrie.  

maison-d-istrie (2).jpg

Located on Avenue Louise, the restaurant introduces itself on its social media as follows:

"Maison d’Istrie is much more than just a B&B, restaurant and wine bar. Our wish is to transfer love for Istrian Mediterranean gastronomy to Belgians and beyond. It’s a concept which offers a truly unique experience of a new taste in town."

Owner Bojan Radetic sat down with me over a glass of San Servolo to explain more about the origins of Maison d'Istrie and what they were trying to achieve. You can see the interview with the man from Pula above, as well as the incredible collection of Istrian wines, which would be the envy of many restaurants back home in Istria. 

maison-d-istrie (3).jpg

Maison d'Istrie opened two years ago and is the only Croatian restaurant in the Belgian capital. As such, it is an excellent promotional tool for Croatia and is popular with locals, Croatian expats and the many Belgian visitors to Croatia, who long for a reminder of summer on the Adriatic. During the recent Croatian Presidency of the EU, it was also a popular diplomatic meeting point, and continues to be so.  

maison-d-istrie (4).jpg

And the emphasis is very much on freshness and authentic products. More than 80% of the food is prepared on site, including Istria's famed pasta and gnocchi, while suppliers such of Karlic for Istrian truffles, show that no expense has been spared in the search for quality.  

maison-d-istrie (1).jpg

I only discovered the restaurant due to a road trip back in June with the indefatigable Nikola Bozic, owner of leading meat restaurant Djurina Hiza in Varazdinske Toplice. Having already set up a corona lockdown steak delivery service all over Croatia back in April, Bozic expanded his  operations to connect with the Croatian diaspora in parts of Europe, as well as Croatian gourmet businesses. 

Bozic arrived with some gifts, which were very appreciated by the Maison d'Istrie chef - it is not every day that you find your chef singing with a quality dry-aged steak from Croatia. One early result of this first meeting is that both will be participating in the European Week of Regions and Cities initiative in October, one more chance to promote the excellence of Croatian regional cuisine. 

A super friendly and welcoming place, with a really quite outstanding selection of authentic Istria, in the company of passionate Istrians more than happy to talk about their beloved region and gourmet highlights. 


Thursday, 23 July 2020

Reshetka Pop-Up Fine Dining Street Food Season Kicks Off in Varazdinske Toplice

July 23, 2020 - The Reshetka pop-up fine dining street food season has begun, as Nikola Bozic and Katarina Vrenc combine to produce something new and authentic for the Croatian coast this summer. 

When I first moved to Croatia back in 2003, there was a joke among the local expats about restaurant food in Dalmatian restaurants, whose offer was essentially the same. There is one factory somewhere in Croatia which prints the menus for all the restaurants. All the restaurant then has to do is add its name and prices. 

And it was true. The food one offer was very one-dimensional. Once you had tried one menu, you had tried them all. Thankfully, there has been a lot of progress since then, and the gourmet scene in Croatia has really moved forward in the last decade, both in the acceptance of more international cuisine, but also in a growing diversity and experimentation of the younger generation of Croatian chefs. 

And sometimes those young visionaries combine to create something a little different, as was the case last Friday night at famed meat restaurant Djurina Hiza in Varazdinske Toplice. 


Already regarded as one of the premier meat restaurants in the country, Hiza owner Nikola Bozic has been easily the most active restaurateur during the corona crisis. As others kept their restaurants closed and laid off staff, he not only kept his entire team but hired more people, as he reinvented his business model. A nationwide delivery service of his quality dry-aged steaks and other fine Croatian products proved to be a big hit, one which is now in the process of going Europe-wide. 

Looking to the future, I accompanied Nikola as he took delivery of Croatia's first free-range wagyu cows, now enjoying 200,000 m2 of paradise in Zumberak Nature Park. 


Among his many other skills (including winning best burger at the 2019 Zagreb Burger Festival, Bozic also organised street food festivals through his Reshetka brand, bringing his grilling expertise to different parts of the country. Along the way, he has met many inspirational people in the gourmet industry, including a young Istrian chef with previous experience in Zinfandel and Plavi Podrum in Volosko. One only has to listen to Katarina Vrenc talk about her passion for food for a second to realise that she is going to be a big name in the Croatian gourmet world very soon. 

And so a partnership was formed to offer something a little different, and a little authentic, for tourists in Croatia this summer. - pop-up fine dining street food at various locations on the coast, as previously reported on TCN

The opening night was at Djurina Hiza in Varazdinske Toplice (and it will be repeated tomorrow before heading to the coast), and TCN was delighted to be in attendance to watch Katarina weave her culinary magic. IT was rather a different menu, as you can see below, but one which worked very well. 

reshetka (2).jpg

To start, smoked tuna tartare, lardo on chickpeas taco, yellow Jolokia mayo, fermented cherries and sea fennel. 

reshetka (1).jpg

The second course was octopus and pork belly kushiyaki, octopus jus, fermented garlic, and sea fennel croquette. 

reshetka (5).jpg

Chef Ozren prepared an amazing "Wild Đuro" deer burger with wild Mushroom sauce and soft butter buns.

reshetka (3).jpg

And to finish, chamomile tuile, white chocolate namelaka and baked peaches with orange wine and chamomile macerate.


Follow the Reshetka story on the official website

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

Monday, 29 June 2020

How Djurina Hiza Owner Overcame Corona Crisis and Created A New Brand

June 29, 2020 - Nikola Bozic, the owner of Djurina Hiza near Varazdinske Toplice, did not fire his workers during the corona crisis. Moreover, he added more employees to his team. His restaurant uses home-grown produce, avoids large-scale production, and produces as much as it can within the family and facility.

Nikola is not afraid of a new wave of the coronavirus because, with the project 'Deda Goes Around the World', he started the delivery of family products and expanded his business. He calls his team his family, saying he could not have progressed without them. The entire family helps in the production, from wine to homemade juices. Through his work, he creates more and more cooperation at the European level. spoke with Nikola about his great success in the middle of a pandemic.

You have covered 30,000 kilometers in 3 months. Did you expect so much work?

"When the restaurants were closed, I didn’t want to fire my people. I have a great team with me, we are like family, and I went with my head through the wall. My team is a great support to me, and I know they work hard when they send me videos about grilling in the middle of the night. If they weren't so persistent, I couldn't be either. Fortunately, the number of deliveries started to grow very quickly. I delivered all over Croatia, but also abroad. I am offered many opportunities."


Luka Šalamun

Where does the meat come from?

"I am starting to raise the most expensive cattle in the world. The grass will grow on Zumberak, as they must have a good diet. I can't watch cows locked in small barns, I want to act humanely in everything, so I will be guided by the Swiss model - 1.5 hectares per cow. The animals will not be under stress. I have regular partners from whom I supply the necessary products, but I am constantly making new contacts with ideas for collaborations, including meat, wine, beer, etc."

What does an ideal burger look like?

"The ratio of bun and meat should be 1:3. If the burger weighs 180 grams, then the bun should weigh 60 grams. The lowest I went with the weight of the bun was 80 grams, and I didn’t dare go any further. People are not used to it. It is difficult to combine all the parameters of the burger that should be met - toppings, sauces, buns, meat, methods. I tried grilling on a gas grill, which is a bit harder for me because it only heats up to 280 degrees and the fat melts at 320. Everything I know I learned by reading and studying."

Nikola owns 13 grills, including four different types - kamado, smoker, gas and kettler.


Luka Šalamun

Do you drive all deliveries yourself?

"I hired Nikola, who will drive deliveries around Croatia, and I will drive abroad. I can’t get everything by myself because we really have a lot of work to do. I drive my products to Munich, Brussels, where people are interested and where there are a lot of Croatians. He will also be in charge of running the festival stands when they return. We will continue with everything we have done so far."


Luka Šalamun

Nikola is proof that a crisis does not have to mean doom, and he is aware that his business can only grow. He creates new products every day, studies, and says he wants to create an even bigger base with people willing to collaborate.

To read more about lifestyle in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.