Croatian cravings sated

Leave a comment


Ragusa Republika, 139 Nelson Place, Williamstown. Phone: 9069 6690

There’s good food to be had on Nelson Place in Williamstown.

Good food created and served in good places by good people.

But, sadly, the overall vibe is rather downbeat when it comes comes to tasty high times.

CTS has discussed this seemingly unchanging situation with many Willy locals and other westies over the years.

Yet no one quite seems to know why it is so.

But in that context, we applaud what Eva Maddox and her crew are doing at Ragusa Republika.



Here there are no shortcuts, cutting of corners or scrimping.

Everything is high class and stylish, the dining room itself elegant and warmed just right on the chilly night we visit.

That hands-on approach extends to just about every aspect of the food, from house-made stocks and on up – everything bar the ice-cream.

Eva and wine expert Pino are enthusiastic out front and Team CTS – Kenny, Bennie, Nat – very much enjoys taking up the invitation of a complementary meal (see full disclosure below).

The prices here are on the high side –  but punters most definitely get what they pay for.

The building is gorgeous, extending out the back to a high-ceilinged cathedral-like former chapel.



A forerunner had been running for several years before briefly closing as some behind-the-scenes changes were effected, re-opening in April with “Republika” added to the name and a bright new look – but pretty much the same food line-up.



Our Croatian food adventure starts with a bang and hardly ever lets up.

These warm, fresh-baked rolls are sensational and served with olive oil and (house-made) ajvar (relish).



Zagorski štrukli are traditional baked pastry pillows filled with ricotta and truffle oil ($19).

We get one apiece – and it’s almost like they float to our eager mouths.



The squid ink dumplings that come with crni njoki ($20/$39) are almost as light, though it is the fresh-as calamari with garlic and chilli that truly grabs the attention.



Amid richness, it is the plain that triumphs for us.

The chicken noodle soup is the big hit of the night.

It has just the right amount of oil to lend every mouthful a velvety feel.

And, yep, the noodles are housemade.

We are each served a less-than-full bowl for reviewing purposes.

A full bowl goes for $15 – making for a lovely light lunch when teamed with the complementary bread rolls.



Bennie is very satisfied with his svinjska rebra iz paca sa satarašom ($44).

He reports that while the marinated and roasted pork belly meat is not fall-apart tender, it remains moist and “just right” to his way of thinking.

The accompanying jumble sautéed eggplant, capsicum and tomato is fine.



Ribarska popara – traditional seafood stew with paprika, chilli, tomato and polenta ($42) – juggles the delicate and the lusty just as well as I have been expecting.

The mildly seasoned broth turns from red to a sort-of orange as the polenta gradually blends in.

And the plentful seafood is very, very good.



The one dish that falls short of delighting us is Nat’s lignje u prošeku of roasted calamari with potato, capers and prošek ($41).

For all we know, this could be an outstanding rendition of this dish.

But the combined sweetness of the onions and dessert wine leaves us more puzzled than anything.



Are we up for dessert?

Yes we are!

Well, the Weir portion of tonight’s Team CTS is.

Štrudla od višnje (sour cherry strudel with hazelnut ice cream, $17) and …



… knedle (plum dumplings with plum sauce and sour cream, $17) are every bit as perfect and sweet-with-some-sour as father and son were hoping for.

Will we return to Ragusa Republika under our own steam and as paying customers?

Yes we will – for more of that chicken soup.

Though I also fancy getting stuck into the sarma/stuffed cabbage leaves.

Check out the Ragusa Republika website – including menu – here.

(Consider The Sauce dined at Ragusa Republikat as guests of the management and we did not pay for our meals. We were free to order whatever we wished. Ragusa Republika management neither sought nor was granted any input, oversight or pre-publication access to his story.)


Croatian comfort food oozes soul



Restaurant Katarina Zrinski, 72 Whitehall Street, Footscray. Phone: 9689 5866

It is a wonderfully improvised approach that takes us to Footscray’s Croatian Club this chilly Friday night.

It’s the usual drill – get in the car and seek food with a handful of only vague locations rattling around in our minds.

We’ve enjoyed the food at Restaurant Katarina Zrinski several times but it’s been at least a couple of years since we visited.

(Katarina Zrinski is apparently considered “one of the greatest women in Croatian history” – see wikipedia entry here.)

It’s good to be back in this big, cheerful room.

As expected on a Friday night, the place is pretty much fully booked – not full yet but working on it.

But we’re early enough to snag one of the undressed table, joining another pair of walk-in non-Croatian types.

On previous visits here we’ve mostly loved the grills – things such as cevapcici and raznjici (grilled pork pieces), served with chips and utterly brilliant cabbage salad of the kind so often found in cuisines of eastern Europe.

Tonight, though, and perhaps feeling the onset of winter in our bones, we go big on old-school Croatian comfort food.




But not before tucking into a massive bowl of girice ($11) as found on the specials blackboard.

“You have got to be joking!” proclaims Bennie as our whitebait arrive at our table.

In New Zealand, I grew up regularly eating whitebait of a much smaller kind, usually mixed in a gloopy batter and fried as fritters.

These whitebait are much, much different – bigger, deep-fried, salty, crunchy and very fishy.

Despite his eye-popping surprise at being presented with so many fishes, Bennie likes them as much as I do.

There’s way too many of them for us, though – we don’t even eat half.

They come across to me as an ideal sort of snacky bar food along the same lines as beer nuts, though the staff tell me that is certainly not the intention.

From there we head into much more familiar and heart-warming territory …

Mains here hover around $18 for smaller serves and $25 for larger portions – more if you’re inclined to seafood.

But we’ve learnt from previous visits that the larger deals – especially of the non-grill meals – are humongously big.

So we get smart by ordering $17.50 serves of sarma (cabbage rolls) and “gulas”.

We do good as this turns out, on top of the whitebait, to be just right for two moderately hungry boys.




The cabbage rolls are both different from any I’ve enjoyed before and as good as any I’ve eaten.

The point of different comes from the filling being less rice and more meat, in this case a tangy mix of both pork and beef.

The dollop of mash belies its plain appearance by being an excellent foil for the meaty rolls.

Until recently, Bennie and his mum enjoyed both our mains as cooked by a now former neighbour of theirs named Draga.

Bennie announces with a lofty voice of authority: “There’s no doubt that Draga’s cabbage rolls are better than these!”

Man, Draga’s cabbage rolls must be to-die-for!




The gulas is a stunner – and very generous for a so-called smaller serve.

Atop gorgeously smooth mash, the beefy stew is rich and has heaps of tender meat.

As far as I can tell, it’s cooked with not much more than onion and seasoned with little more than salt and pepper – but that means it’s sublime in its simplicity and packed with earthy soul.

Free advice: Don’t order the large gulas unless you’re sharing!




I suspect that, for ourselves and many other inner-west residents, Restaurant Katarina Zrinski falls off the radar a little.

That’s a shame as the food is great, it’s a very family-friendly place and the service is fine.

Check out the Restaurant Katarina Zrinski here.



Footy food as it should be




Melbourne Croatia Clubrooms, Somers St, Sunshine North. Phone: 9310 1842

The St Albans Saints aren’t exactly the smallest of minnows in the Australian soccer world – they play in the Victorian National Premier League, after all.

But that they have made it to the last 16 of the inaugural FFA Cup knockout competition is pretty cool.

Mind you, they have done so so far without having to come against the professional might of any of the A-League clubs.

Tonight they do.

And for almost all the first half it looks like a miracle – and a quarter-final berth – are on the cards.

Eventually, they succumb 4-1 to Perth Glory – but Bennie and I love a taste of grassroots football.

For lighting and other reasons, the game is held at Knights Stadium in Sunshine, the powerhouse Melbourne Knights being another club – like the Saints – with a Croatian heritage.

So, of course, food is on the agenda.

We’ve been this way before – for CROktoberfest – but this is our first time checking out what the regular Melbourne Croatian Clubrooms fare is all about on a regular game day/night.




There are a number of platters available ranging in price from $20 for cevapi and raznjici (cubed pork pieces) up to the upper $20s for steaks, seafood, parmas and the like.

That all seems fair enough – and the meals being consumed around us look the goods – but we opt instead for more footy-minded tucker.

So shared rolls of cevapi and raznjici ($7) plus chips ($4) it is.

We’re very happy with what we get.

The chips are only so-so, but there’s plenty of them, we’re hungry and they taste pretty good.

The rolls, with their contrasting meaty fillings, are fine.

The meats are juicy and cabbage salad – something of a leading theme at CTS in recent weeks – are fab.

Wow, what a character-filled contrast – so simple, so obvious, so good – to the over-priced crap available at Melbourne’s major sports venues.




Upon entering Knights Stadium itself, we’re impressed to discover the same cevapi and raznjici rolls are available at the grandstand “food court” kiosk!




And how about this?

The open-air bar right out in front of the grandstand is serving scotch and bourbon – without resorting to the tacky by selling pre-mixed cans.


Bennie is in digital game mode as I wander around taking in the sights and sounds. Everyone is friendly and happy, and I love the vibe.




The folks from The Stray Cafe whip us up a fine cafe latte and hot chocolate.

The St Albans Saints are out of the FFA Cup.

But personally, I have really enjoyed being out and about for some grassroots community sport.

My interest has been tweaked by editing so many stories – covering all sorts of sports – for the Star Weekly newspapers, and I’m glad we’ve made the effort.




New tastes at a brilliant temple of boganism



Flying Elephants and B&K Sarajevski Style Chevapi, Rubble & Riches Market, 8-18 Leakes Rd, Laverton

Mexican food at Lavo Market?

With a name like Flying Elephants?

I’m fully expecting a neo-hippie or utterly whitebread take on … someone’s idea of Mexican food.

What I find is quite different – a smallish operation staffed by a friendly crew of three, each and everyone of them boasting Thai ancestry.

How wonderfully westie is that?

In fact, Lavo Market is pretty much that way all round.

Anyone feeling gloomy about the prospects of the west being strangled by yuppifying gentrification should visit this weekend wonder – in its hardcore, unrepentant untrendiness, it will surely give your spirits a lift.

The Flying Elephants sell a compact range of burritos, flautas and tacos.

My chicken taco ($5) is a real nice surprise.

For starters, there’s two of them – bargain!

On to commercial but OK tortillas are piled good chicken, two kinds of cheese, some simple salsa and lettuce. There’s a variety of hot sauces to round things out.

This may not be up to the sort of standard set by La Tortilleria – but I’m not complaining.


I haven’t been to this market since first writing about it, so I’m delighted to find the Flying Elephants are just one several new food enterprises up and running.

One of them will not be getting my custom or my money.

People with cameras are potential customers, too.

Stallholders not wishing photographs to be taken should erect signs saying just that.

Or simply saying something like, “Please don’t take photographs – but you’re very welcome to try our food” would do nicely.

Death stares and verbal abuse? No thanks.


I fare much better at another newie – the bright red B&K Sarajevski Style Chevapi.

As with the Flying Elephants, the B&K team have gone that extra mile by providing some tables and chairs – something that can’t be said of many of the market’s food outlets.

They’re selling chevapi and souvlaki in a range of configurations both plated and stuffed in bread of one kind or another.

My plate of five chevapi, two salads and a bread roll is $6.50 – another bargain!

This a Croatian food, so – knowing the Croatian skill with spuds and cabbage – it’s the potato and cabbage salads I am most interested in.

I’m not disappointed.

While the salads have something rather monotone about them, they are both fresh, zingy and delicious.

The chevapi themselves are OK but need more seasoning.








CROktoberfest, Somers Street, North Sunshine.

It is an unexpected musical epiphany, though one that is perhaps at least a little predictable.

As we are enjoying our time – and the sights, sounds and aromas – at CROktoberfest, being held in the ground adjacent to the Melbourne Knights football ground, the music is being provided by a group led by event organiser Dom.

Now, European music is at the very fringes of my musical interests.

But this stuff makes me feel right at home – the lilt and swing is akin to the vintage downhome American music I love so much, and also very much of the Spanish-language music of the US south-west and Mexico, of which I am also a fan.

But what is it with Croatians and volume?

Even with this band and its acoustic instruments, the volume is at a full-tilt, ear-attacking, chest-thumping level – just as the music was at our previous engagement with Croatian music and food.

And all this even before the DJs and rocker get things really cranking later in the night.

Presumably, the geese digging the music from the very front of the stage are used to such things …

But of course, while we have come here to enjoy the party vibe in general, it is the food that is the main drawcard – and especially the bull on the spit.

And there’s do doubt it is a very impressive sight.

As it revolves and roasts, meat is carved from the fragrant beast and passed to crew members who dice it for stuffing into rolls awaited by eager customers.

Like all the food we have, it is dressed simply with shredded lettuce.

But on the evidence of my $10 roll, nothing more is needed.

The plain appearance disguises the quality within – this is as fine beef as I’ve ever had: Juicy, tender, slightly salty, magnificent!

Bennie goes first-up for a similarly priced schnitzel roll, after which we go our separate ways to explore the fun.

The festival area is quite compact, with kids activities off to one side and many more people inside the clubrooms, where there is more music and similar food on offer.

Even here there is music that reverberates with my past – although it, too, is at extreme volume.

There are very many happy people.

There is very much beer being consumed.

So I go with that flow and have one with my second offering of the day – pork cubes in a similar roll for the same price.

The meat here is also tender juicy and flavoursome, but has nowhere near the “wow” factor of the bull.

Bennie has a bull roll then, too.

Some more music and then we’re done – leaving the party masses to work on the rest of the night.

And morning.

CROkoberfest: Win tickets!


CROktoberfest is an all day – and most of the night! – celebration of Croatian culture, including much lip-smackingly good food.

It’s being held next Saturday, October 20, right in our own backyard in Sunshine North.

Thanks to event organiser Dom, we have two tickets – worth $25 each – to give away.

Simply comment on this post, telling us in a few words why you want to go.

Team CTS will choose the winner on Wednesday night and arrange to get you tickets to you before the event.

Featured at the festival will be the CROktoberfest Cup Soccer finals, six DJs, traditional German and Croatian folk dancers, a boulder-throwing competition, cup and saucer rides, face painting and heaps more.

And, of course, lots of food.

Says Dom: “It’s the only place you will ever see a bull on the spit – that’s right a bull. The only place you will ever have cevapcici and pretzels at the same time.”

CROktoberfest is on October 20 from noon until 4am at the Melbourne Croatia Social Club, 2 Somers St, North Sunshine. Details: Dom Dedic on 0431 167 294.

Children under 12 get in for free.

CROktoberfest website.

African Affair/Croation Cultural Festival


African Affair, Footscray Community Arts Centre

Croation Cultural Festival, Australian Croatian Association, 72 Whitehall St, Footscray

We love the idea of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, but in a practical sense never have really engaged with it – even this year’s “Feasting In Footscray” segment.

We are very much looking forward, however, to the Sunday arvo African Affair at the Footscray Community Arts Centre – hoping for some great sounds and tastes, and maybe a few familiar faces from our regular African haunts in the neighbourhood, all on the banks of the Maribyrnong River.

It is with some puzzlement then that we ramble around to the amphitheatre to find … nothing.

We subsequently find the above notice stuck to the centre’s office door – and feel a keen disappointment.

According to Only Melbourne, the event’s organisers – Diafrix and Footscray Community Arts Centre – “were unable to attract an event sponsor for 2011”.

No doubt they share our disappointment.

Nevertheless, it’s perplexing that such an event should have been included in the festival program, and widely promoted, only to be cancelled at the last minute – meaning we are surely among several hundred potential punters left with a sense of emptiness.

No matter – this is Melbourne, this is the western subrubs, this is Footscray, so all is never ever lost.

Leaving the car where it is, we simply stroll around the corner to Whitehall St and enter the raucous goings on of the Croation Cultural Festival, wherein we spend a very pleasant hour or so.

It’s a simple affair – a row of tents selling (mostly) food, a central marquee with tables packed families and more than a few blokes getting seriously into the festival spirit, a stage from whence Croatian-style rock pumps at a fairly hefty volume, and the centre’s bar/restaurant also doing grand business. It’s hot and noisy.

We scope out the food offerings before making our choices for what will amount to an early dinner.

This is festival food – lots of grilling going, mostly of bits and pieces of dead pig.

First up is a platter of grilled sardines and four skewers of prawns doused in garlciky olive oil, with a small serve of eastern Euro-style coleslaw and a couple of slices of bread – a mighty bargain for $5.

The prawns are of prime burstiness.

The sardines are rich, oily and very yummo. Rip the heads off and suck up the tender meat, with the spines coming away nicely. Bennie finds them not to his liking, but at least he tries one.

I send him off for a roll of pork neck and he returns with a hot dog – no problem, he likes it.

The pork neck roll ($5) I eventually grab is stuffed with meat strips of profound porkiness, unadorned and much like the meat served in a more formal setting of the adjacent centre’s restaurant, of which we are fans.

Finally, almost sated, we share a small serving of  goulas ($5), its sweet and rich gravy packed with tender meat on a bed of plump rice.

That’s it – enough food, enough noise, we’re off home, where a later supper is likely to be of little more substance than a few pieces of fruit.

Before departing, though, we sneak around the back of the food tents to watch the sardines and prawns being cooked.

After a while and a bit of friendly banter with the grill boys, we are presented with yet another plate of their lusty seafood, free of charge.

Oh dear!

We down the prawns, but only a few of the small fishes, whereupon we hasten for the gate before we are accosted by yet more friendly souls intent on killing us with their generosity.