Punk, fire and gastronomy in the Zagreb’s neighbourhood Trešnjevka
The new place to enjoy some truly good food can be found in Trešnjevka, at the place where the former Šalša restaurant used to be, not far from the popular Zagreb outdoor market. The restaurant is the result of joint efforts of the hall-of-famer Tvrtko Šakota, the renowned Croatian chef, now in the role of a “ghost chef”, and Marko Turković, the young chef who made quite a name for himself in gastronomy, as the main man “down in the trenches”. The elaborate food is prepared exclusively on fire, using a large grill and wood-burning oven, but in a way that has nothing to do with local grill houses. Turković, whose early career has its roots in the well-known Croatian fine dining destinations, always gave the impression of rebelliousness against the established order, both in structured systems of the past, as well as more recently, when his freer, 'punk' style comes to the fore, allowing us to better understand his way of thinking. As it can be understood from his last project Sopal, the fun dining wine bar, Bekal has stepped away from the well-worn paths of “safe” catering, making even a step further away from spending energy on label, comfort and show, and is clearly focused on good food and its impeccable treatment. Turković also embraced the philosophy of the importance of the ecological, domestic and seasonal, which has long been promoted by Šakota, so this concept is nurtured here as well, together with the responsible, sustainable and humane treatment when it comes to animal products.
The space is located on the first floor of a private house in a residential area, and if you don't look closely, it's easy to miss it without even noticing that anything special is happening there. The interior is dominated by a large mural depicting an open flame, and a busy semi-open kitchen in the centre, surrounded by a bar where you can eat and enjoy an even better view of the hustling around you. The main dining hall is simple, with basic wooden furniture; it can accommodate about 40 people, and an even smaller number of people on the terrace in the warm season. It is important to note that recently only a five-course tasting menu is available, and reservations are mandatory and available through their web form.
What is served
To get their business going, Bekal first started with an à la carte program; afterwards it added tasting menus comprising several courses. Lately, only a five-course tasting menu has been available. The food is varied and creative, it often changes according to available ingredients, and the chef himself says: “When we are out of something, we no longer have any of it.”
Depending on the season, interesting things can be found on the menu, such as beef tartare with dried beef heart, tahini with roasted beets and soft, full fat traditional cheese škripavac, baked potatoes with baked motherdough mayonnaise or baked kale and potatoes with anchovies. There is also fish, such as the Atlantic croaker with Jerusalem artichokes, and meat such as piglet or lamb on a spit. The restaurant also boasts some famous desserts, such as rice pudding with pear gastrique or chocolate cake with carob baked in a bread oven... it is not possible to know ahead of time what you will get. This is for you to find out!
The selection of drinks is specific and quite narrow, and in the same 'natural' spirit, so in addition to water and a limited selection of beers from a small local brewery, you can also have kombucha; the wine list is short yet colourful, composed entirely of small producers from the biodynamic or organic movement in Croatia and surrounding countries.
What our chefs had
Our menu started with a cold entrée of, in the words of the head chef, “the last tomatoes”. Tomatoes were smoked and bathed in a light cold soup/sauce made from several types of tomatoes and olive oil, sprinkled with chives and accompanied by a toasted piece of sourdough bread delivered from Salo, Šakota's excellent bakery on Zagreb's outdoor market Dolac. The meal was bursting with succulence and the pure and precise summer aroma of home-grown tomatoes, with the wonderful flavour and texture of a superb toasted bread. The next appetizer was a warm late-autumn splendour of grilled wild mushrooms with seaweed and smoked runny egg yolk vinaigrette, with nori seaweed crisps – a real pleasure bomb bursting with umami.
Our favourite of the evening was definitely the next dish: boiled grilled blue potatoes in a blue crab sauce served with blue potato chips. As the main course – a perfectly juicy piglet with crispy skin, prepared all night in the bread oven, with foamy roast sauce and carrot confit prepared in roast sauce and then grilled, layered with some wild sorrel leaves. A dessert with a deceptively simple composition was a fantastic finish – caramelized chicory cream, covered with custard cream and millet popcorn. We had a glass of sparkling wine from a well-known Austrian biodynamic producer, with a bright fruity primary character, which turned out to be an excellent recommendation, accompanying nicely such complex flavours.