I wonder what it would be like to live in a tourist town, and to know that half of the local businesses will close down during the off season. It must make five months of the year incredibly dull, but that’s what the people in Split, Croatia, have to deal with.
When K and I were there in early February, we tried to visit a few different restaurants that we had looked up on TripAdvisor. They were all closed to some degree or another – some closed until April, others undergoing renovations and only serving drinks on their patio, and others have closed their kitchens altogether and are only offering coffee and cake. It turns the whole dining district into a real ghost town, and makes it very difficult for the tourists who visit in the off-season.
One day, we spent an hour wandering the streets looking in vain for a restaurant that was still open for trade. Finally we stumbled across Mazzgoon down a little side-street in the old town. They’d closed their backyard dining area, but still had a handful of tables inside for locals looking for a meal.
The restaurant is undoubtedly cool. It’s all hipster blackboard drawings, bare lightbulbs, waiters in bow ties and creatively designed menus. Thankfully it doesn’t have the high price tag to go with the cool environment. Prices are still very reasonable and on the whole, cheaper than many similar dining destinations in Split.
We started with a bottle of sparkling water to share. K needed to be particularly conscious about keeping up his hydration levels given that he’d developed gout. Jamnica is a local water company, and I found their sparkling water had a bit too much of a salty mineral taste on the palate – quite different from a Perrier sparkling or a San Pellegrino sparkling.
A salad to share, advertised on the menu as a Beetroot and Pumpkin Salad, it turned out to be only a Beetroot Salad when delivered to the table as there was certainly no evidence of pumpkin anywhere in the dish. Still, it was an excellent mix, with the strong creamy blue cheese dressing setting off the sweetness of the beetroot. The crunchy almonds topped off the whole salad, and I swear the baguette had been dressed with garlic oil before roasting, giving it that extra kick. A small salad, but a good size to share between two people as a side.
Bread is delivered to each table in a very cute wooden box. Interestingly, the bread was cut up into smaller chunks, rather than kept in larger slices. This actually works in its favour, as it was a much better size and shape for soaking up the excess sauce from the dishes you order – blue cheese dressing from the salad for example, or the eggplant puree in the seafood dish below.
Avoiding red meat because of his gout, K ordered the From Sea to Plate meal, a medley of local seafood from the Adriatic Sea. This was a beautifully constructed dish of a single plump grilled prawn, a smoky tender octopus tentacle, and two different pieces of grilled tuna – one quite lean, the other a fattier piece from the belly. As such, there was quite a good contrast of textures in the dish, and the smoked eggplant puree just helped to enhance the smoky flavours of the grill in the seafood.
In a reversal of our usual food choices, I ordered the Beef Cheeks and Wild Mushrooms in Puff Pastry, an unusual choice for me as I don’t often order red meat. This was a great choice though, with tender beef in a rich wine gravy encased in two small hand pies made of the most buttery and crumbly homemade puff pastry. It was quite a rich meal, so the inclusion of the small rocket and tomato salad on the side (only lightly dressed with balsamic vinegar) was a great counterbalance.
Mazgoon was a surprisingly excellent restaurant chosen out of desperation. Produce used is of the highest quality, and food is treated with love, care and respect, with the chef working hard to bring out its best qualities.
Note however, that it’s not a menu that is particularly kind to those with more challenging palates – seafood plays a large part on the menu, and a full vegetarian meal would be hard to find unless you order numerous side dishes and fill up on those. Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to visit Mazzgoon again if I were to visit Split.
Mazzgoon is located at 1 Bajamontijeva in Split, Croatia.