After our painstaking attempt to find a restaurant open for lunch in the city centre on our first day in Split, we decided not to leave things to chance on our second day. We spent the rest of the afternoon on our first day wandering the outskirts of town, along beaches and the stunning Adriatic Sea coastline, keeping an eye out for any restaurants that might be open for a meal on our second day. Luckily, we stumbled across Konoba Matoni near the Bacvice beach, and after perusing their menu decided to return for lunch on the next day.
We arrived quite early at 12pm, when the restaurant was still empty. We were the first customers, and in fact, we were so early that the chef was still telling the waitress what to write up on the blackboard as the daily specials. It really wasn’t until about 1.30pm that the restaurant started to fill up with locals. Keep that in mind if you plan on visiting – if you want a busy bustling atmosphere, it’s best to dine a little bit later during the lunch period.
The restaurant is quite cosy and homely. The subterranean space is lit up with warm lights throughout, and the first thing you see as you enter is their extensive wine collection. We didn’t sample any wine during our lunch, but it looked as though they had plenty to choose from – both local and foreign.
We started off with some thick slices of freshly baked bread with a very hard crust but soft chewy insides. No butter or olive oil is offered with the bread, so it’s designed to be eaten by itself (it has enough flavour for it!), or to be dunked into soups and sauces.
One of the main appeals of Matoni was the inclusiveness of their menu – in many restaurants in Croatia, it’s hard to find a dish that doesn’t have either meat or seafood in it. It’s definitely a difficult place to visit for vegetarians or vegans! Matoni is different in that many of their dishes are vegetarian, and can be made vegan as well.
I chose this Vegetable and Barley Soup, one of the daily soups, as my starter. It’s an excellent example of how a simple hearty and flavourful soup can be made interesting by adding some last-minute texture – in this case, freshly popped popcorn on top for some extra crunch.
When I think of cheese, I think of French cheeses mainly…but did you know that Croatian Cheeses are an up-and-coming industry as well? In particular, a local brand of sheep’s milk cheese actually won the 2014 World Cheese Championships – who would have known? We sampled three cheeses on the restaurant’s cheese platter – all hard cheeses (one aged more than the other), and all topped with a small ingredient designed to enhance the natural flavours of the cheese – capers, sesame seeds and pinenuts.
As delicious as the cheeses were, I think my pick on the platter was actually the fresh salad and the olives – the salad seemed like a simple coleslaw but turned out to have an extra fresh sweet green flavour from shredded snow peas, and the olives had been marinated to a melt-in-your-mouth perfection.
For my main, I chose another vegetarian/vegan option – the Cous Cous Clan, a beautifully presented dish that was almost too gorgeous to eat. Just look at those colours! The beetroot cous cous was really unique, with the beetroot providing a sweetness to the cooked cous cous that was only enhanced with the mashed pumpkin topping. The seeds on top (pepitas, sesame, sunflower and pinenuts) helped to add some much needed texture, while the plump juicy mushrooms added an earthiness to the dish to help cut through the sweeter cous cous and pumpkin. Now this is a dish worth recreating at home!
K ordered the Smoked Duck Breast with Homemade Pasta in Truffle Sauce, which really just had too much going on. The duck by itself had a strong gamey flavour, enhanced by the smoking process. The sauce on the duck was rich and salty, perfect for lighter meats. The pasta in truffle sauce was a delight, with thick noodles like Chinese noodles and the most aromatic truffle sauce ever.
All together though? The mishmash of flavours didn’t work, especially as the sauce on the duck started to mix on the plate with the truffle sauce. This dish would have been better served in a different way where the sauces couldn’t run together.
We finished off our meal with the Raw Brownie, a nutty cocoa and date concoction that had been lightened by the liberal dressing of berry sauce on top. I’m not going to claim that it was better than an actual brownie, because it wasn’t…but as a slightly healthier choice, I’d be more than happy to have a raw vegan brownie every so often as a change! It still had the nuttiness and richness that I like in my brownies, it just lacked that denser and more moist texture that comes with being able to use eggs in the mixture.
I have no hesitation in claiming that the vegetarian and vegan dishes at Konoba Matoni are the ones to choose, even if that’s not your usual choice on a menu. The flavours and textures work together extremely well in their vegetarian dishes, whereas the one meat dish we tried was much less coherent as a whole. With its location close to the local beach, you can definitely eat your fill at lunch before walking it off in the afternoon along the beautiful shoreline of the Adriatic Sea, where temperatures stay an even 16 degrees Celsius even in the depths of winter.
Konoba Matoni is located at 6 Prilaz Brace Kaliterna in Split, Croatia.