In a small town like Jelsa, it must be hard to find your way as a young winemaker. For this is the town of legendary Croatian winemakers Andro Tomic, with his impressive Romanesque wine cellar, as well as Croatia's leading boutique winemaker, Ivo Dubokovic, whose candlelit konoba wine and olive oil tastings offer an altogether more intimate experience.
I will admit that I did not quite know what to make of Teo Huljic when I first met him. Very earnest, a man of obvious passion for his wines and food. Perhaps it was the language barrier which was an initial problem, but from the moment I visited his restaurant for the first time, I was more than intrigued. It was one autumn several years ago, and I found the uneven stone tables utterly charming and authentic. Above me, two mighty lemon trees which provided both shade and citrus goodness. As if to emphasise the point, a lemon obligingly fell off the tree and landed next to my glass on the uneven table. The freshness of the Mediterranean as It Once Was.
Over the years, I have come to know Teo well, as well as the pioneering ways he brings to the Hvar gourmet scene, both in terms of forgotten indigenous grape varieties and some outstanding culinary innovations. I will not forget the sea urchin caviar or the magnificent Three Island Burger (Brac lamb, Hvar wild boar, Pag cheese), for example. And those tables, I find them one of the most delightful things on the Hvar dining scene.
We rarely eat out these days, but after THAT meeting in Vrboska a couple of weeks ago, with the Mayor of Jelsa publicly announcing a lawsuit against me, a little fine dining in a quiet part of this pretty little town was called for. No falling lemons, but those uneven stone tables gave a little reassurance.
When I had booked the table, Teo had asked if I would like meat or fish and to leave the rest with him. I have learned to trust his judgment, and the meat selection was more than outstanding. A fabulous beef carpaccio to start.
A superb pesto mix to add to the generous slices of steak and most succulent organic vegetables I have tasted this year to follow.
And a plate of that legendary Brac lamb to follow. There was simply no room for dessert.
A culinary masterpiece, but what sets Huljic apart from most other restaurants is what he brings to the table from his wine cellar. Passionate about his native Hvar, he is also experimenting and searching more than any other winemaker on the island at present. He is the only winemaker, for example, who bottles the almost extinct Mekuja grape without blending, and a recent addition to his range is the almost unheard of Palarusa. But he is also introducing international varieties, to see how they perform and blend. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are already established in his range, but the planting of Chardonnay (the first on Hvar) will result in an oak-aged cuvee of Prc, Posip and Chardonnay, which has the potential to be a truly exceptional wine.
If you are looking for the classic Dalmatian menu, the standard Dalmatian wines, or the typical Dalmatian restaurant experience, then Huljic is not for you. If you are looking for something truly out of the box (and with the potential of falling lemons), Huljic is for you. Perhaps the best way to experience it for true gourmands is via the exclusive Food and Wine paired dinner offered by Hvar Tours.