Here are DARREL BRISTOW BOVEY’s directions to the best restaurant on Earth:
First, fly to Croatia. Go in late summer. In winter a strong cold wind sweeps down the Adriatic like a jagged gust of financial austerity; in high summer it’s too filled with Italians and with Americans saying, “Wow! So pretty!” In September you have the islands to yourself, it’s still hot enough for a Swiss tourist to take off his socks and wear his sandals commando, and the blue, flat sea will be warm and firm, like a good handshake from a beautiful woman.
From Dubrovnik take a ferry to Sipan island. Disembark. You are in the cobbled town of Sudurad and there are restaurants here, but not the one you’re after. Take a bus across the empty central plain, through green vineyards heavy with white grapes, beneath broken stone castles and red hillside churches to the bay-village of Sipanska Luka.
A grey-stone walkway leads up the left arm of the bay, shimmering like a summer haze to a series of wooden jetties and shallow coves. The water is so clear you can count the white pebbles on the seabed; silver fish hang as though in air, like dragonflies.
Swim at the small sandy beach on the isthmus where the walkway ends. Float in water so still it feels like the Earth has stopped spinning.
Walk back along the walkway lined with whitewashed stones, and stop at the concrete platform jutting into the water just before the quayside. There is a blue awning and no walls, and wooden tables with white cloths. There’s no sign, but this is your place. This is Marko’s. And this pale-eyed, mistrustful man who speaks Italian but looks like an Austrian scout-master, this man who looks like he wants to use a riding crop on you and not for your pleasure but for his – this is Marko.
Marko is scary. His moods range between impatient and contemptuous. On my first visit, on a hot white afternoon with the tide standing still, I asked for the menu. Marko glared.
“If you want menu, this is not the place for you.”
“Then how …”
“You sit! You be quiet! I bring you food.”
He brought me strips of fresh seared tuna with fine slices of red onion and fresh anchovies and capers and rocket picked on the island. He brought a delicate risotto with mussels and prawns, squeezed with lemons plucked on the way to the table. He brought octopus with chilli and garlic.
“I don’t eat octopus,” I said. “I don’t like it.”
“You eat the octopus!” said Marko.
I ate the octopus. I liked it.
He brought steaks of beautifully seared fish, wrapped in herbs.
“What fish is this?”
“Never mind what! Eat!”
And wine? No wine list. He brought unmarked carafes of something so perfectly cold and dry and delicious and bright it was like swallowing sunlight.
“What wine is this …?”
You have to surrender to Marko. Relinquish will. The only opinion of yours he wants is when you weakly wave to signal no more food. Then he’ll let you sit and watch the green shadows from the hills creep across the blue bay.
I’ve seen Marko throw people out for ordering Coca-Cola. I’ve seen him take a dislike to people for no visible reason and refuse to take their order, ignoring them till they leave, baffled and dismayed. I’ve seen him turn away a customer from his empty restaurant: “You are too sweaty! Go swim, then come back!” And the customer did it, and presented himself anxiously and apologetically afterward for inspection. I know this, because I was that customer.
Don’t let another September pass by: go to Croatia, then to Sipan, then to Sipanska Luka and sit down at Marko’s and wait for him to bring you food. Don’t bother telling him I sent you. He won’t care.
- Darrel Bristow-Bovey visited Croatia with On Foot Holidays