Boutique hotel, restaurant and winery Boškinac has more than a Michelin star to prove it is truly an oasis of creative fine dining island cuisine
Before sunrise, crickets begin their chirping that echoes all day long, rebounding against ancient hunched pine trees and randomly scattered rocks. This rhythmical buzz of leisure is only occasionally interrupted by bleating of a sheep. Always present, the rare sounds accent peace like they were put there with that sole purpose.
Boškinac is a serene corner of the world, a place that celebrates the nature and the island of Pag, from its barren lands to the salt on the skin of its fishermen. On the island, the salt is everywhere: merciless to skin, it hugs juicy fresh fish steaks like a lover, or dips its fingers into wine just enough to dry out the throat and inspires another glass.
The gastronomic history of Boškinac
Inward from the coast, toward the town of Stara Novalja, white fabric attracts the eye: as we look closer, we make out a man in white kitchen garb crouching, picking wild fennel. Wild rabbits, those delicious scourge of the island, daringly criss-cross the terrain, scuttling from olive orchards to vineyards. It’s time to close the shutters and get to the restaurant. The staff is already there, Matija and all; a silent symphony of working hands, knives chopping, whisks buzzing. Shrimp climbing out of wooden crates.
The gastronomic history of Boškinac began in 2003, when Boris Šuljić opened his restaurant, a wildly ambitious project that brought to the island chef Stéphan Macchi and his sous, Dino Galvagno. Foodies descended upon Pag in a blink of an eye. The new wave of hedonist migration began in 2016, when Boškinac opened their doors to young chef Matija Bregeš, who after his first island season spent a year learning from Europe’s finest chefs.
The culmination of his efforts led him to Larrabetz outside Bilbao, to an apprenticeship with the master of local cuisine, chef Eneko Atxa of Azurmendi. Fresh off that experience, Matija returned to Pag with new inspiration and new philosophy, and gathered his crew to create the 2017 menu: first and foremost, he pared it down by 30-40%, a move that allowed a more focused presentation of the island cuisine and was rewarded with excellent reviews.
The seemingly barren island of Pag hides a bounty of unique and exquisite ingredients: from the duly popular lamb to cheese and dairy, olive oil, fish and shrimp from the Podvelebit channel, to the myriad of aromatic herbs and juicy fruit and vegetables from the fields around Novalja
At the end of that season, he leaves the island once again, this time for the Netherlands. In the three Michelin stars restaurant De Librije, he observes and works with chef Jonnie Boer, whose idiosyncratic and innovative cuisine colors outside all lines and caters to each guest personally. This new concept, this new approach spurs the young chef into seeing things in a fresh light.
Apprenticeship programs for chefs and kitchen staff serve more than one purpose, but most broadly, they serve to open minds of young professionals to new horizons, allowing them to find their signature cooking style. Chef Matija and his staff learned from their colleagues in some of the finest restaurants in Europe – chef Claude Bosi of Bibendum (2**), chef Jan Hartwig of Atelier (3***), chef Kevin Fehling of The Table (3***).
Admiration from both clients and the industry
Late in 2018, Matija confirmed his status with an apprenticeship in Copenhagen’s Geranium (3***) number 5 on the World’s Best Restaurant list, whose aggressively progressive chef Rasmus Kofoed, winner of gold and silver Bocuse d’Or is one of several grand masters of the Scandinavian cuisine.
All this extra work resulted in admiration from both clients and the industry, and chef Matija was voted 2019 Gault&Millau Great Chef of Tomorrow, and Boškinac top restaurant by the Dobri restorani project. Finally, the restaurant and the chef were rewarded with one Michelin star earlier this year.
Today, Boškinac is an oasis of creative fine dining island cuisine. The seemingly barren island of Pag hides a bounty of unique and exquisite ingredients: from the duly popular lamb to cheese and dairy, olive oil, fish and shrimp from the Podvelebit channel, to the myriad of aromatic herbs and juicy fruit and vegetables from the fields around Novalja.
Try exquisite wines from Boškinac winery
As important as Boškinac is for the island and Croatian haute cuisine in general, the restaurant might not even exist if for the adjacent winery, built in 2000. The winemakers of Boškinac have for years been creating a most exquisite wine, their signature blend Boškinac cuvée, from the merlot and cabernet sauvingon grapes grown in their five-hectare vineyard, as well as delightful wines made from the local grape gegić, sometimes alone, sometimes blended with sauvignon and chardonnay.
The winery makes two types of sparkling wine Viaz, white and rosé, as well as two simple and fresh young wines Kalma and Reful; flavorful Boškinčić (baby brother of the Boškinac cuvée) and Ocu, a gegić wine dedicated to Boris’ father.
In addition to the restaurant and the winery – and directly above them in the same building – there is a boutique hotel renovated last year. The new visual identity of the hotel was designed by Ana Penavić and Lana Cavar, while ceramicist Lidija Boševski, painter Koraljka Kovač and weaver Sanja Šebalj have contributed to decoration, creating a relaxed, sophisticated space that blends seamlessly into the nature that surrounds it.
Text Hrvoje Petrić
Photos Boškinac, Robert Pichler, Maja Danica Pečanić, Fabio Šimićev