August 12, 2018 – Looking for the healthy lifestyle dining experience which will uplift your soul as well as fill your stomach? U Smokve, a dining experience with a difference.
There have been two moments during my time in Jelsa when good friends have decided to open restaurants. And I have feared for them. Did they really know what they were doing?
The first was about ten years ago when cousin Josipa and Amadeus announced that they were opening a new restaurant in Jelsa called Me and Mrs Jones. Me and Mrs Jones? What kind of name was that, especially in this bastion of traditional Dalmatia, where the conservative menu was king. We were invited to the opening night, and it was packed. I have to confess that the found was outstanding.
“Great food, but they will never be this packed again. They will be closed within a year,” predicted another Brit I met that night.
Today, Me and Mrs Jones is one of the great success stories of the Hvar dining scene, as well as one of the few restaurants in Jelsa where people come from Hvar Town to visit. Total respect to the Jones’ team for what they have achieved, through innovation, vision and so much hard work.
I felt the same way about dear Irena a few years later. Having moved to the island from Split, she soon set to work shaking up the islanders with her Sustainable Island NGO, and she even had me and the kids on top of the island planting Dalmatian pine trees in one of her eco-initiatives. Next stop was the founding of the excellent Ethno-Eco Humac Festival. But when she told me she was planning to open a healthy food outlet in Jelsa, which would be open all year, I concluded that she had taken on a job too big even for her considerable talents. She had met a local guy and he was pretty cool apparently, and together she thought they could do it.
(Photo Julio Frangen)
And the thing is, the guy WAS pretty cool, and together Ambi and Irena proved me wrong once again, just as Josipa and Amadeus had done all those years ago.
There is something about U Smokve that exists only there and nowhere else on the island. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, as there are many cool and chilled places on Hvar, but I finally got the answer over a family lunch this week.
My kids are not the most adventurous eaters in the world, but they do ok. Coca Cola is much preferred to other drinks, but at U Smokve, the emphasis is on healthy eating and drinking – much of the food comes from their organic garden – and the natural refreshments were a hit.
One of the cliches of the Dalmatian menu is the cheese and prsut starter. It used to come out EVERY time, wherever I dined in Dalmatia. Sometimes, but not always, with olives. Some restaurants have finally taken this Dalmatian classic and breathed a little life into it. The finest cold platter starter I have tasted in Dalmatia is at Michelin-recommended Konoba Mate in Pupnat, Korcula. U Smokve is not very far behind with this outstanding effort.
Unlike some restaurants which present food in a way to make it look like there is more than actually exists, U Smokve seems to do the opposite. This tasty chicken and seafood risotto may not have looked huge, but the bowl was deep – there was no room for dessert and I didn’t eat again until lunch the following day.
The same story with the zoodles, zucchini pasta with shrimp and mushroom.
The food was amazing, and the kids finished it all. We had not been planning to stay too long, but so relaxed was the atmosphere that the kids went off to swim and we lingered a little. And then a little longer. What started as a quick family lunch turned into a five-hour experience, and it was at that moment I put my finger on what made U Smokve so different – it had soul.
(Tripadvisor who? The most important Jelsa recommendation from local superhero,Lavanderman)
The tourist season is a tough business, especially in this searing heat, and life as a waitress is not easy. It is common to find waiters complaining, losing their temper or showing signs that they have had enough by the middle of August – peak season and as stressful as it gets.
Not so at U Smokve, where the service was as good as the food, with no less than three very friendly waitresses serving us during our extended lunch. And two of them were almost dancing around the restaurant, little bundles of joy with springs in their step. And both sat with us when things quietened down in the late afternoon, explaining their good fortune to have stumbled on the U Smokve experience, despite having no connections to Jelsa or Hvar at all.
A happy staff, especially in the peak of season, is a very hard thing to achieve, as well as being one of the best adverts for a restaurant. U Smokve has soul in abundance, one of the most pleasant dining experiences this summer.
And what else to do when you have finished your shift, but go for a team midnight swim?
Located in the centre of the new riva but hidden away in a cute little square away from the main tourist traffic, the location of U Smokve is as perfect as its healthy food and soul. Find them on Facebook.