Monday, December 30, 2019

Restaurant Soufflé S’il Vous Plaît - Churchgate Mumbai


In the swinging 60s, Bombay (as we knew it then), was home to several European/French restaurants like Bombelli’s, Gurdon’s, Astoria and the Rendezvous at the Taj, the Supper Club at the Oberoi which popped up in the early 1970’s, and the legendary Zodiac Grill. They were restaurants that catered to a sophisticated, cosmopolitan clientele who appreciated starched white table linen and a leisurely four-course dinner that was served plated instead of family-style.

Then, Bombay became Mumbai, and slowly but surely each of these restaurants died a quiet dignified death and, in their place, came a rash of brash fast food, Mangalorean seafood and the ubiquitous Chinese restaurants. Zodiac Grill was the last of these classics to down its shutters in late 2015 and even though Chef Hemant Oberoi opened his eponymous restaurant at BKC, the closing of Zodiac Grill was truly the end of a beautiful era.

To be fair, the lovely The Table at Colaba and The Clearing House at Ballard Estate are two restaurants in Mumbai that serve Modern European food, but there is only so many times you can eat your way through the menu. Slink and Bardot also ticked all the right boxes but its location in Worli Village placed it in a slightly inconvenient part of town.

And then like a breath of fresh air came the news that Soufflé S’il Vous Plaît, a French-style bistro was due to open in the heart of South Mumbai. This is newest restaurant in the Riyaaz Amlani stable and is headed by Chef Alexis Gielbaum and his (very cute) partner Nick Harrison of Slink and Bardot fame.

Bring out the bubbly, dance in the streets, happy days are here again…

Soufflé S’il Vous Plaît. What a delightful name. Translated loosely as Soufflé if you please. Yes, indeed I do!

Deriving from the French souffler which means “to blow” or “puff up,” a Soufflé is a light, airy cake that originated in France. According to Larousse Gastronomique, the definitive encyclopaedia of gastronomy, a Soufflé is a “hot preparation that is served straight from the oven so that it is well risen above the height of the mould in which it has been cooked”. There are two basic types of Soufflés: savoury and sweet.

Soufflés always contain three elements. The first element is obviously a flavouring component. The other two elements are a pudding or crème patissiere base if sweet or a Bechamel base if savoury, and a meringue made of egg whites. When the two are folded together, they create a light, flavourful dish as the air captured in the egg whites expands in the heat of the oven. Soufflés are often served with an additional complementary sauce to boost the flavour. A Chocolate sauce with a Chocolate Souffle or a Cheese sauce with a Cheese Souffle and so on..

Soufflés are a celebratory dish meant to impress and wow the diner. They are notoriously temperamental, extremely technical and difficult to master. Having said that, a perfectly prepared Soufflé can be a religious experience. Light, airy, deeply flavoured and fragrant. Imagine reaching out and eating a spoonful of cloud. Or being kissed by a fairy. That’s the magic of a good Soufflé.

I have eaten many many many Soufflés in my life. And baked a fair number as well.

The absolute best Soufflé I have ever eaten is at Le Gavroche, the two Michelin starred restaurant in London. Invented by the brothers Albert & Michel Roux Senior, the Soufflé Suissesse (cheese soufflé baked on double cream) is the stuff dreams are made off. Light as air, creamy, rich, decadent and absolutely sinful. I want to shut my eyes after every bite to better appreciate each cheesy melting mouthful.

Above: The magnificent Soufflé Suissesse at Le Gavroche

Coming a very close second is the seasonal dessert Soufflé at the eponymous Restaurant Gordon Ramsay on Royal Hospital Road, London. Also, the Pistachio Souffle with Pistachio Ice Cream served by Pierre Koffmann which was much imitated but never duplicated.

Above: the Souffle at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay with a perfect quenelle of Ice Cream to add to the Souffle   

Above: High & Handsome. The delicious Pistachio Souffle with Ice Cream at Pierre Koffmann

I must be honest and fair. The Soufflés photographed above are the gold standard, made by the world's leading Chef's. We must cut slack, a lot of slack, for what is being created by Gielbaum in Mumbai.

Back in India, the legendary Camembert Dariole, a twice-baked Cheese Soufflé perfected by Hemant Oberoi, was the mainstay of the menu of Zodiac Grill for over 25 years.

Which is why, a restaurant that named itself Soufflé, coming up in my city was a cause of much excitement and anticipation.

Reservations are made for the third day after Soufflé S’il Vous Plaît opens its doors. After a few early tipples, we arrive at the restaurant, slotted neatly between Foo and Shiv Sagar on 'restaurant street' in Churchgate, and are quickly shown to our table. The restaurant has a charming outdoor seating area and an air-conditioned indoors with a large, well-stocked bar. Being mid-December I guess it would have been cool enough to sit outdoors but I cannot imagine how a Soufflé will survive the humidity and the travel without collapsing. Also, eating a Soufflé when the ambient temperature is 30 degrees Celsius doesn’t sound like a particularly pleasant experience. But, in keeping with the spirit of the season, I leave this for the three wise men to figure.

The décor is deliberately evocative of a traditional French bistro with black and white tiled floors, quirky wall pieces, warm and inviting booths with leather banquettes and Art Deco Lights. The restaurant is buzzing and alive when we enter and remains full till we leave.

The menu is replete with French bistro classics like Soupe a l'oignon Gratinee (French Onion Soup), Beignets De Crabe (crab cakes), Ratatouille Provencale (A classic French vegetable stew), Steak Frites and Confit Canard (duck confit). But the backbone of the menu are the Soufflés. I counted a total of 5 savoury and 3 dessert Soufflés, which is impressive by any standard.

The service is prompt, friendly, polite and well informed. Creditable for a three-day-old restaurant. Take a bow restaurant manager Anand as well as Nick Harrison who personally oversee every table, take orders, make suggestions and smooth over any small hitch. Impeccable front of house.

We place our order and waited with keen anticipation. Not to nit-pick but the food comes out in an extremely haphazard way. At any given time only one of us has food in front of us. The others have either finished their course or are still waiting to be served. Rather awkward, but I am in a generous mood and put it down to teething trouble in the kitchen.

The Homard (Lobster) Soufflé looks the part and is light and reasonably well risen. Unfortunately, the muddy brown lobster bisque that is poured into the centre doesn’t really taste much of lobster and misses the mark on flavour and punch. The Blue Cheese Souffle (twice baked with walnut/almond and blue cheese cream sauce), is again technically very good but misses the mark on flavour. The pungent, sharp distinct taste of a good blue cheese like Roquefort, Gorgonzola or Stilton are missing and in their place is a mild, creamy flavour. Maybe, just maybe, a mild Danish Blue was used, but the Soufflé doesn’t deliver on taste. I am guessing an infinitesimal amount of blue cheese was used, but not enough by a mile.

Above: Soupe a L'oignon Gratinee

Above: Ancient Grains and Feta Salad.  

Above: The Lobster Souffle. Not really high and handsome.

Above: the Lobster Bisque being poured in.

Above: The Blue Cheese Souffle with Walnuts. 

This theme continues through the rest of the meal. Technically very impressive, but missing the mark on flavour and authenticity. There were also problems between what was described on the menu and what actually turned up on the plate, as you will see from the photographs. 

The Beignets are perfectly fried but lack the sweet crab flavour that would make them more than a good cheese pakoda. In fact, when I cut one in half, it had barely any crab at all. The Duck Confit arrives without the crisp skin that makes the dish special. The duck had alas not been cooked enough, probably 30 minutes more in the fat would have made the duck really unctuous. A dish named Carrots! is brilliant in concept and well-executed but tastes boring and one dimensional because the carrots used by the restaurant need more than just clever technique to shine.

Above: The Crab Beignets

Above: Duck Confit

Above: Carrots. 

We are very puzzled because the kitchen is very obviously run by a person who knows his craft. Each dish is flawlessly executed and technically perfect, which is a big deal when, besides all other dishes, you are sending out seven different types of Soufflé to a full restaurant.

A glimmer of an answer is given when the Pissaladiere hits out table. A Pissaladiere is a classic flatbread from the South of France which is topped with caramelised onions, anchovies and Niçoise (black) olives. What arrives at our table is a flatbread with a small amount of caramelised onion, roast red peppers, some green leaves and olives! What on earth is this pizzaish thing? All four of us sit looking at it in fair bewilderment till restaurant manager Anand takes one look at us and shrugs apologetically saying ‘that’s what our customers will eat’.

Above: Pissaladiere

To put this in context, imagine if you ask for an Idli in France and are served fluffy white cubes with pulled pork and dauphinoise potatoes. That’s how incongruous the Pissaladiere is for us

Is that it then? No aggressive anchovy or blue cheese. No distinct lobster or crab flavours. Keep everything mild neutral and palatable because that appeals to the Indian palate? Yes, I can hear you asking, what about the Mangalorean restaurants which are the darlings of Mumbai and serve crab by the truckload? That’s easy, what we are lapping up is the masala which more often than not, overpowers the taste of the meat.

But could it also be that the problem at Soufflé S’il Vous Plaît is one of pricing? Lobster, Crab and Roquefort are expensive ingredients. I believe the restaurant is keeping costs down by using just the smallest amount of these ingredients. All the dishes are modestly priced and that would not have been possible if the luxury ingredients were used in abundance.

So, I am guessing it’s a conscious decision to keep flavours muted so no one sends back food that tastes too aggressive and alien. And keep costs down at the same time by using skimpy amounts of expensive protein. Clever. But an unfortunate compromise.

Having said that, the French Onion Soup was very good. And the absolute stand-out dish of the evening was the Baba au Rhum – a small cake made of leavened flour that is steeped in rum after baking.  Legend has it that a Polish King who was exiled in France named this dish after his favourite hero, Ali Baba from The Thousand and One Nights! The Baba au Rhum at Soufflé S’il Vous Plaît is seriously up there with the best. Moist and fragrant with hints of vanilla and citrus. And a sweet whipped cream that is cut by the bittersweet alcohol. A very elegant combination. Absolutely spot on.

Above: The excellent Baba au Rhum

The evening we were there, the restaurant was absolutely rocking. The few reviews I have read are glowing and gushing. The trendy folk of South Mumbai are in a fit of clevers to fill the restaurant and rave about its authenticity.

For me, it fell short of the mark. Almost there but not quite. Very sad, though easy to fix. I seriously hope they do.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Food in Croatia & Slovenia

The food in Croatia was consistently good. We all ate well, and before you ask, no we did not eat at a single Indian restaurant. All meals were Croatian, no pizzas, no burgers or KFC.

I believe that Croatia is pretty unique in as much as its food is concerned. What is on offer is fairly diverse. Croatian food has been influenced by many factors. As I have written in the previous post, Croatia has a long coastline. Hence, they are blessed with fish, plenty of it. The proximity to Italy has influenced the food in as much as pasta as well as Risotto is regarded as local food. Being a Catholic country, pigs are reared, pork is eaten and you have some good charcuterie. Truffles grow locally, of course not of the same quality as the Truffles from Alba, but good nonetheless. There is plenty of local cheese, a lot of the cheese being made with sheep milk. For some reason, we all found that potato was of very high quality and the Croats know how to cook it. Breakfast had some excellent sautéed potato, with our meals we got really good roast potato. We ate a lot of Swiss Chard [this is a lot like Spinach].

Wines were plentiful, of all types, price points and drinkability. Beer was good, and served cold. I drank plenty of good locally brewed draft beer. We all drank excellent wines, always expertly chosen by Le Grand Fromage Tax Lawyer. Maraschino is a liqueur that originated in Zadar. The Luxardo family, which still owns the business, has the largest Cherry orchard in Europe. Maraschino is a clear, slightly sweet liqueur with approximately 30% alcohol. Pleasant to drink. Please do not get all sentimental and buy a bottle to get back home. I assure you that the bottle will lie at the back of your bar, lonely and forgotten, only to be pulled out by you when you are half drunk with 5 guests at home desperately trying to down a few more nightcaps. You will of course blame the hangover on that shot of Maraschino, not the copious amount of other stuff you had drunk thru the evening!

Croatia has a largely Mediterranean climate. Italy is close by as is Greece. Olive Oil is big in Croatia. The cute boutique shops all sell Olive Oil, in cute bottles. Supermarkets have loads of Olive Oil. Restaurants took pride in placing sometimes 3 bottles of Olive Oil on the table for you to dip your bread. At times the restaurants were so proud of the oils they served that they also placed a little tent on the table with a description of the provenance of the oil and its tasting notes. Most restaurants charged between 15 and 20 Kuna [the Croatian Currency. 1 Kuna is about Rs 10 or .15 USD] per head for bread and oil. We happily paid it. This cover charge is similar to “Coperto” that you are charged in Italy.

We often started with a platter of Charcuterie and Cheese. Both were of good quality and easily held their own against their more famous Italian Salami and French Saucisson. At the farmers market in Ljubljana we bought some wonderful smoked dried Sausage redolent with Paprika. We have been enjoying slices of this at Cocktail hour at home as well as putting slices in a toasted Cheese Sandwich and in a Frittata.

We all ate a lot of fish. I have not eaten as much fish in a few days as I did in Croatia. The fish was always cooked simply and well. Quite often it was a single large Sea Bass baked in Salt, brought to the table, the salt casing removed, the skin coming off with the salt and then the fish expertly filleted. Then you poured on the glorious Olive Oil, a dash of Lemon and the humble Sea Bass was transformed. Swiss Chard and some Potato of accompany. Healthy tasty and light. Also, what we often ordered was a Sea Food Platter where you were served Prawns grilled, often Octopus also Grilled, possibly Scallops and some fish.

Pasta with Lobster or Prawns was excellent as was Pasta with Truffle and local Mushrooms. A Croatian speciality was Squid Ink Risotto, top class with the briny slightly fishy Squid ink providing flavour and, of course, colour to the Risotto.

The cuisine was simple on the whole. There were no elaborate sauces, no foams and molecular gastronomy. The food was simply cooked using top notch ingredients, much like Italian food. There was a lot of pride when the fish was displayed to us. Portions were generous and the food relatively cheap. Do remember that we were eating fish, probably the most expensive protein.

One outstanding dessert, come to think of it, there were times we ate it for breakfast, was the Bled Cream Cake. It is a Slovenian Classic. Simple in concept with humble standard ingredients, delicious to eat and, difficult to make. The Bled Cream Cake had its origins in the confectionary making at the time of the Austro Hungarian Empire. You will remember that this region was under the rule of the Austro Hungarians for a long time.

The Park Hotel along Lake Bled has the original Cream Cake. In 1953 a pastry chef named Istvan Lukacevic modified the original cream cake recipe by adjusting the proportions and adding whipped cream. This cake was a roaring success, and today it is even more popular. We went to the Café at the Park Hotel and all tables had at least one Bled Cream Cake being eaten. Everyone in Bled orders their cake from here. The Cake is simplicity itself. It comprises of 4 layers. At the bottom is puff pastry, then comes a layer of pale yellow Vanilla Custard. The third layer is white whipped cream which is topped by a layer of puff pastry. The top is dusted with sugar. The Cream Cake is cut and served as a perfect square or more correctly a cube.

The number 7 is of great significance for the Cake. For those of you who know how when you make puff pastry you have what are known as “folds”. In this case the puff pastry has 7 folds. The Vanilla Custard is cooked for 7 minutes. The Bled Cream Cake is exactly 7 x7 x 7 cms in dimensions. How the cake is sliced without the whole thing exploding, is a mystery to me.

The Bled Cream Cake is a perfect pastry. It has texture, top notch construction and is not very sweet. We all ate a lot of this. Make sure you do when you visit Lake Bled.

The wonderfully proportioned, perfectly engineered Bled Cream Cake.

The Bled Cream Cake turned into a birthday cake. 

Meal times were serious affairs. To use a phrase that originally appeared in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and was later modified by Joseph Heller in the immortal Catch 22, “some of us had duties we were born with, some took on duties and others had duties thrust on them.” Le Grande Fromage Tax Lawyer was born with a good tongue, he is a lawyer after all. So, he was in charge of ordering wine every evening. The Banker was naturally put in charge of maintaining accounts and took on the added responsibility of diligently ordering one bottle of Still water and one bottle of Sparkling water every mealtime. Jumbo was our deal maker, a natural at the job. HRH the Queen of Kutch was given the task of restaurant identifying. The rest of us either did nothing or caused disruptions, played the fool and generally added to the merriment. Actually, I correct myself. Mealtimes were great fun while being serious.

The restaurants we ate at were:

In Dubrovnik
Restaurant Proto*
Restaurant Posat
Restaurant Orsan
Konoba Dalmatino

In Zadar
Pet Bunara

In Lake Bled
Pension Milno
Restaurant Jezersek*

In Zagreb
La Lanterna

The ones I have marked with a star were exceptional. Except the Pension Milno which was basically a cheap and cheerful pub, the rest of the places were at the top end of what was on offer in each city. We did not visit any of the restaurants that had stars in Michelin as then we would be entering French territory which we had no intention of doing, and also, none of us really wanted to dress up for dinner. The only exception was Restaurant Jezersek where are of us made a special effort for a special dinner.

Here are some photos over which you can drool.

Above: Foie Gras at Proto Dubrovnik

                       Above: Charcuterie and Cheese Platter at Konoba Dalmatino Dubrovnik

Above: Baked Oyeters at Proto Dubrovnik

Above: Whole Salt Crusted baked fish, and lower photo, filleted and served. Porto Dubrovnik  

Above: Seafood platter at Porto Dubrovnik

Above: Extremely good fried/roast potato

Above: Swiss Chard

Above: Prawn and Scollop starter at Posat Dubrovnik

Above: Grilled fish and seafood platter at Orsan Dubrovnik

             Above: Vegetables to accompany the grilled fish and seafood platter at Orsan Dubrovnik

Above: Sea Bass Carpaccio Olive Oil, Apple & Radish Salad at Jezresek Lake Bled

Above: Grilled Tuna at Dalmatino

Above: Smoked Lamb Fillet, Parsley Puree, Sage and Raspberry Demi Glace at Jezresek Lake Bled

                            Above: Trout, Buckwheat Fennel Celery at Jezresek Lake Bled

Above: Fish Soup at Sova Lake Bled

                                 Above: Mushroom Soup with Chestnuts & Profiterole at Sova Lake Bled

                                                  Above: Pork Chop at Sova Lake Bled

                                            Above: Grilled Fish at Sova Lake Bled

                             Above: Traditional Istrian Pasta in Cream Sauce with Truffles

                             Above: Pasta at Konoba Dalmatino Dubrovnik

Friday, December 6, 2019

Croatia & Slovenia - All you wanted to know!

In January 2017, 8 of us ‘dear’ friends and two kids all went to Africa on safari. It was a magical time. You would have read about that here. Plans were then made to repeat the magic of that holiday. We zeroed in on Croatia and Slovenia. 8 ‘dear’ friends were on, the 2 kids dropped out and 2 additional ‘dear’ friends were added. The oldest of our friendships started as pre-schoolers in 1969, and the most recent in 1994. Yes, we all knew each other well, very well. Dates were aligned and it was to be 11 nights over the Diwali week.

That is the 10 of us

Croatia and Slovenia have some famous personalities. Among sportsmen you have of the charismatic impish footballer Luka Modric, tennis players Marin Cilic and Goran Ivanisevic. The great Nikola Tesla who designed and developed alternating current or AC electricity, was a Croat. The most famous Slovenian is, of course, Melania Trump.

Croatia and Slovenia have had very troubled histories. The entire area has been in constant turmoil with invasions and wars. At first it was the mighty Ottomans who invaded. Then it was the Austro-Hungarian Empire which invaded. You will remember that WWI started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Gavrilo Princip a Bosnian Serb. Post WWII Yugoslavia was created, which, has since itself broken up. The fallout of the break was the creation of Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Montenegro, Herzegovina, Slovenia and Macedonia. This was not the end. In 1991 a bitter civil war [or invasion, depending who you ask] started between the Croats and the Serbs. The war was exceedingly cruel and brutal with a lot of ethnic cleansing. Parts of Dubrovnik were severely damaged. Peace and stability have been in place for only post 1995, i.e. the last 25 years.

The relative poverty [to the rest of Western Europe] is obvious, buildings are simple, Churches and Cathedrals humble and not grandiose, few really fancy cars on the street, not many shops with upmarket designer clothes or watches, relatively few international upmarket Hotel chains. However, the roads are absolutely top class with the highways linking to the international European highways seamlessly.

Geographically, Croatia is situated on the Adriatic Sea with a long coastline. Across the Adriatic is Italy, the Eastern coast of Italy. Venice was another one of the Kingdoms that often invaded and plundered Croatia. Today, with the peace in the area, the Dalmatian Coast has become a huge tourist spot. The warm Adriatic Sea is perfect for the hordes of tourists who throng here in the summer months. The Dalmatian Coast is on the itinerary for several Cruise ships.

The logistics of visiting Croatia and Slovenia can be fairly challenging. There are no direct flights from India. You have to either take European carrier like British Airways, or Air France or Lufthansa et al and fly into either Dubrovnik or Zagreb from the Uk or Europe. Alternatively, you could take one of the Gulf based carriers like Emirates [with Fly Dubai the Emirates Low Cost Carrier] or Turkish [not strictly a Gulf airline] and reach Croatia via Dubai or Istanbul. With no direct flights, transit times can be long.

Visas can be confusing. Croatia is NOT a member of Schengen. Slovenia is. However, you can enter Croatia with a Schengen visa only if the visa is for 6 months or more and, is multiple entry. If you don’t have a this, well, you have to apply for a separate Croatian visa and Schengen Visa to enter Slovenia. Keep this in mind.

Now let’s get to what to visit and see in Croatia and Slovenia. Croatia, as I have written earlier, has a long coastline. There is a lot you can see. You need to edit. Obviously, you have to visit Dubrovnik for say 3 nights at least. The castle, the walls and the Game of Thrones tour [if you are a fan] are must do’s. Lake Plitvice is a National Park endorsed by UNESCO. This is a whole day; however, you do need to visit it from either Split or Zadar. Zadar, a coastal town with an ancient Roman centre, quite pretty, is another must visit. The Sea Organ, a must see. Split, you can give a miss, unless of course you are planning to visit Hvar which is an Island accessible from Split. We did not go to Hvar as it was shutting down for winter. Instead we had an all-day island cruise on a superfast yacht from Dubrovnik. With the long and pretty coastline you need to plan for a day on sea when in Croatia.

In Slovenia we visited the beautiful Lake Bled and the stunning Bohinj Lake as well as Ljubljana, the capital.

Croatia has no trains. The best way to get around is either by public bus, or hire your own car. Since there were 10 of us, we chartered a 19-seater Mercedes bus with a driver. The bus had adequate baggage storage, air-conditioning and on-board Wi-Fi. Very convenient. Do remember that when driving there are border crossings, so keep your Passport handy and allow for time at the crossing. 2 bus loads of Chinese tourists ahead of you can seriously damage not only your but also the immigration officer’s mood and delay things. Also bear in mind that some of the drives are 6 hours long.

Our holiday started in Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is a magnificent ancient walled city. The walls have the old town which is extremely charming and beautiful. You should walk in the old town and once you are done you should walk on the walls. Some superb views of the sea are from the walls. There is also a Funicular which takes you all the way up the hill overlooking the walls. The views are fantastic and there is a decent restaurant up there. Once up, we saw there were ATV for hire, so that is just what we did, hired ATVs for a 30 minute ride and 3 pairs set off in the trails with a guide. Boy was that fun, driving on dirt, rocks, potholes to put Mumbai to shame and dust. We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and came back with adrenaline pumping and very very dusty.

Sunset with the Dubrovnik walled city in the foreground.

 Fishing at sunset.

Dubrovnik walled city. View from our Hotel, the superbly located Hotel Excelsior

Church in Dubrivnik

The Walls

The main street in Dubrovnik.  Pedestrian only.

A view of the main street from up on the Wall 

The old town Dubrovnik from up on the Wall

The old town Dubrovnik from up on the Wall

All suited up for the ATV ride. The plastic ponchos to keep the dust out

And we are off!!

A view of Dubrovnik harbour from high up

The winter had not set in yet, or, looking at it differently, the summer had not gone. The water temperature was a refreshing 22C. We had hired a yacht for the day. This was a most pleasant day. We lounged on the front deck of the yacht, soaking in the sun being cooled by the breeze as we cruised from island to island and had a look at the Dubrovnik Walls from the sea. At one point we anchored and went swimming to an underwater grotto, much like the Blue Grotto in Capri. The sea was cool crystal clear and an unreal blue. Swimming there was a real pleasure.

The Blue Grotto

Above: Orange groves 

After 4 nights in Dubrovnik we boarded our bus and drove to Split where we had a stop for lunch. Frankly, Split is totally missable, unless you are going to Hvar. In that case you have to spend a night or two in Split. This was a long drive 4 hours. After a frugal and relatively poor lunch, we had a quick walk thru the town and got onto the bus for another 3 hours to reach Zadar. Long drive.

Zadar has fabulous sunsets, that is of course if the weather is good and the sky is clear. Zadar also has the famous Sea Organ. This is, depending on how cynical you are, either you think it's a ridiculous tourist trap or the work of a genius. Basically, a series of pipes of various diameters are built into the sea wall. As the sea water hits the pipes, with the air in the pipes getting compressed creating sound. The sound has different pitches, and volumes which depend on the force of the water. This whole principle is similar to a church organ. The sounds created are reminiscent of the sound whales make. In addition, the pier where the Organ is located has also got the floor illuminated, much like the glass floor at a Disco. The sea water also illuminates the lights in the floor, the lights being obviously multicoloured. Also, obviously, the force of the sea i.e. the turbulence varies the brightness and colours and number of lights coming on an off. Zadar is an old Roman city. The old part of town is quite charming, though small. 

Above: The main gate to Zadar. This was the only way in and out.

On the way back from Plitvice we crossed the rather nice looking bridge

The main reason for going to Zadar is because it is a very convenient place from which to visit Lake Plitvice. Lake Plitvice is a series of lakes and waterfalls. This entire area is beautiful and green, as you will see in the photographs. You definitely have to visit this; however, I must caution you. Visiting Lake Plitvice during the summer months can be very challenging. First, you have hordes of people, and, being jostled and pushed on the narrow paths is no fun. Secondly, in summer, it is bloody hot. Do keep this in mind.

You can see that it is much colder than at Dubrovnik

After 2 nights in Zadar, off we went to Lake Bled in Slovenia. Another long drive, 5 hours at least. We reached Bled, tired, irritated and vowing to do no more long drives.

Lake Bled is very interesting. The Hotel we stayed at, Vila Bled, all the more interesting. Lake Bled is part of the Lower Alps which run thru Slovenia, Austria, France, Switzerland etc. This is ski territory. The whole scenery was very Alpine, naturally, and you could have been in Switzerland and not known the difference, A lake, a Castle, snow peaked mountains, and green hillsides. Slovenia was the former Yugoslavia. Marshal Tito was the “King” of Yugoslavia. He built Vila Bled as his summer retreat. Very Soviet architecture, all square boxes. A superb location right on the lake side, nothing nearby. Wide staircases with low risers and broad steps to that you can descend regally. I could imagine Tito and our very own Indira Gandhi walking these steps, which of course they did.

Above: Vila Bled

The Castle above Lake Bled

Above: Vila Bled another view

We walked around the circumference of Lake Bled, very pleasant. We took a boat to the Church located in the centre of Lake Bled, very nice. There is a Castle overlooking the Lake. We had a wonderful meal up there with beautiful views of the Lake from up high. More of this meal in the next post.

We saw some stunning flowers when walking

And plenty of wild mushroom

And statues

The next day we took a mercifully short bus ride to Lake Bohinj which is much larger than Lake Bled. We walked around the circumference of this lake. A very enjoyable walk made all the more pleasant with the fantastic weather. From the hot [30C] degrees in Dubrovnik we were now at an agreeable 6C.

The walk around Lake Bohinj

After 3 nights in Lake Bled, we left for Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. En route we stopped for lunch in the charming city of Ljubljana. Now, I am not being dismissive in the least, but with Ljubljana you could be in any town Europe. Exceedingly pretty, but, to that extent undistinguishable from another pretty European town. Once again, a Funicular ride up to the Castle, rather disappointing I must say. There was a farmer’s market on in the centre where we bought some excellent cured sausage and smoked Pancetta. Jumbo was immediately drawn to the superb fruit on display and proceeded to buy and eat Persimmon at peak ripeness with Mrs Jumbo and HRH the Queen of Kutch.

Above: All in Ljubljana

We reached Zagreb and checked into a really nice hotel the Esplanade. Zagreb was a stop on the Orient Express and the Hotel was built to cater to these passengers. A short walk from the Hotel was Zagreb old town. Very very beautiful. Splendid buildings, charming squares, nice shopping streets and little alleys. Zagreb was serendipity. People had told us that Zagreb is avoidable, but, honestly, that is wrong. I honestly believe that if you stay in the wrong part of Zagreb, it can be disappointing. We were lucky having chosen the regal elegant grand dame Hotel Esplanade. All of us thought Zagreb was wonderful.

No, not Shivaji

Above: Beautiful Zagreb. Different styles including Art Deco. A lovely city

After 2 nights in Zagreb we all went our separate ways and caught flights back, some to UK, some to Dubai and poor us back to Mumbai.

A fantastic holiday. We all absolutely and unequivocally say you must do what we did. You may change the yacht to a day or two in Hvar. The only note of caution I must give you is that the summer months are hot and crowded, and, consequently, expensive. Do try and travel at the end of summer, a much better experience. To conclude, I must say that our travel agents who are Croatia experts, Memory Makers, did a wonderful job for us. Utterly seamless with no glitches, and every whim met. Do use them if this post persuades you to visit Croatia.