There's not a whole lot of Croatian restaurants kicking around. Take a gold star if you can name a single Croatian dish. Two if you can pronounce it correctly.
Croatian brothers Natko and Ino Kuvacic set up Dalmatino in Port Melbourne determined to put this little-known cuisine on the Melbourne food map – albeit in a cloak-and-dagger manner. They tactically publicise a ‘classic European’ menu which is supposedly a more diner-friendly label. They shouldn't. The goods are solid.
Welcome to the land of spices and slow sticky braises.
The charcuterie platter appears suspiciously Italian to the untrained eye – prosciutto, Reggiano cheese, olives, gherkins and the like. But in reality there’s Croatian dried meat thrown in the mix. The kulen is a flavour-packed salami made from low-fat pork that’s spiced with hot red paprika.
Splitska pašticada translates as beef cheeks slow cooked with prune, apple and red wine, served with handmade potato dumplings. The beef is so tender that you could cut through it with a spoon, and the dumplings have a chewy texture and suck up that rich sauce like flavour guided missiles. Go the punjene paprike too if you're working up a layer of subcutaneous fat for winter. Capsicums are filled with a lamb and beef mince that's cooked in a tomato sauce. It's all served with a satiny smooth potato purée.
Finish with the parfait od maraske i bijele čokolade if you can wrap your mouth around those syllables. The sour cherry and white chocolate parfait is creamy with just the right amount of bite.
Dalmatino has all the charm of a family run establishment. Antique lockers and old, leather-bound tax return books add rustic charm, and the waiters are more than happy to pronounce the dishes you can't.
Set sail for Port Melbourne, adventurers. A brave new world of delicious awaits.