A Croatian Tradition

From a small Adriatic fishing town to the streets of Vienna

When the Soviet Union unraveled in the early 1990s, Croatia suddenly resurfaced on the mental landscape of western connoisseurs of the Good Life. Here was a land that looked and felt like Italy (even if you couldn’t understand a word!) at a quarter of the price. Well the big bargains didn’t last, but the reputation for all things Croatian has stood the test of time.

In Vienna, this has meant the emergence of several excellent, yet unassuming Croatian restaurants bringing to this landlocked city a coastal taste for fine seafood. It’s Italian culture with a difference.

One of the best is Konoba – the Croatian word for the small cantinas along the beach on the Croatian Adriatic – at Lerchenfelderstraße 66-68, in the 8th district, that has established itself as an insider favorite.

Friends living in the Josefstadt stumbled upon this place some time ago walking home from the office. Despite some initial skepticism about Croatian cuisine – bad experiences with greasy, over-garlicked food during their last vacation – they were so impressed they suggested a return visit.

Clearly they weren’t the only fans of Konoba, as the restaurant was packed with people when we walked in. Konoba’s reputation has outgrown the neighborhood. Luckily we had made a reservation.

Inside, the owners had set a comfortable scene, a bistro mood in fresh white plaster over a terracotta floor, the edges blurred behind branches of fichus and oleander, where people wine and dine, or just have a drink over discussions of current events.

“And sometimes even sing,” according to the owners Mijo and Andrija Radosevic, “…in the evenings preferably!”

Most meals are begun with Prosciutto and white bread introducing the fresh fish often caught just that morning and sped up to Vienna on an early train. Twice a week, the fish comes direct from the Adriatic. The Radosevic brothers have run this little Mediterranean oasis since 2000, continuing an old Dalmatian tradition, focusing on basic ingredients without fancy additions, which they say is already losing devotees “back home.”

The restaurant is intimate, with a neighborhood feel in the simple wooden tables set with white linen and softened by candlelight, each set with a fresh flower in a simple cut glass vase. Only the loud car noises from the Lerchenfelderstraße prevented my thoughts from completely drifting off into a small little fishers’ town somewhere in Dalmatia.

On a bed of chopped ice, an enticing variety of fish were on display behind glass – angler-fish, turbot, Dover sole, gilthead sea bream and scorpion fish. When I walked in, I went straight to the vitrine to check out the offerings; the scorpion fish looked a little frightening with its pointy teeth and huge muzzle… – but all in all, it’s a feast for a fish lover’s palate.

When you’ve made your choice, the fish is then prepared in a show kitchen, which is an integrated part of the restaurant area. Together with all the typical Dalmatian side dishes such as chard, spinach and potatoes –spiced up with a lot of garlic, of course – the chosen dish is served promptly.

It’s simple and down to earth, but very delicious. The dinner service is also plain, a thick country porcelain.

The starter featuring bits of red grilled bell pepper, eggplant, filled grape leaves, some sardines and sheep cheese was as appealing as the blue mussels in white wine sauce. Crispy white bread, fresh from the oven was served throughout at no extra cost.

Konoba also offers a daily menu being presented on a blackboard above the open show kitchen.  That evening, it was braised lamb with seasonal Mediterranean vegetables. I had settled for the Angler with seasonal vegetables, but when I glimpsed the plates at the next table, I almost regretted my choice, as the crispy brown crust of the lamb looked delicious. Well, maybe next time?!

For dessert I had hoped to get to taste the infamous Kremschnitt, a variation of the typical Austrian Cremeschnitte – unfortunately there was none left.  An Austrian Cremeschnitte is served cold with powdered sugar; its Croatian version is served hot, and has jam icing spiked with Schnapps.

“Many other guests came before you,” the waiter apologized. So I ordered razor- thinned apricot pancakes instead, which arrived with the apricot jam still steaming, exactly as it should be.

Another option would have been some of the regional Croatian cheeses with a crisp white wine. The menu offered a truffle cheese from Istria, a six-month long air-dried goat cheese or a fresh variety from the island of Pak.

The wine menu is quite extensive considering the size of the restaurant with its maximum capacity of 60 guests. We sampled the house wine, a Croatian Grüner Veltliner (€2.20 per glass) that complemented the grilled sea bream. And later, as the icing on the cake, the waiter offered us Travarica, a Croatian Schnapps made out of grapes, on the house. Travarica is made from spices such as sage, spearmint, wild fennel and sometimes even honey that are put into the bottle and after time develop their flavor together with the grapes. We couldn’t resist. Please note: The regional wines at Konoba are imported directly from Croatia from top-quality vineyards, and guests are encouraged by the modest prices to take some bottles home, as the perfect keepsake for a fine meal.

All in all, our visit was a pleasant surprise – the show kitchen, the lively atmosphere and the overall quality – with good service and a moderate bill. The value for the money was fair, coming in at around €30 per person. The portions don’t require a magnifying glass, and it is fresh fish all the way. For special occasions, the chef also offers pre-ordered fish baked in a salt crust for parties of two or more.

Also unusual, the chefs at Konoba are willing to share their secrets, and cookery courses are offered on the first Saturday of every month, September through June. These renowned classes focus on typical Dalmatian dishes that can easily be tried out at home. Interested participants should reserve, as courses are limited to ten.



8., Lerchenfelderstrasse 66-68

Tram 46, stop Lerchenfelderstr.

(01) 929 41 11

Son. – Fri. from 11:00 -14:00 and 18:00 – 24:00

Sat. and holidays: evenings only


See also: A Dalmatian Fish Fest

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