In the jumble of shops in Weston Creek, I nearly walk right past the Maestral Mediterranean Seafood Restaurant. Slide open the glass door, the atmosphere and the aromas wafting from the kitchen hit my senses. I could be back in Vernazza, eating seafood and pasta in the plaza, overlooking the Italian Riviera. You can nearly smell the salt air at Maestral; you can certainly smell the garlicky richness of the tomato-based sauce on the stove.
Owners Julian and Julie Skaljac work together cheerfully in the kitchen, prepping for the dinner crowd. Bowls of bright garnishes and dishes crowd the steel kitchen island in the centre of the space.
Out in the restaurant itself, daily specials fill the wall-length chalkboard. Blue-tinted water glasses on the tables add to the seaside charm. A homey facade and cheeky sign lead into the kitchen where we chat as they prep dishes.
Julie and Julian have been pouring their love and culture into this Croatian seafood restaurant for 22 years. From washing dishes after school, their twin daughters, Anna and Andrea now work alongside them full-time.
“This guy here, he comes every day with new ideas,” Julie nods towards her chuckling chef husband. Julian has been cooking for 46 years. Cooking is a skill that has taken him across Europe and to his new homeland.
The couple grew up on Brac Island, in Croatia’s Dalmatia region, a region that shares the Adriatic Sea with Italy. The family owns an olive farm in Brac and they cook with their own olive oil when they live there in the summertime.
The word ‘maestral’ means afternoon wind. The ‘maestral’ sweeps in, bringing cool relief to the hot afternoons along the Dalmatia coast each day.
“In our region, we have a lot of the same dishes as the Italians; we just cook them slightly differently. We cook with red wine and Spanish red wine vinegar, which is really robust,” says Julian, getting the vinegar bottle out.
“Our restaurant is 90 per cent seafood with some traditional Croatian dishes thrown in.”
“And every dish has a drizzle of olive oil,” Julie adds. “That has to happen. Croatia is known for its olive groves.”
Julie would recommend that a first-time visitor order the Brudet fish stew and perhaps the Adriatic seafood platter.
For entrée, she would pick the Scallops or the octopus, although the Blitva, a classic steamed silverbeet and potato dish, full of garlic and olive oil, is popular with regulars also.
The Brudet, a Croatian fish stew, is rich and punchy. It’s well seasoned and slightly sweet, with a lingering heat. A hearty dish of tender prawns, Moreton Bay Bug and black mussels that tastes of the sea.
The scallops melt in the mouth and the sweet pops of pomegranate against the bite of wasabi puree and tang of Salsa Verde and salt of the prosciutto make it a standout dish.
Monte Torta, one of several desserts handmade by Andrea, is delicate layers of velvety custard, chocolate and vanilla on a base that is soft and spongy like Choux pastry. A layer of nuts and a thin layer of dark unsweetened chocolate add some crunch. It is yummy.
The softest crepes I have ever tasted are Croatia’s ‘most favourite dessert’, served up with chocolate, fruit, or nuts and honey. They are very popular and sell out every night.
Maestral Mediterranean Seafood Restaurant is located at 13 Trennery Circuit, in Weston Creek.
Maestral is open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday (6:00 pm – 10:00 pm); and lunch Wednesday to Friday (12:00 noon – 2:00 pm).