Arguably the most popular eatery in Dubrovnik, Azur originates Croasian cuisine by infusing the best of East and the Dalmatian Coast.
Since the 7th century, fusion hasn’t been a foreign notion within the antiquated walls of Dubrovnik’s Stari Grad, or Old Town. Even in its age-old brand, the names Dubrovnik and Ragusa co-existed throughout several centennials under the archaic safeguard of the Byzantine Empire. In the early 90’s, Dubrovnik became the central battleground of the Yugoslav People’s Army, under which citizens’ lives as well as Stradun, or main street, were savagely demolished. Once the city revived from a massive post-war repair in the early 2000’s, tourists began to flock and savor a city offering an amalgam of Mediterranean chill and Medieval grandiose. It’s no surprise that one of the most trendy restaurants in Dubrovnik prospers on the idea of cultural integration: Azur, tastefully serves up flavorful plates of Dalmatian and Asian zests. Croasian, as owners / brothers Vedran and Darko Perojevic humorously categorize their restaurant’s innovative concept catering to a wide array of global, hungry travelers.
The first Azur, in fact, opened its doors in Zhuhai, a thriving city on the west bank of China’s Pearl River. In 2010, Azur aimed to introduce Mediterranean cuisine to Guangdong’s 44+ million residents who were unaccustomed even to the simple alliance of olives and cheese. Following the success of the first restaurant, Vedran, who is fluent in Mandarin, returned to his home country two years later, turned the tables around by instituting Asian flavors in quintessential Mediterranean-based dishes.
“Mediterranean cuisine with an Asian twist,”
as the brothers often label Azur Dubrovnik’s whimsical style, became a hotspot for both tourists and locals craving aromas that extend beyond the Adriatic Sea.
Azur requires a mini maze of a stroll to approach, a hushed lane bordering Dubrovnik’s boisterous Old Town. Masked by its reticent surroundings, Vedran and Darko’s beloved eatery transforms fine dining into “fun dining” – a semblance of an intermixture, combining two worlds embedded in their strides and conversations. Vedran, the flirtatious teddy bear brother who flows in and out of the kitchen as jovially as he switches from Mandarin to English. He’s the perfect contrariety to Darko’s tall and serious deliberations. Yet, both Perojevic brothers are equally sincere, admirably entrepreneurial.
“People come to Dubrovnik for less than two days, so we have to offer something different. That’s how we came up with Mediterranean cuisine with an Asian flair. Croasian became a big hit.” – Darko Perojevic
On an almost rainy Croatian evening, we sit at one of approximately fifteen bistro-style tables on the restaurant’s outdoor terrace. Against the city’s ancient walls, our palates are wonderfully surprised by a nice change of quotidian from classic Croatian dishes.
The delicious wonderment begins with Chicken and Chorizo Tacos with Jalapeño Mayo, kicking with Central American spiciness integrated with red bell peppers, finely grilled chicken and white onions topped with raw green scallions often used in Asian recipes. Croasian Style Seafood Laksa is a creamy juxtaposition via fresh mussels, octopus and shrimp that makes one tasty bite after a sturdy stir with perfumed coconut broth and Chinese egg noodles. Swordfish in Black Curry Sauce changes the game by offering a bitter bang glazed over a fresh cut of swordfish’s density by nature. If spices, curry and coconut sauce haven’t had enough of a soirée, Fragrant Meatballs with Coconut Sauce crescendos the meal with three exquisitely pan-fried mini spheroids, swimming in a pool of golden gravy, again sprinkled with scallions. A delightful bite instantly compiles a collage of polaroids from India, Thailand and the Mediterranean Coast.
The Croasian ideology cannot materialize more forthright in Azur’s dessert menu, spearheaded by its signature Tapioca Coconut. Fans of boba tea need no introduction to the divinity of tapioca: a starch extracted from the cassava plant originated from Brazil. In recent decades, however, Asia has commercialized the invention of tapioca balls, aka: boba, when the starch is moist then pushed through rounded sieves. Azur’s sweet treat offers a lovely contrast between tapioca’s chewy texture and the coconut’s light and innate sugariness. The other dessert not to be missed is the Croasian Style Baklava which highlights the iconic filo-filled Middle Eastern pastry typically rich in syrup and honey but Azur’s version is less sweet which veraciously reflects upon an Asian pudding.
As a continuation to the Perojevic brothers’ business endeavors, they opened The Bar by Azur in 2017 featuring craft cocktails and simply a cool spot for travelers and locals to mingle. Located in an uphill alley off of Stadun, Dubrovnik’s archetypal main street, The Bar is also a venue for live music and VIP rooms. For a city combusted with tourists particularly during summertime, Dubrovnik unusually lacks a notable nightlife scene. The Bar’s mission is to awaken a sleepy setting with stylized concoctions invented by skilled mixologists. Homemade syrups, premium liquors and Croatian craft beers are readily available for guests chilling by the cozy corner lounge or leisurely dangling cigarettes while socializing with strangers alike.
If the idea of fusion has long existed within the Medieval walls of Dubrovnik, then Croasian cuisine is simply an innovative preservation of the city’s clamored past. Azur’s dedicated following is proof that basic is boring, somehow we frequently find ourselves famished for the best of both worlds. Even in the most impeccable bite of a Salmon Ceviche.