Years ago, Demi Moore landed in Dubrovnik late into the night. Accompanied by her two daughters, the Ghost actress immediately rode on a speedboat to the island of Hvar for an enticing meal at Gariful which closed after midnight in anticipation for its famous guests.
Once the meal was over, Moore and her family swiftly cruised the speedboat back to Dubrovnik. She wasn’t the only one. Numerous celebrities have devoured exquisite meals here, making Gariful the most luxurious restaurant on an island known for beach parties and leisurely yachts. Both Hvar and Gariful’s stories, however, are far more than its wild reputation.
There’s an energy about Gariful, one can easily point it out from a mile away. Its white canopy-clad terrace is a modern juxtaposition to Hvar’s archival past as a central base between Italy and wider Mediterranean sailing route. The Neolithic people blossomed on the island during pre-historic period, creating unique pottery while paving the way for Hvar culture which eventually constituted ancient Greek architecture and Venetian Empire’s military camp.
With a glass of light red wine in hand, Ivan Gospodnetic cheers with his clients but maintains a clear mind. This charismatic man behind the most elite restaurant in Hvar is nothing less than magnetic yet in full control, busily shifting from the hostess’s side to the kitchen, his scurry epitomizes a man in charge. The prominent restaurant reflects upon his restless personality. Beneath the flash, there’s a respectful determination to carry on a family tradition.
“My father spent the early part of his career taking care of hotel gardens,” Gospodnetic recalls, “since he always put gariful (“carnation” in the local dialect) in the gardens, it became his nickname.”
Gospodnetic’s father started Gariful in 1981 and ran it for twenty years. By the time he left the business, there were four to five restaurants under his belt. They carried less exclusivity but each emanated Hvar’s rustic island charm. Gospodnetic was seventeen years old when he expressed interest to inherit his father’s endeavor. He had a vision: when travelers came to Hvar, they would know exactly where to go for great Croatian seafood. He conceptualized Gariful as THE place to be.
Today, the fruits of Gospodnetic’s labor has morphed into a highly praised recommendation by the likes of Giorgio Armani alongside Prince Harry’s stamp of approval. This success story comes from a trite yet straightforward philosophy: passion naturally transcends into tenacious devotion.
“It’s very simple. If you do something that you love in life, then you make it good. I’m the owner of the restaurant, I don’t have to be in the restaurant all the time but I’m here 24/7 because I love what I do and it makes me happy. It’s not just with the restaurant, it’s with everything that I do, I do it with love.”
Situated off the Dalmatian coast, Hvar encounters mellow winters and blazing summers full of sun. Its Mesozoic limestone and dolomite hills foster a massively fertile land ideal for growing wine, olives, fruits and lavender. It all harmonizes beautifully in Gariful’s Octopus carpaccio, Korčula macaroni with truffles and beefsteak pieces, and Ravioli with lobster and pistachios. There’s no denying the sweetness of the lobster overpowers every other dish on a memorable carte.
The seasonal menu comes from Gospodnetic’s own farm located close to Hvar, where organic vegetables are grown. His seven private boats aim for the freshest catches of the day, so that Gospodnetic can choose according to Gariful’s menu and needs before selling the rest to other restaurants on the island. This allows him to remain on top of Hvar’s seafood supply chain. Many of his catch can be seen through the restaurant’s glass floor, in an underground aquarium.
“You can taste the sea. The fish needs to swim three times. First in the sea, then in the olive oil. After, in the wine. If you have fresh grocery, you can’t miss that.”
In Hvar, locals work for six months out of the year since high season starts from April until September. Once Gariful’s famous faces leave and glamour dusts settle in autumn, Gospodnetic looks forward to a simpler life of sailing with his friends, fishing and drinking in the Adriatic Sea. A sea upon which prosperity rides on the waves of his undying passion along the current of his father’s name.