Where to eat in Belgrade? The question asked by everyone who comes to Serbian capital. And one dear to my heart.
I love hotels. I have never had a less than great experience with a hotel, especially with the hotel people. They love what they are doing and you get that vibe. They really care about how you are, how is your stay and how is your meal.
With my positive bias for hotels, I have made it a part of my way of living in my hometown Belgrade to eat in hotel restaurants when I hear of a new menu or have a cocktail at bars. Sometimes I just pop by for a coffee and cake during a busy afternoon.
At a delicious Sunday brunch in Credo Restaurant of Courtyard By Marriott, I met the executive chef Nenad Jovanović. Like at first sight. A reassuring warm candid smile on a young face with eyes wide open to what guests might need and say. A friendly handshake and a relaxed attitude of one who owns his mastery and is pleased to share it with those who appreciate it.
A couple of weeks later we talked about where to eat in Belgrade, about cooking and tasting, about the starred path that brought Nenad back to Belgrade.
WB: How come that a boy that played hockey for Red Star Belgrade became an international chef?
Nenad: My mom and my grandma were great cooks. I believe that is how I started appreciating tastes and cooking. I was nine when I made my first chestnut and banana cake. It was just a child play to me, it happened spontaneously.
After schooling and working in Belgrade, I decided to climb up another level. I completed the Culinary Institute of Switzerland and joined a Michelin starred restaurant at Lake Luzern. My next destination, which happened accidentally, was Denmark. I landed an internship in a 3 star restaurant Geranium in Copenhagen and stayed two years. Then another Michelin starred restaurant in Copenhagen and then coming back to Belgrade.
WB: If Belgrade was a dish, what would it include?
Nenad: It would include meat, peppers, potato and fresh milk cheese.
WB: How do you think of guests when you cook? When someone ask where to eat in Belgrade and are sent to you, what do you want them to experience when tasting and eating your food?
Nenad: I think of each guest as a new challenge. Every guest has different taste and they can’t all like same food and flavors. I want them to experience something new, in the way how we treat ingredients. Maybe they tried it before and didn’t like it so much and we want to change that memory of flavours on their palates.
Cooking is very relational and very subjective. You are doing something that will touch someone‘s stomach and their head and heart. And you never know which memories and associations your meal will trigger, if there will be nostalgia and sweet memories set off by the tastes you put on a plate or something else, something unsettling maybe.
WB: Belgrade can be a true food adventure for travelers. What is on your not to miss list at farmers market?
Nenad: Charcuterie Serbian style (traditional smoked dried red meat, beef or pork), čvarci (cooked pork belly), fresh cow milk cheese, ajvar and pinđur (traditional savoury pepper preserve). My friends, chefs from Tosca Geneva, who visited Belgrade recently, took away with them 10 kilos of charcuterie and a jar of ajvar each. Two days later they called to say ajvar was gone.
WB: What is Credo’s latest proposition?
Nenad: It’s a secret, for the moment! The new spring summer menu is coming in April. The final tastings are underway. I can say it will be lighter, fresher and more acidic.
WB: Where do you like to eat in Belgrade? What is your answer to question where to eat in Belgrade? Which are you favorite restaurants, farmers market and street food spots?
Nenad: I like to eat pork shank in sauerkraut during winter time. In warm weather I go for something simple, like typical barbeque or pizza. My favorite restaurants depend on the kind of food I want to eat: Madera, Stara Hercegovina, Sakura, Ambar, Rubin and Ebisu. My favorite market is Bajloni pijaca, probably because I grew up in that neighborhood and have visited it since the early age with my mother. As for the street food, I go to Mara in Vračar when I want a typical Serbian grilled meat. And for the best burek (greasy filo pastry) I go “Kod Ljupčeta” at Dalmatinska Street.
WB: Where would you take our guests in Belgrade, what would you make sure they do not miss while here?
Nenad: Stara Hercegovina for traditional Serbian food and probably Ambar for a kind of fusion of local food from the Balkans. Credo for international cuisine at highest international standards.
One final note on Credo so you fully appreciate the possible experience: you will be dining between the buildings of National Theatre and National Museum. The walls of the restaurant and the bar display the works of the most talented young visual artists. A complete treat. Enjoy it!