Does it make sense to repeat that a year or two ago the island, and especially the town of Korcula, became a must destination for every hedonist who wants to live up to his reputation? Beside three Croatian restaurants holding Michelin stars in 2018, there are fifty-five recommendations. Three out of these fifty-five are for restaurants on Korcula! The LD Restaurant within the 5-star boutique hotel Lesic Dimitri Palace stands out from the rest.
We really do not know what is more impressive : the culinary creations of the young and still ambitious chef Marko Gajski, a wine list prepared by another guy from Slavonia – the sommelier Drazen Matkovic (chef Gajski is also from Slavonia), unobtrusive and always friendly staff, a sensational view from the terrace of Peljesac peninsula and its vineyards or Mr. Michael Unsworth, the owner and conceptual initiator of the idea of Korcula as a new star on the tourist (hedonistic) map of the world…
Why do we constantly emphasize hedonism on Korcula? To put it simply: the entire offer (accommodation, food, wine, additional amenities …) is tailored for people who want to enjoy life and who are looking for more than just laying down on a beach, preparing for a background actor in a new movie about Indians (without cowboys) and finding chevapi and draught local beers in the first beach bar! Korcula is a hedonistic brand and we sincerely hope it stays that way.
Perhaps it is best to begin a story with Mr. Unsworth, an investment banker who fell in love with Croatia first and then with Masha, his current wife, whose ancestors are from Korcula. In 2004. he embarked on an adventure with a domestic bureaucracy when he bought a palace and surrounding complex of ruined buildings with the intention of keeping the original arrangement of the rooms as much as possible. Lesic and Dimitri are surnames of two families who built a palace on the part of the town promenade looking towards the Peljesac peninsula. The old Korculans called it a Bishop’s palace, because Vicentius Lessius, the most significant member of the Lesic family, Vicentius Lessius, was the bishop of another two islands: Krk and Rab. Renovations lasted for five years because official supervisors tried to force classic hotel standards, but that would have destroyed the whole interior. Six luxury suites that will leave you breathless were built following plans of the Thai(!) interior designer. The concept was imposed by itself: The Silk Road + Marco Polo – each apartment is thematically designed in the style of the region where the most famous citizen of Korcula travelled (legend says that Marco Polo is from Korcula, so if the facts don´t fit the theory, change the facts!) That’s how the 18th-century bishop’s palace became a luxurious hotel with a restaurant and a spa service.
However, perfection and perfectionism are by no means only characteristics of Mr. Unsworth, who loves to sail, especially in the Peljesac Channel: thanks to his charm and open-mindedness he managed to bring together a brilliant team without whom the project would end even before it began.
Ivana Pacic Unkovic, responsible for PR and marketing from the very beginning of the project, especially emphasizes creative freedom that directors of this hotel-gourmet-enological adventure (i.e. the chef and the sommelier) have. Initially, the hotel had a very modest kitchen, which in ten years has become the most serious gastro location, not only on the island. The best proof for this statement is many (mostly foreign) tourists beginning their vacation plans by reserving a table on the LD terrace and after that making other traveling arrangements. Since 2013 Lesic Dimitri Palace is a member of the famous Relais & Chateaux association, which has been awarding the most prestigious family hotels, their restaurants and chefs under the motto “All about the world, unique in the world” for over 60 years.
Drazen Matkovic is the sommelier who wins you after only three sentences using Korcula dialect with the Slavonian accent. If that is not enough, his charm will do the rest.
Drazen – the walking wine encyclopedia – will be happy to share his knowledge with guests and help them choose the wines. His matching of food and wine is a pleasant surprise, and sometimes his suggestion will pull you out of your shoes and make you lift your eyebrows, but when wine and food arrive in front of you, you can only nod your head approvingly, thankful that you let Drazen choose them. “There are three ways of pairing food and wine”, Drazen continues, ” first: the wine has a supporting role (for example, oysters must have the main role, and it is ideal to serve it with a sparkling wine that floods your pupils with almost the same taste as the first mussels). The second approach is the food that pushes the wine. The best examples are cheeses – after each bite, wine tastes better and better. The third approach – most influenced by the media – is an effort to make the food and the wine totally blended: a good example is a frogfish being cooked in Sur Lie wine for a long time and then you serve it with some wine produced by the Sur Lie method.”
And here the concept is, just like when renovating the palace, well thought out: “We opted for a holistic approach, dinner in our restaurant must be like going to a theater or a concert. All the senses must be a part of the experience; dinner must be the unique experience!” When they started the business, the wine list didn’t have a chardonnay, neither a sauvignon nor a merlot. Even today, they only offer wines made by Croatian winemakers, but not just Korcula wines. The wine list follows the concept of the interior design: the most authentic wine with taste, color and smell that can tell the story of the Black Island (Korcula=Corcyra=Black Island) and its inhabitants.
The cuisine of Marko Gajski follows the wine list (“or maybe it’s vice versa” – both of them laughed), a young chef, another one who started cooking because he liked it (he is a computer science graduate). Depending on the available fresh groceries, Marko’s plates are characterized by Instagram appeal: his version of Komiska pogaca, a kind of bread, which he used to start the lunch with, simply asks to be taken a photo of. With a smile, he says that guests sometimes even forget to eat it.
During making a recipe for a pogaca, he spent 2 months and more than 20 liters of oil and smelled up the entire apartment, commodities, furniture… Until he got the dough he wanted. He got his idea from Massimo Bottura, whose crunchy lasagna he tried: “Pasta must be boiled off – it becomes gluten-free – then it must be blended until it becomes sticky, rolled out very thin, then it must be frozen, sliced, dehydrated for 5-6 hours and then fried…”
Marko is using the best groceries he can find, and although it’s true that they are not always local, he tries to find the best that can be found anywhere in the world at that time.
We first heard about Marko in 2011 when he was a Masterchef show participant. Since then, he has developed his style: imaginative creations of traditional and international dishes with the basic premise: different processing techniques strive to fully utilize the food and maximize the taste. The best example is fish: upper part of a fillet is most commonly used for the main dish, he prepares bouillon from bones, the carpaccio is prepared from parts close to a tail, and a belly is put in a risotto because the fat produces creaminess. However, he is still in love with Slavonia: the black Slavonian pig is considered a food that is a treat to every chef because the possibilities of using and processing it are incredible.
He says he does not consider himself a celebrity chef because “it is not really fun to work under pressure, at temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius… It’s cool when a guest invites you to a table and praise a dinner.” In principle, he does not like journalists and bloggers: “I have the impression that they forget how difficult it is to meet different tastes, to combine the groceries that you currently have and at the same time lead a team of people who have to be tuned up as a Swiss watch.”
After the Masterchef show, Marko was a chef at the Divino restaurant in Hvar, and then he spent two years at the Perivoj restaurant in Split. He also worked at three restaurants in London: Bar Boulu, Alain Ducasse and Gauthier, where he established himself as a chef with a vision.
Because he is not a chef by profession, he constantly educates himself, gaining knowledge and exchanging ideas with his colleagues. Tom Gretic was his mentor. “He is a chef who was ready to share his knowledge and who always gave me advice when I needed it. I am trying to maintain the same contact and relationship with the chefs who have learned from me.” – Marko explains.
His girlfriend Tea Mamut, the owner of a cake shop O’s kolac in Split, helps him with desserts, and the story is completely rounded.
In addition to all the tasks around the kitchen, Marko is trying to build a network of suppliers who could supply restaurants with homemade ingredients in the future. Last year they secured a delivery of high-quality oils, vinegar, marmalade, flour and all other things that can be pickled or marinated during a winter. He is planning to plant fruits and vegetables on the island and he is negotiating a constant supply of fresh fish with domestic fishermen.
In the end, we must not forget the oil that Korcula and the oil refinery from the Peljesac are proud of. Food is blended with oils, again in three ways: these are the oils that allow food to retain its characteristics; secondly, they use oils that make the food completely different, and sometimes food and oil are in balance. There are several oils on the table: Eko Skoj from Zrnovo, and Torkul of the Zuvela family from Vela Luka at Korcula and Milos from Peljesac. Drazen describes the last one as one of the best oils he has ever tasted. The secret may be the early harvest, so olive oil is greener and has a different taste than other oils.
If you still have not figured out how great a restaurant LD is, the hedonistic league is not for you…