Saturday, April 17, 2010

Katarina Zrinski Restaurant at the Croatian Club

When we are back in the States, many people ask us to describe "Australian food".  I never really know quite what to say.  The fact is, my parents are self-imposed castaways from mainstream Australian food.  They shrugged off the white sauce and Sunday roasts of their childhood, and raised us on a hodge-podge of interesting things they had gleaned from various cultures - pretty progressive in the 1980s.

I remember in Home Economics at school, in the lesson on carbohydrates, my horrible, smug teacher neatly explaining, "You see, we all eat potatoes with our meal. Katsy [the lone Asian], well, she eats rice."  A small hand rose, quavering from the back, and Ms Baklover interjected - quite truthfully, "We never eat potatoes.  We eat rice with every meal."  I was on her blacklist ever since - more so when I later stole her thunder by knowing what dal was.

Sunday often meant yum cha, and char siu bao and siu mai are the foods of my childhood, right alongside tinned tomato soup.  Mum did cook spaghetti bolognese, but also stuffed peppers, the aforementioned dal, and proper chicken stir fry with a light sauce thickened with a little cornflour.  This wonderful, eclectic diet made for adventurous, irrepressibly "foodie" children, but it did set us adrift from a discrete food tradition.  In my family, there is no dish "made as Grandma did".  Christmas always ends with plum pudding, but what comes before drifts with the years.

Unlike my food traditions, Katarina Zrinski Restaurant at the Croatian Club is certainly not adrift.  One could be forgiven for thinking it is a depot for the fire brigade, with its steely grey bulk overlooking the road into Footscray.  It wears its red and white chequered crest proudly, as if it were a medal on a soldier's chest, swollen with national pride.

Inside, national heroes gaze into the middle distance above men playing cards and (I daydream) telling bawdy jokes.  The tables are lovely, with crisp linen and I dare say the most comfortable chairs this side of Zagreb.

Mr Baklover shares none of my sense of cultural displacement, firmly rooted as he is in the German-Irish traditions of Chicago.  Since living with me, he has learned to love tofu and bean sprouts, but I know he secretly dreams of bratwurst and liver sausage.  He was ready for a feast so we got started.  

Mixed grill, $18.90

The mixed grill was fantastic, with tender, flavorsome raznjici (grilled pork pieces) and juicy cevapcici, mini skinless sausages of beef and pork.  It came with fabulous sautéed capsicum and onion.  Don't sneer at the chips!  They put a special spice mix on them that is just divine.  It rivals chicken salt in this heart of mine.

Salad (included in mixed grill)

This is how coleslaw should be - ultra-thin and crispy cabbage with a piquant vinegar dressing.  We never got around to eating the iceberg lettuce, however.  You will see why!

Sarma with mash, $18.90

Sarma are parcels of beef/pork mince and rice, rolled in pickled cabbage leaves.  We have had these before and enjoyed them, but the mince in this day's version was somewhat grainy and unappealing.

Grah, $18.90

The day's special was Grah, "bean stew served with smoked meats and pickles".  Now, do not judge the bowl by the perceived size of the spoon, or rather, consider that the spoon is in fact a ladle.  It was a veritable tureen of Grah.  Plus it came with this:

The Grah was a very thick bean stew with a lovely warm, soothing texture.  It was so filling, though.  After a few bites, I was starting to say not Grah but "grruhhhhh...".  Like an over-poached kransky, I was about to burst.  I am no slouch when it comes to appetite, but this kind of food is way too heavy to overeat, at least for me.  Luckily, Mr B rolled up his shirtsleeves and, with his Teutonic appetite, made sure we didn't embarrass ourselves too much by leaving too much food.  At least, that was his excuse as he cleared every plate.

Croatian food is known as "the food of the regions", and next time I'll be sure to pick something from her Mediterranean coastline, to complement the heavier fare.  I've had their Lignje before, which is delicious, tender squid, which has been marinated in garlic and parsley before being quickly grilled.

Food, like sport, transcends cultural barriers.  You may not speak the same language, but you can kick a ball between you, and you can connect through wonderful food too.  The Croatian Club serves proper food from the "old country" - it might not be my "old country", but it feels like home just the same.  The chairs encourage slouching, time passes slowly, and the food begs to be dribbled down your chin.  Plus, if you've ever found yourself trying to entertain hungry children with nothing more than some napkins, a menu, and a toothpick dispenser, you will appreciate this:


72 Whitehall Street, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9689 5866
Hours: Mon - Wed 12.00pm - 3.00pm, Thurs & Sun 12.00pm - 8.30pm, Fri & Sat 12.00pm - 9.30pm

Katarina Zrinski on Urbanspoon


  1. This is interesting and a very good find. must check it out.

  2. Hello Miss!

    Fantastic blog. I live just on the street next to this one (and our family have a business in footscray too!) so your blog is pretty interesting to read.

    We've been wanting to try Katarina Zrinski for a while, but we always tend to gravitate towards the Station Hotel instead. Will try it soon though!

    ps. I spent ages last week looking for Turmeric leaves in Footscray and failed to find any. You wouldn't happen to know where they are available would yoU?

  3. Didn't know there was a public restaurant there. Will be checking that one out. thanks.

  4. I feel inordinately proud of little Ms Baklover standing up to stereotypes and silly teachers in general! Croation food is a huge step out of even my comfort zone (I pride myself on eating all types and parts, seriously), so must give this a try.

  5. Hi Penny, Deb and Vee - do check it out. Zivjeli! (Cheers!)

    Now - Pete! You had me scuttling all around Footscray today. I looked high and I looked low for nghe/haldi/dilao/kaha/kunyit leaves! Absolutely no luck, I am afraid. I even asked quite a few shopkeepers and they couldn't help. We had fun, though, so thanks for giving me an excuse to go shopping!

    I still have one more source left up my sleeve, but don't know when I will get there - stay tuned to this post and I will let you know if I am successful! Are you making beef rendang? *drool*

    BTW - I am curious which business is your family's in Footscray, or should you not tell me for potential conflict of interest?? :)

  6. Hello!

    Yes, I made beef rendang - ended up leaving (ha ha) the turmeric leaves out which was a bit sad. I will have a look at the Indonesian grocery store in QV when I get a chance. Otherwise, I suspect the grocery stores in Glen Waverley might have them as they are Malaysian.

    Ah, well I'm not going to mention which one it is specifically, but its not food related so no conflicts of interest :) We are along the Hopkins St/Footscray Market side of things though!

    Its so good reading a blog about food in Footscray. Growing up here, I'm pretty jaded about the quality of the restaurants in the area - there are so many generic ones which do reasonably good food but they all kind of blur together after a while with too much MSG and unnaturally textured beef. Things are changing for the better though and alot of the crap places have died out or picked up their game - and the good ones, well, they continue on to be good :) I love that you're honest about your opinions of restaurants!

    Personal favourites, most of which you've written about: Pho Tam (for everything and at a consistently good standard), Nhu Lan for salmonella rolls, Yummie for dumplings and buns and little pastries, cannoli at T.Cavallaro & Sons, doughnuts at the station and the Station Hotel for a posher feed.

  7. "Doughnuts at the station and the Station Hotel for a posher feed". How much do you love Footscray - such juxtapositions, and both so good in their own way!

    Pete, I found the turmeric leaves at Laguna near QV for you. They are in the frozen section. I feel a beef rendang coming on myself! Thanks for your lovely compliments btw. I am also a Cavallaro's cannoli fan. Did you see that Yummie are relocating to Barkly St, and opening an all-day yum cha restaurant next door?? Excitement plus!

  8. OMG, my mouth is watering just thinking about the coleslaw! Actually, I don't think it's slaw at all ... but I love it; still crunchy but somehow not raw; just a touch vinegary. Is that word? And the chips rock, too! The meats are fine, and I like the fried onion/capsicum mix they come with, but sometimes wish there was something by way of sauce or gravy. There's specials I'd like to try, but they never seem to be on when we're there. I have a funny story about this place that'll have to wait 'till we do lunch.


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