A noticeable thing about the restaurant is the natural light and spacious interior. I've been to many ethnic clubs, and generally they're somewhere between cosy and dingy. Croatian House was renovated in 2006, and evidently it was done with ample funds and a bit of thought. The floor-to-ceiling glass wall gives the room a pleasant feel, and the outdoor terrace is a nice spot for a drink. When we visited, the restaurant was a quarter to a half full. It’s a fairly big space, so that would be 30 or 40 people.
The menu has a range of Croatian dishes, plus some Aussie bistro standards for those who aren't ethnically inclined. With four of us willing to share, we were able to sample most of the Croatian offering.
Mrs Leghorn kicked off with a chicken soup, explaining that it's her ethnic custom (Mrs Leghorn hails from Prague) to start lunch with soup, no matter what the weather. Happily, it was good soup weather, and the soup was just as chicken soup should be, with a nice yellow colour and strong chicken aroma. Mrs Leghorn claimed to detect some Podravka undertone, Podravka being a popular Croatian brand of stock cubes and other things. If there was any, it didn't detract from the flavour.
For mains, we chose three grilled items: ćevapčići (skinless sausages), ražnjići (grilled pork) and lignje (whole squid). Added to that we had sarma, or cabbage rolls. All this was accompanied by a salad and chips.
One advantage of eating in a group is that you can observe which foods are most popular. The ćevapčići disappeared quickly, but the ražnjići went a bit more slowly. Not that there was anything wrong with the ražnjići, it's just that the ćevapčići were better. If you want to compare for yourself, they’re offered as a mixed grill, which is what we ordered.
The squid also disappeared quickly. There are lots of things that can go wrong with squid, but this one was grilled just right, with a nice garlic tang.
The standout of the meal was the sarma. Cabbage rolls feature in many cuisines, but for my money the Croatian version is best. The filling is a mixture of fresh and smoked meat, the cabbage is pickled, and the sarma is cooked for hours in a stock made from ham bones. The resulting smoky (and salty) flavour is a winner. At the beginning of the meal, the group expressed doubt that we could eat the large bowl of sarma, and Mrs Leghorn thought we might take some home. As it turned out, the whole lot just disappeared. If you go for a meal in this restaurant and you can only order one food, order the sarma.
So were there any disappointments? Well, the salad was good, but I would have preferred mash to accompany the food, rather than chips. We’re pretty sure we didn’t ask for chips. And I was a disappointed that I didn't get to taste the grah, which is bean stew with smoked meats. I love pulses, and I love smoked meat (smoked anything, really), so this would have been a winner for me. However, the grah is a rotating dish, only available on certain days. The rotating dish of the day when we visited was goulash. Mrs Leghorn cooks a great goulash (the trick is to simmer it for a couple of hours, to concentrate and blend the flavours), so I don’t look elsewhere for what I can get at home.
The restaurant has a decent wine list (we had a pretty good house red), and a few beers on tap. I had a Kronenbourg 1664 before lunch. When I lived in France, this was a beer of last resort, but in Australia it doesn't seem so bad.
Croatian House is an easy 5 minute walk from Footscray station. Instead of going towards the markets and the Vietnamese shops, just go the other way. A downside of the location is the busy road, which is part of the over dimensional road network. So if you're reading this review in the cabin of a B-double, rest assured that you can drive straight to the door of Croatian House (and there’s a large car park, too). However, be aware that you'll get some road noise (not too much on a Sunday) while sitting on the terrace.
VerdictWe really liked it
OverallOverall, we certainly liked the place. I’d go so far as to day that we liked it a lot, and I’m likely to head back there next time I’m in Footscray.
Find it atKatarina Zrinski
72 Whitehall Street
Telephone: 9689 5866
*Clue: Millenium House was built in 1966.