The best dinners are those shared with friends, family or like-minded individuals who love food as much as you do. I think that’s the essence of a great dining experience, and very much at the soul of Jason Jujnovich’s famed Back to Balkan dinners. Previously held at Divido in Mount Hawthorn, they made a recent comeback for a brief pop-up at Red Cabbage in South Perth.
These dinners came to an end around two years ago, much to the disappointment of avid diners. There was definitely a bit of a cult following behind them – with my friends who’d attended telling me that you needed to fast for the day… and you’d still leave ridiculously full. With a love of humble, home style cooking – this was something right up my alley.
With a group of avid eaters present, we descended on Red Cabbage. Prepared for a feast of share plates (family style of course) and Balkan beverages. Sliding in to my seat I was quick to order a “crocktail” ($12.00) which was maraschino, lemon and sour cherry… and perfectly delicious! This became my drink of choice for the evening while others sipped on Mythos Hellenic beers, Osjecko lagers or Maraska spirits.
Before long, plates and plates of food made their way out to us. Dips of taramasa and hummus, crusty fresh baked bread, pickled vegetables, marinated fish, octopus and mussels, and the popular cevapi – a spicy Croatian sausage with red pepper sauce.
The bread was my first bite, and possibly one of the most memorable. While not the flatbread the menu promised, what was delivered was so much better. Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside and perfect to swish through the dips. The taramasa (sometimes known as taramasalata) is a fish roe dip, and was silky and salty – easily my favourite of the two, though the hummus was still a strong contender.
Another standout from the entrees was the cevapi, which was porky and herbaceous. We would have been happy to just keep eating them forever… but for our stomach’s sake it had to stop as mains weren’t too far away.
An impressive line up of well executed dishes saw us presented with roasted belly of pig, chilli, fennel and thyme, crushed potato with silver beet, Cypriot salad with grains and pulses, and braised cabbage rolls (sarma) with smoked bacon ribs.
That pork belly though. Super moist, it melted in my mouth (literally!) and had a generous pool of juices underneath to spoon on top. I wish I’d had more bread from the first course to enjoy with it!
The sarma was as tasty as I’d heard, and though humble it was bursting with flavour. But as good as it was, the real standout for me was the Cypriot salad. Crunchy, creamy, acidic… ah it was everything you want a side dish – and more. It really stole the show. Chocked full of freekah, lentils, herbs, currants and nuts – it was hearty and generous. A new favourite? I think so!
When it came time for dessert I was pleased to see that the gluten and dairy intolerant of our group didn’t have to miss out though they’d assumed they would. A plate of sharp apple sorbet with liquorice ash and meringue shards sat waiting to be devoured – and we were all happy to dig in and try a bit for ourselves.
But with only so much room to fit food in our bellies, we turned our attention back to our own desserts – individual plates of apple, honey and walnut strudel with Turkish delight ice-cream. Who doesn’t love pastry! So it already had our tick of approval, only to be elevated by the swirls of spices and mild sweetness throughout. The ice-cream was an excellent way to finish the night off, vivid and echoing rose on our palates long after the last spoon was licked clean.
What a fun night! Great food, drinks, company and oh so satisfying to finally try Back to Balkan for myself. At $69.00 per person, it was an absolute feast – and one full of laughter and merriment. Food really does bring people together in the best kind of way.