“Remember, Remember, the fifth of November” Part Two

Remember, Remember,

the fifth of November

Mushrooms, Morgan & Cattunar.

I see no reason why such a great day

Should ever be forgot !

With apologies to the anonymous author of the nursery rhyme at the beginning of Part One, here are our own words which sum up such a memorable day of majestic mushrooms, Cattunar wine and here, in Part Two, more Cattunar wine pairing at Morgan Restaurant, Brtonigla.

And so to Morgan Restaurant.

Morgan Restaurant has a reputation, a really great reputation. It sits on a hill west of Brtonigla surrounded by the vineyards of Cattunar wines, amongst fields of sheep and farm outbuildings; walk round the back of the beautiful terrace and courtyard to find views over those vineyards, as well as an ancient petrol pump, an outbuilding where local sympathisers nursed a wounded partisan back to health, and look up to the star fixed on the roof.

This is a place where all round you sense history, times past; geography, times present; geology, the land; that wine word ‘terroir’, the colour and texture of the soil, and country life – hunting and shooting through necessity and love rather than just a gentlemanly pursuit.  On one of our last trips to Morgan we drove up from Kaštel (fortunately rather slowly) through rolling mists to brake as a doe and her three fawns stepped elegantly into the road with a cursory glimpse in our direction as they crossed in front of us into the adjoining woods.

Morgan is celebrated on many levels. It is a part of the intensely gastronomic town of Brtonigla, stamping fame on northern Istria for its award winning restaurants serving seasonal produce. It is one of the darlings of Istrian gastronomy in magazines and travel guides earning itself a full page article in the Time Out Croatia Guide 2010. It is run by the Morgan family; let’s face it it’s an unusual Croatian surname but not in Istria and those legends are steeped in fact – read any good guidebook to establish the stories of Morgan pirates in Istria.

Perhaps though Morgan is most celebrated for decent, honest, quality fare, super service and dare we say tolerance (witness Vesna Cattunar’s birthday party a few days after our first more sedate visit!).  A meal at Morgan is an exhilarating all-round experience.

Having met up with Marko Morgan a few days before at Franco & Vesna Cattunar’s winery, we had discussed at length the superb pairing of their wines with Marko’s family restaurant’s food, and we were anticipating something special, but nothing quite prepared us for the feasts we were to enjoy on 5th November, and then again a few days later!

And so it happened that we visited Morgan twice in the same week.  Our first trip was with food and wine bloggers Niamh and Denise and took place after our foray into the mushroom festival of Brtonigla where wine, song and dance predominated as we tried to abstain from a wealth of mushroom dishes prepared in front of our eyes. The second time was for Vesna Cattunar’s special birthday party a few days later with Niamh in attendance with us – sadly Denise had had a prior engagement in Italy to go to. You missed out there Denise!

Following the fun and games of the mushroom festival we arrived late afternoon and, rather than being shown to a table in the main restaurant, we were settled by Marko in the private ‘tasting room’ with long table set in front of a roaring fire.  This room can seat 12 comfortably and there is the added bonus of a separate entrance to allow guests to escape for cigarette breaks, phone calls or just the odd turn round the gardens in between courses, something for which we became grateful!

After a long day of tasting and frolicking around Pula and Nova Vas, the tasting menu at Morgan was very welcoming – despite the tiptop cuisine, the atmosphere is relaxed, cosy and fun. Starting with thick wads of foie gras on toast, we then worked our way through numerous superb dishes: pršut sliced in front of us off the bone and served aside chunks of pecorino cheese, then scrambled egg with thick shavings of white truffle; hand-rolled pasta with ragù sauce; venison and white polenta; wild boar, it kept coming. All of these were served with Morgan’s home-made jams and chutneys and each course was accompanied by another great wine from Cattunar’s incredible cellar, and we delighted in the knowledge that these wines came from the surrounding vineyards.

We began to burst as our meal drew to an end with fritule, first tried the day before at the Geržinić winery.  With Niamh’s newfound love of fritule rediscovered she took down the basics of the family recipe from Ana Morgan and we are delighted that Niamh’s adaptation of this wonderful recipe now appears on her website!  After the fritule and grappa, we were well and truly satisfied and decided we would start wending our way home.

As we started to pack up our bags, notebooks and cameras, we were intrigued to see Marko and Ana return to the open fire with strings of thick juicy sausages. Thinking that one of the tables in the restaurant was now in for a special treat we sat and watched as the sausages fizzled and cracked on the fire and a huge plate of them was set down … in the middle of our table!

Having completed at least five courses of extraordinary cuisine we rounded off our extra special Morgan meal with a final platter of pure pork sausages cooked to perfection on the open fire and chopped into substantial bite-size pieces for us to nibble, served with rounds of warm toasted bread and accompanied by yet more shots of grappa!

Truly finished off by that last course, we took to the road tired, replete but wholly satisfied, and looking forward to truffle hunting and the Livade and Buzet Truffle Fairs the following morning with winemaker Dimitri Brečević of Piquentum (more of that in an article to follow).

Four days later and we were back at Morgan Restaurant for Vesna Cattunar’s birthday party, a huge combined family and friend affair and here again Morgan rose to the occasion.  The Cattunars had taken over the whole restaurant and long tables were arranged down one side in a horseshoe shape with seats on either side, glass jugs full of white and red wine placed centrally every few table settings and a big table by the side of the door where the presents started to pile.  To the other side of the table Goran Griff, the well known Istrian composer, guitarist and singer, was setting up to entertain us for the evening. We had met him the previous year in Grožnjan with the late great and sorely missed Boško Petrović, where he was singing with some of our winemakers at the Jazz Festival, so we knew we were in for a musical treat.

As Vesna’s friends and family started to stream into the restaurant and took their places at the table, the Morgan family adeptly moved up and down the rows with platter upon platter of appetisers – huge chunks of ricotta cheese, pecorino, grilled aubergine, fresh green olives. Then gammon baked in bread and cut thickly into slices served warm: to us, this was the highlight of the whole meal – we’d travel miles to sample that again! And, again, those home-made chutneys and jams were served as accompaniment.

While the courses kept coming the guests kept singing and dancing, with Goran switching from international favourites to Croatian favourites and back again, and every time we got up to dance, another dish would miraculously arrive on the table as we sat down!

After a course of scrambled eggs with slices of pork sausage, and thinking perhaps we could eat no more, the main dish arrived:- a delicious home-made lasagne, rich with fresh herbs and juicy with chunks of tomato, and served with hunks of warm bread on the side.  And still the wine flowed and the guests danced and sang, one conga leading into another round the tables, still the Morgan family manoeuvred through us all never complaining, always smiling and laughing.

Following a superb performance by Franco, Sandro and the male members of the Cattunar family taking on a dance from the Full Monty (almost but not quite literally) much to the delight of the audience, it was gift time and as Vesna was handed present after present by her girlfriends who stood in a line passing each one to her in turn, each was commented on and each person thanked, often with peals of laughter as the presents became funnier and funnier or more and more personal (we especially loved the carpet slippers – come on, she’s not THAT old!!).

So yet again, Morgan managed to maintain the right balance of service, food and entertainment.  In this case, this was traditional family-style food showing the other side of the Morgan facade; friendly, hearty sustenance with lashings of Cattunar wine thrown in.  A perfect family celebration. And how did I manage that last piece of birthday cake? Creamy, moist and light, it had to be done and was a complete pleasure.

Two different dinners, two different events, two different celebrations.  Come to Morgan to laugh, enjoy life, food and wine, and leave replete and comforted.  Both the restaurant and the Morgan family have style, grace and honesty with no pretention.

© Pacta Connect UK Ltd, December 2011