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The parking lot is empty – an indication in itself of the soaring temperature. I wait it out under the shadow of an old stone arch. To my right, a set of uneven stone stairs rise to meet the ancient walls, and the scorching sun. To my left is the waterfront, blue and cooler in comparison; that’s the route we choose.
The water is full of sea urchins, inky black splotches staining the water, and fishing boats, on a break from their morning run. The boat closest to me – named Bota Šare – is small and clean, its benches are wooden and gleam in the afternoon light. Two fishermen play a game of cards. The old one is stocky and bald, the younger one is lanky and dangling a cigarette between his lips. The boat doesn’t smell fishy. It’s a good sign, this.
We walk past them, hollering a greeting, and towards the restaurant a few paces away. Like the boat it owns, the restaurant is called Bota Šare.
I’ve eaten at Bota Šare before in Zagreb, but this is the original one, set up in a medieval manor on the waterfront on tiny Mali Ston. The taverna has been in the family for generations and is known for staying true to the ways of Dalmatian cuisine culture – locally sourced produce make up the menu: fresh soups, soft breads, homemade wines, delicately prepared seafood and strong, fiery rakija.
We sit outside, under an antique-type ceiling fan; it doesn’t make any noise but it doesn’t help with the heat either. We can see the water, and the fishing boats. Inside, in the cellar-manor, it’s dark and cool, and kind of kitschy, but not over done. The day’s catch sits on ice, on display. A stocked bar is all the keeps them company. The tables here are unoccupied, but perfectly prepared; maybe in bad weather these tables get full. From the kitchen, somewhere behind the heavy doors, chopping and frying sounds and the occasional clang waft out.
It’s a formality, but we flip through the menu, recognizing the house specialties: soups, oysters and other shells, grilled fish, black risotto and homemade bread. For weeks we’ve been looking forward to this meal. We order it once, twice and then for good measure a third time: a serving of Ston Oysters, with a splash of lemon and a twirl of the pepper mill.
We also add a fish carpaccio, grilled vegetables and a small serving of grilled oysters to the table, and then there’s bread, but these are all just distractions (delicious, though). The oysters are fresh, the lemon and pepper give it a fantastic punch, and we chomp them down faster than our waitress (much to her amusement) can serve.
Eventually, we call for the cheque. The empty shells are cleared away and replaced by fresh brewed coffee. As we walk away from Bota Šare, though, I can’t help but feel, maybe there was room for one more helping. Just one more.
An Extra Serving: If travelling with a party of vegetarians, be sure to ask your waitress if they can whip up something more substantial, in addition to the basic pasta and grilled vegetables on offer. The staff is very helpful and may even offer options.
Leftovers: As it happens, the house wine (white) can be pretty strong; don’t drink it up straight, especially if you like your wines but mix it with sparkling water and you’re good to go.
Address: The Waterfront, Mali Ston (for the sake of practicality, Mali Ston is about an hour’s drive from Dubrovnik)
Telephone: 020/754 482