Green Cuisine at the Marina Hotel Restaurant


Set in an idyllic location in the heart of Izola, by the old mandrač (harbour), the restaurant of the Marina Hotel tells stories of the sea and of Istria. Awarded with the prestigious Gault&Millau and Michelin recommended labels, and also Green Cuisine, it has been focusing on green practices for over a decade under the guiding principle of KM Zero. Sustainability, tradition, localism and the trends to come are the topics we discussed with Chef Ivica Evačić - Ivek, who has been the mastermind behind this culinary legend for more than 20 years.

Chef Ivica Evačić - Ivek: "I try to establish a personal connection with each customer."


You've been running the restaurant for two decades. How has your cuisine changed in the last period? Does it still rely on combining tradition with the cutting edge of modernity?

As the whole world is changing and moving forward, so are we. Both in the way the plates are presented and in the service itself. Nowadays, the plates tend to be "clean", stripped down, simplistic in a way: the focus is on the food itself and its components. And we try to make the service as personal as possible. But our philosophy remains unchanged: we are dedicated to offering traditional Istrian and Mediterranean cuisine, based on the KM Zero principle.

So you consider a personal first approach to be very important. But is that always possible? It requires a lot of personal commitment, and we know how little time we have today...

Personally, I want to have a few words with every new customer when they come to our restaurant, if possible, to ask them how they found us so that I have some idea of the direction we are taking the dining experience in. It's also a way of introducing them to our establishment, my philosophy and the basic principles of the restaurant. Of course, this is not always possible, but I try to make it happen as often as possible. I like to come out of the kitchen and chat with the guests.

Indeed, we see you often in the dining area. You also like to talk to the customers who keep coming back, don't you?

Of course, it's a real pleasure! It's really nice when our customers share their culinary experiences with me. We are very proud to have such a wide range of regulars throughout the year. For most of them I am Chef Ivek, and for the youngest ones I am Uncle Ivek - the chef. And it is the little ones that bring me the greatest joy. It's so sweet when they persuade their parents to take them to Uncle Ivek's for lunch or dinner. 

So you could say that "Uncle Ivek" is a famous figure. Do people ever stop you out in the street? (laughs)

Haha, well, that's happened before. (laughs) I can say that the Marina Hotel Restaurant is quite well-known all over Slovenia. And many of our regulars come from across the border. People are familiar with our vibrant cuisine and we will continue to do our best to preserve our reputation in the future. I would like to stress that word of mouth remains the best form of publicity for us.

Let’s talk a little bit more about how to attract new customers. The Marina Hotel restaurant has a 4.6 rating on Google Reviews and a 4.5 rating on Trip Advisor. Do these ratings matter to you, do they actually help you bring in new guests who aren't already familiar with you? 

Not only do they matter, I don't think it's possible to run a restaurant without them nowadays. I believe that customer reviews are even more relevant in these times than we might like to admit. Of course, we love the positive reviews, but it is the negative ones that help us better ourselves, because they give us an idea of what we could change and what we need to pay attention to in the future.

Apart from customer reviews, today's consumers also pay a lot of attention to prestigious designations and ratings. How important are ratings from gourmet bibles such as Gault&Millau and Michelin? Do they help to promote your restaurant? Why do you need them?

Again, I have to acknowledge that awards such as these certainly help a great deal. At first, we didn't really realise how important they were, but now it is quite obvious that, for example, a Michelin recommendation carries a sort of international recognition of respectability and, as a result, attracts food connoisseurs from all over the world. However, these recognitions alone are not what drives us to do our best. For me, the highest accolade is a restaurant full of satisfied diners.

"For me, the highest accolade is a restaurant full of satisfied diners."

Sustainable practices have been part of how you run your restaurant for well over a decade. Why is sustainability so important for you? Was it a visionary decision?

We have pioneered some basic sustainable concepts... Today, they are a necessity, are they not? Can you even run a business without taking into account some sustainability principles? At the Marina Hotel Restaurant, we have been serving dishes that incorporate seasonal ingredients since the very beginning. Recently, we have also been following sustainable guidelines by "downsizing" our menus: this means that we serve a certain number of dishes throughout the year, which also feature ingredients that are available all year round. The rest of the dishes are seasonal. We also place great emphasis on our daily specials, which are strictly seasonal, if not even daily.

What is the dish that is the most popular with your guests? Are any of those on your regular menu a true bestseller?

This is a question I don't like answering, but judging purely by what we serve the most of and what guests rave about, I'd say that, in addition to our wide selection of seafood dishes, our bestsellers are: of the cold starters, it's our cold seafood platter, a selection of raw foods - "from the sea to the plate", as we say here at the restaurant.  Of the soups, I would single out the fisherman's stew, the pumpkin cream soup with prawns and the asparagus cream soup with prawns. The main dishes include our Istrian delight - a polenta gratin with baccalà in crab custard with fresh truffles, sea pasta - pasta with scampi and prawns, and a fisherman's platter for two. And there is one dessert I would like to mention: the asparagus tiramisu with honey sauce and fresh strawberries, which is really something special and a real seasonal hit! Our guests also love the raffaello pancakes.

Speaking of asparagus, the harbinger of spring, let's say a few words on the subject. Why is asparagus good for you and why do we see it more and more often on our plates in spring? In Izola, for instance, we kick off the season of culinary days with the Days of Wild Asparagus.

If we are talking about wild asparagus, let me start by saying that it is one of my favourite foods. Why is that? Because they only grow in the wild for a short time, they are highly seasonal, because they are local, because they are native to Istria, and because they can be used for a wide variety of dishes. And then there are their health benefits: mainly their detoxifying and diuretic effects. This natural treasure is such a powerful cleaner for our bodies.

Check out the recipe with wild asparagus by chef Ivica Ivačić - Ivek.


What are some of the other spring foods that we can find in nature and are good for us?

Dandelion is definitely one of them, as it is both a healthy and nutritious vegetable that can boost our immune system. I like to use it in my dishes in the spring time. I also like wild garlic, but I should mention that you shouldn't be picking it yourself unless you really know what you're doing and that you should buy it from a reputable vendor, because there is a risk of confusing it with poisonous plants that look a lot like wild garlic.

Apart from your beloved asparagus and dandelion, what other Istrian plants are regularly featured on your menus?

I'm very fond of artichokes, and their season is just around the corner. In the summer months, there is a wealth of tasty vegetables to choose from. In autumn, it's mushrooms; every year we look forward to mushroom season and start "hunting" them as soon as the first one appears. All our other ingredients are sourced from trusted local suppliers wherever possible, ensuring that our dishes are freshly prepared every day using seasonal produce.

What are the current trends in the culinary world, and what does the future hold? How are you planning to keep up with changing trends?

There is one upcoming trend that I'm honestly a bit worried about. With the ever-increasing pace of life, but also with the development of technology, which in a way is turning us into addicts, people may not have the time to enjoy a proper lunch or dinner together in the future. I want the opposite: for us to be able to continue enjoying food, and for it to be more than just something we need to survive. At the same time, I also hope that we as a society will move towards sustainability and collectively support locally-grown food. This is the only way we will be able to keep serving traditional dishes, as we will not have exhausted all our natural resources.


In the process of creating this piece, Ivek was named "Traditional Cuisine Chef" by Gault & Millau.

You mentioned local food production and protecting natural resources, which is something that the new generations, who have different eating habits, are very well informed about. Do you offer a vegan or vegetarian option?

We certainly do, it's one of the ways we keep up with trends. We adapt our offer according to your wishes, needs and specifications. However, this is not our main focus, nor is it a segment we target specifically.

If your friends came to visit you tomorrow and you wanted to show them Izola, what would you recommend? What are the TOP 3 things they should see?

Let me think... I would definitely take them first to Belvedere, to the terrace of the Kamin restaurant, where we could have an aperitif and get a view of Izola from above, so they could get a better picture of our town. The next stop would definitely be to get them acquainted with the local cuisine. I would also take them to the Archaeological Park in Simon's Bay, where they could learn about our history. In the evening, they could try the Roman Tastes under the Stars experience in the park, which is my personal favourite experience in Izola. Why? Because it's about enjoying food and good company. And it's in such a unique location! And if my friends were architecture lovers, I'd also take them to see the Besenghi and Manzioli palaces.

Have you heard about the Roman Tastes Under the Stars experience? Find out more!

One of the top 3 suggestions is therefore to taste the local gastronomy. Would you take them to your restaurant or to one of your neighbours?

That's a really hard question to answer! (laughs) Honestly, Izola has some very good restaurants and pizzerias. That's what makes it such a wonderful place to create culinary stories. We often refer our hotel guests to other restaurants. It's nice to see their happy faces when they come back. One of Izola's greatest assets is the wide variety of choices and the authenticity of each and every establishment. That is why we simply must continue working together to further develop this culinary story.

Visit the Marina Hotel Restaurant or take a look at the recipe chef Ivica Ivačić - Ivek has created for you.

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