Few years ago, after a successful spring in Italy and upon my return home, I made a stopover in Split and one of my friends suggested dinner in, as she said, one of the ‘’it’’ places in town and it happened to be a steakhouse in the very city centre. Now, not being a big fan of steaks in Croatia, I was not all thrilled but decided to give it a go. The place is called Chops Grill and I was sure we made the right decision from the moment we came in this carnivore heaven.
A professional and smiley hostess greeted us at the entrance, found our reservation and walked us to our table in a simple but elegant dining room, with the main grill in the middle of it – so all the guests can see their steaks being done! Restaurant is well spread and quite big having in mind that it is in the centre of a 1700 year old city of Split (Croatia), where most of the eateries are squeezed in narrow streets or on busy squares. The place was packed, and few other hostesses at the desk were handling quite a row of people trying to get in for dinner that night.
I was impressed seeing over thirty types of steaks from all over the world and with the exact descriptions about the country of origin and type of feeding, but besides steaks I found some great fish choices and, as the waiter later pointed out, a few vegetarian options. We decided to splurge that evening and ordered us a dry-aged 1.2 kg Tomahawk steak to share. And quite a show it was! The steak was brought on a gibbet, with a big bone hanging from the upper part and the tasty juices from the steak were dripping over baked potatoes and veggies on the bottom. The meat was cut in front of us, salted and served to our plate. Perfectly done, juicy and soft, and with a bit of a foie gras flavour at the crisp parts by the bone (due to dry aging for 40+ days), this piece made me a steak fan for sure and Chops Grill was on my ‘’must visit’’ list every next time I came to Split.
I wanted to explore and learn more about the steaks and how on earth they decided to open up a steakhouse in a country where you cannot even buy a tenderloin in a butchery store, so soon I started the friendly but educative conversations with the owners Jasmina and Igor, chef Ivan and grill master Marko. Quite a team they are, started together from the very beginning of Chops in June 2013 and back at the time they were not profiled as they are today.
‘’So where do you get the meat’’ – I asked.
- We have a few suppliers that we are working with for years now. Those are companies that import delicates from all over the world, and we have grown together. In 2013, when we started, we could only get a very few of the steaks that we have today – simply, there was no demand for that in Croatia, especially in Split. So, when I sent a first list to one of my suppliers, they were so thrilled to have someone finally ask for those cuts that they came to Split just few days later and that’s how it started. From then on, every year, we try all the new cuts and specials from our suppliers, and we take only the best. Currently, we have in our offer local meats, but also steaks from Argentina, Uruguay, USA, New Zealand, France, Netherlands, Ireland and Japan. We are especially proud that we managed to make the best out of our local Simmental cuts by dry-aging them in our chambers. This resulted in a very meaty and tender steak, the guests basically choose their cut from the chamber and the grill master cuts it in front of them. And they love it!
When she mentioned Japan, the first thing that came to mind was the meat from the cows that I read somewhere are fed with beer and massaged while the calm music is playing, so I asked her if this was that meat, the famous Kobe beef.
- Yes, this is the wagyu beef, but not Kobe. Kobe is very, very hard to get outside of Japan as there is limited supply per year. I think there is about 3000 cattle slaughtered every year that are real Kobe. This is wagyu, which is by definition a meat from Japan, but the difference is only in bloodlines and prefectures where the cattle is coming from. We sell only grade A5 (the highest rank in the wagyu beef ratings, meaning the highest quality) and only tenderloin and striploin cuts. This is very expansive beef and therefore a lot of restaurants around the world that I have personally visited sell ‘’Kobe style’’ beef under wagyu or Kobe, but please note, this is not at all the same meat, it tastes completely different and it is not raised in Japan, and the price for this meats is three times lower then the real wagyu. Our original wagyu steak of 150 g. we sell at a competitive price, we want our locals to learn and try new things with us.
Marko, the grill chef, and Ivan, the head chef, are both young enthusiasts who run this place as family, and they grow with the restaurant year after year. The biggest challenge for Ivan was to prepare the dishes that will keep up with the high-quality level steaks. But when you try his fillet Wellington, the answer is right there – even those not enthusiastic for the meat will love this rhapsody of flavours. Gordon Ramsey once said that a perfectly prepared Wellington is one of the best dishes in the world, and in Chops their Wellington is one of their ‘’trademark’’ dishes. I noticed that they do not mention fish a lot around this place, but in one of my last occasions here I tried the ‘’buzzara’’ of shrimps and shells with home-made macaroni, and it actually became one of my favourite dishes here now! Its basically the Adriatic shrimps prepared in a traditional way with white wine, garlic and olive oil, but with the fresh fish, the sauce is amazing, and when the home-made macaroni (yes, actually one of their retired cooks prepares these only for them) soak up the flavours, they are even better than the shrimps itself!
And what goes better with good food then the wine – Chops prides itself with a mini glass roof chamber in their main dining room full of the best local ones. You will find some international wines here as well, including the Chateau Mouton Rothchild, but they are working mainly on presenting and pairing some of the best Croatian wines with their food and are very good at this. And for after dinner, their adjoining cocktail bar prepares some of the best craft cocktails in the city, so give that a try as well!
And with all those rows of people trying to get in, countless staff buzzing around the tables, food coming from two different kitchens, hot summer air that is even hotter by the grill or in their black elegant uniforms, these guys still do it with a smile and humbleness. That is why this is my ‘’must stop’’ in Split, I hope that if you visit, it will become your favourite too!