Bokamorra; More than just Pizza and Cocktails
Bokamorra Pizzaurant and Cocktails, quietly opened their doors in Split on July 14, 2017, the newest addition to the growing Split gastronomy scene. Sister restaurant to Bokeria, we were expecting big things from this concept pizza + cocktail restaurant and, we weren’t disappointed.
How many pizza restaurants in Split (or Croatia), do you know have travelled to Naples for their oven and inspiration? Read on.
When Daniela Rogulj and myself heard that Bokamorra had opened, we immediately went to check it out. Bokeria is easily one of Split’s top restaurants, so we were expecting big things from Bokamorra. Daniela is a self-proclaimed pizza-snob, having grown up and eaten at some of the best Pizzerias in the States, and myself? Well, I am from New Zealand, but have a long resume in hospitality, including a stint at Gordon Ramsay’s and I lived in Florence, Italy for a period. So, while we were excited that there might finally be a real pizza restaurant in Split, we didn’t want to get our hopes too high.
And then it happened, bam. The second we walked in, we were in love. Everything about the Bokamorra space is divine. We first lost the plot over the green Tanqueray wall, glowing above a plush, baby blue velvet booth, the design, a subtle gentleman’s nod to the prohibition era.
Credit: 3 gray Goats Photography
A quick glance around the room confirmed suspicions; a golden bar, waiters in cute suspenders, New York Style ‘posters’ on the walls – displaying classic scenes with a pizza-twist. Oh yes, this place has style.
Credit: Maxim Bašić Photography
Ok, ok, so the restaurant and design was immaculate, get to the food and drinks, right? We ordered a round of Negronis – it has been so very long since I have had a good Negroni, it was my go-to aperitif in Italy, but it was a distant memory these last few years. And? Perfection.
While we love a good cocktail, a couple of new establishments in Split have lifted the cocktail-game recently, so it wasn’t the cocktails we were coming for (this time), it was the pizza. There were three of us, so we ordered three pizzas – Margherita, Porco Mio and Smokvizza.
Being pizza-lovers, we were ready to judge Bokamorra on their Margherita alone, because 1) Margherita is the classic and 2) any gastronomer knows – it is often the simplest dishes that are the hardest to perfect; with nothing to hide behind, the dish and ingredients need to speak for themselves.
Our pizzas came out and, if you eat with your eyes first, then we were feasting. The pizzas looked the part, but, the ultimate test… foodgasm. Sorry, I can’t think of a better word to describe it. Now, pizza is a funny thing, a matter of taste – some like it thin and crispy, others like it a doughy… this was something in between. A thinner-style base, with a soft doughy crust – the best of all worlds.
The Margherita was on-point, but actually, it was the two other pizzas that took us by absolute surprise. Let’s start with the Porco Mio – truly, deeply, I have never had a meat pizza until now. Prosciutto crudo and prosciutto cotto were layered generously over the top, but the ‘piece de resistance’, was the accompanying side of lard, for which you are supposed to add and let it melt. Sound a little over-the-top? Well, Daniela and I don’t eat much meat, but this, was heaven.
Credit: Bokamorra Facebook (we ate ours too fast, no pictures!)
The next pizza that sounded intriguing was Smokvizza, a desert-style pizza with dried figs, goats cheese, pistachio and honey. Divine. The perfect balance of sweet and salty, and a combination I never would have thought of, nor had I ever tried before.
We could not fault one element of the restaurant, cocktails or service if we tried. We stayed for another round of cocktails and soaked in the ambiance, which was complemented by some funky jazz.
Being that Bokamorra is the new kid in town and has already appeared in a couple of portals, we didn’t just want to write a review; we wanted to learn a more. So, I caught up with Luka Bokavšek to ask about the inspiration, thinking and design behind Bokamorra.
What was the Inspiration for Bokamorra, why pizza + cocktails?
We always like to explore something new, not that we have created this concept, it has been done in New York, London and the likes, but we wanted to bring these innovations to Split and Croatia. It was a fairly easy decision, Split was (in our eyes), lacking a good pizza restaurant and good quality cocktails. There are now a couple of bars that are using excellent ingredients and who have lifted the standard, but we believed there was still space for a cocktail bar and we wanted to pair it with pizza – because this is not a typical combination most people think of.
The Cocktails and Cocktail Masters
Our thought process was straightforward; we wanted to use the best quality ingredients, so people can enjoy having 1, 4 or 5 cocktails, they can sip on them and not have a headache the next day (from low standard alcohols and mixers).
After searching around, we came across our bartender Marino Karinja, from Rijeka, who has lived and worked in Belgium for international experience. I appreciate young people who go out exploring, rather than just sticking to what they know, so I was hopeful that he would have a similar mentality to learning, growing and pushing boundaries like us.
So, we have Marino and Luka Cvitković, who are our main guys behind the bar, they run the space with passion and creativity. We don’t need to push them to learn; they are always reading, trying new recipes, experimenting. It is great to see young guys with this attitude.
Credit: 3 Gray Goats Photography
Credit: Maxim Bašić Photography
A Gold Pizza Oven and a Journey to Naples
One can’t help but notice the dazzling, gold-tiled pizza oven in the middle of the restaurant, so we were curious…
We visited Naples in January and February – my sister, my dad, Mladen (Bokeria Manager) and I. Our idea was to explore the quality of their pizza and to see what they do. We never wanted to have a strict Napolitano pizza, but to take inspiration and then incorporate it into our own, unique style. We want to be recognised by our pizzas.
We went to two certified factories in Naples and decided on an Acunto Pizza oven. We saw the whole process of making the oven, we then got in touch with the owners who showed us the best way to make a pizza in their ovens, even giving us the opportunity to make a pizza with them – our first pizza in Naples!
We also went to some of the most famous pizza restaurants in Naples, including Pizzeria da Michele which has only two pizzas – Margherita and marinara; and Pizzeria Brandi – where Margherita was invented! It blew my mind to see a restaurant only offering two pizzas, but afterwards, it made sense. If you are only going to make two pizzas, they will be the best two pizzas in the world.
Credit: Maxim Bašić Photography
The Pizzaiolo Master and Bokamorra Pizza
“Raj” (Tomić Ratko) is our Pizzaiolo (pizza master), another young enthusiast, mad about pizza. He understands flour, water, salt and oil to a level I didn’t realise was possible – it is an entire philosophy in itself. We tried many combinations for the dough before we finally settled, just two days before we opened. The passion Raj has for pizza is a beautiful thing to watch; he is the kind of guy that comes in front of the pizza oven every day and gets goose bumps!
If Raj believes a pizza is not quite right, he bins it. He is the Pizzaiolo; it is up to him. This was one of the things we instilled from the start – if it is not 100%, then it doesn’t go in front of a guest. The fig pizza? That was Raj’s idea, we wanted to do a dessert pizza, but not your typical Nutella, something different, this is more a representation of the Mediterranean, and we are thrilled with it.
Credit: 3 Gray Goats Photography; Raj, Pizzaiolo
Quality is our number one. It is at the forefront of everything we do, no compromise. We have, the best selection of premium brands for our back-bar and our pizza; we import ingredients directly from Italy – our hard cheeses, soft cheeses and charcuterie items. The herbs we use, like basil and mint, we grow ourselves, and for any extras, we have a strong network of small local suppliers we work with.
The Details: the design, the graphics, the bar
First, we bought the pizza oven, and we built the space and design around that. My sister Ela designed the space down to the very last detail, while I was more the practicalities of the lay out. Ela has a passion and love for interior design; she has an eye for it, she can look at and immediately ‘feel’ a space. She is always looking around, travelling and researching and little by little, she created this beautiful space.
Credit: Maxim Bašić Photography
The posters and graphic designs were a combination of us and a friend Saša Pocnrić having fun. He had freedom with the graphics, while we had fun and threw around ideas for the posters and quotes.
Credit: Maxim Bašić Photography
Cedit: Tania Iacone, how fab are these posters??
We did this project for 7 months before we opened and I want people to know that we really thought about every detail, from the glasses we bought all around the world, to the ice – we have crushed ice, normal, cubes 3×3, 5×5, 7×7… At the beginning of their shift, our bartenders are making their own syrups, dehydrating or peeling citrus – we make everything ourselves, nothing pre-made.
Credit: Maxim Bašić Photography; stained glass ‘window’, gold, green marble, brass, navy blue seats… simply gorgeous.
The devil is in the details
At first glance, people might think that what we are doing is simple – pizza and cocktails, but eventually we would like them to see the thought and effort behind every element. Not everyone will recognise this, but certain clientele will, which will keep them coming back. For everyone else, we will be happy if we can surprise them every time they return, by noticing a new detail or a new addition to the menu.
Credit: Maxim Bašić Photography; Chef’s table in front of the pizza oven
So Far, So Good
We opened quietly without any marketing, but we have loyal followers – we aren’t just targeting tourists, within a week, you needed a reservation to get a table. Everything is going well so far, but we are taking our time, we are not open for lunch, and we have a reduced menu. I believe you need to specialise and do what you do well, rather than doing it all mediocre. So, this is where we are at.
The Guest Experience
While not compromising on quality is our number one, so is the guest experience. I get a real kick out of watching someone try something new, broadening their horizons. This was the joy I found at Bokeria, experimenting with our menu and watching people try something new and enjoy it. We train our staff on our products, menu, flavours, so they have the confidence to recommend to our guests. We are also all about creating a fun environment, when Raj isn’t making pizzas, he is juggling or entertaining the guests, same goes for the boys behind the bar. You will always be entertained and taken care of. I want us to continue to develop and continue to blow people’s minds!
Looking to the Future
Of course, the plan is to expand in the future – by expanding the food and cocktail menu, changing seasonally, adding a few more signatures to the pizzas and bringing in new, international premium products that no one else has. We will also begin matching cocktails with pizzas.
Eventually, we will work towards having a ‘build your own pizza’; you will start by choosing your base – white or tomato, then the cheeses, charcuterie items… I believe it is something people will appreciate; you get to create something from all of the best ingredients you love, what could be better?
In winter, we will also work towards improving the offering for locals – more live music and our Chef’s table in front of the pizza oven, was set up with the thought in mind to be used for large groups, but also to be used for pizza-making workshops during the winter.
I met up with Luka to learn a little more about the inspiration behind Bokamorra, but what I got was an insight to the passion his family and team have for what they do. Coming from the hospitality world, I have nothing but respect for this, and now my pizza and cocktails are gonna taste a whole lot better because I know the journey it took to get them in front of me!
Tash Pericic; BokaTiki cocktail
For more from Bokamorra, you can find them on Facebook here.