Where the diners and their bellies dance with joy every time

Although foreigners might find the lack of a tipping culture here liberating, there is a downside: the mediocre to poor service. Certainly the Baresso or Jensens Bøfhus staff are friendly enough, but there is a lack of enthusiasm. “One of the main problems is under-staffing,” explains Maria, who has been running Restaurant Hercegovina since it opened almost 28 years ago. “It might be more expensive to hire more people, but if it means they can smile and chat instead of just bringing the plates and leaving. It’s worth it.”

And it certainly is. While you might be prepared for a busy, bustling evening  being so close to Tivoli, you might not be expecting how charming it makes it. Heading in from the ordered streets, Hercegovina can be a little overwhelming. Steam rises in plumes and is sucked up into an enormous brass extraction fan in the ceiling, the band’s gypsy-style Mediterranean and Balkan polka fills the space, and every wall is laden with suitable memorabilia. The cacophony of colours, sounds and smells are a million miles from your typical Danish eatery, and while it seems like it could all end up in chaos, the waiters keep it all together with what appears to be genuine happiness.

The main draw is its buffet. Don’t be afraid though – there’s no long table, stretching far into the distance, laden with an underwhelming spread of the same old dishes. Here they keep it simple. They mainly serve Croatian dishes, intermingled with familiar Danish and international fare. For those without a reference, think somewhere between Austrian, Hungarian and Turkish, with a strong Slavic influence. Mostly it stays the same from night to night, but at least one new dish is introduced every evening.

Start out with some Goulash soup, which is lighter than its Hungarian equivalent but just as tasty, making it a great starter. Take a look around the salad table. Although a lot of it will be familiar (green salads, beetroots etc), various other local treats are available, such as the delectable little bundles of rice wrapped in cabbage leaves, or the lemon-heavy bean salad.

If you go in the evening, make sure you save space. In the centre of the buffet, a pig spit-roasts over coals, providing delicious, slow-roasted meat that is incredibly tender. Other meats include lamb, sausages, patties of mixed minced meat called Pljeskavica from Serbia and, my personal champion of the evening, mouthwatering ?evapi – a type of kebab from south-eastern Europe. They also offer various fish dishes and vegetables, often presented with a thick, creamy sauce. But while there are plenty of options for vegetarians, this is really a place for meat-lovers.

For those not hungry enough to get their money’s worth at the buffet table, an a la carte menu is available. Classics such as beef tenderloin, steamed salmon and frikadeller make an appearance, but all with a Hercegovinian twist. While the dishes are beautifully presented and tasty, if you want a starter and a main course, the buffet is the better value option.

When it comes to alcohol, go outside of your comfort zone and go for something Balkan. For red, the 2009 Vranac from Montenegro is rich but surprisingly smooth, with a lovely oaky taste, while the Postup, a Croatian wine made from Plavac Mali grapes, is lighter with a more colourful flavour. For white, it’s Croatian again, with the citrusy Grasevina Daruvar matching the tastes of fish and meat-lovers alike. The wine list has been chosen by the serving staff, many of whom have been working at the restaurant for years, so it’s a real customer-pleaser.

When asked for something quintessential of the region, the staff recommended a glass of Kruškova. Those used to the bracing taste of Gammel Dansk will find this pear liquor, if anything, over-sweet but delicious all the same. If you would like a taste of the drink in a less concentrated form, the signature flambéed pancakes are also soaked in it. Combined with a strong orange flavour, it packs quite a punch. While the vanilla and chocolate ice cream, with home-made orange sorbet, Kruškovac liquor, chocolate sauce and cream, will give you the same flavour combinations, but lighter on the palate.

But the main selling point of Hercegovina is the atmosphere. Towards the end of the evening, the band were gathering drunk revellers like flies to flypaper. Tirelessly, the guitarist tried to teach a group of girls the steps to a Croatian dance, but alas, I fear his attempts were in vain. The staff are meanwhile laughing and joking, checking up on you because they seem to care, not because it’s part of their rotation. When the omnipresent Maria came by, I had to ask: “Is this normal behaviour?”, pointing at the dancing guests. She laughed: “Of course! Every night!” Let’s hope they go on having fun for many more years to come.

Restaurant Hercegovina
Bernstorffsgade 3, Tivoli; without a reservation (3315 6363), only entry through Tivoli is available over the summer

Open: Sun-Thu 12:00-16:00 & 17:00-23:00, Fri & Sat 12:00-16:00 & 17:00-24:00
Cuisine: mainly Croatian
Top Dish: Spit-roasted pork and Cevapcici  
Price Range: Lunch buffet: 139kr, Dinner buffet 199kr (Fri-Sat: 219kr); Starters 90kr, Mains 160-240kr, Desserts 79kr

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