Proto is a fish restaurant with some history, operating since 1866 and situated in the walled old town of Dubrovnik. It is tucked away just off one of the main streets here, with outside tables in good weather, a downstairs dining room and also a roof terrace, though this doesn’t have much of a view. There are a few meat options as well as fish, and the restaurants operates at both lunch and dinner, though there is no concessionary lunch menu.
The wine list ranged from 280 kunas (£33) to 14,500 kunas (£1,723) in price, and lazily omitted vintages for all but a few bottles. I cannot imagine someone contemplating splashing out on a serious bottle such as the Marchesi Antinori Ornellaia listed here without knowing the vintage. For example the 2007 vintage of this wine currently costs £121 in a shop, yet the 1996 costs £387, so who is going to pay 3,430 kuna (£407) without knowing the vintage? The list was split roughly half and half between Croatian wines and foreign wines. There were labels such as Posip Grgic at 480 kuna (£57) for a bottle that you can find in the high street for 202 kunas (£24), White Meneghetti at 660 kuna (£78) compared to its retail price of 168 kunas (£20), and E. Guigal Chateauneuf du Pape of mysterious vintage at 855 kunas (£102) for a wine that will set you back roughly 354 kunas (£42) for a recent vintage in a shop. For those with the means, there were grander offerings such as Vega Sicilian Unico 2007 at 3,680 kunas (£437) compared to its retail price of 3,275 kunas (£389), and Pingus 2010 at a crazy 14,500 (£1,723) for a wine whose current market value is 6,303 kunas (£749). As can be seen, the markup levels were erratic, to say the least.
Fish soup was rather sorry for itself, a thin affair with tiny pieces of over-cooked fish and shellfish lurking at the bottom of the bowl. Although the soup itself at least had some flavour, this was a pretty feeble offering (9/20). Fish of the day was sea bass, which came with spinach and cauliflower cream, with any further vegetables on the menus as extra. The fish itself had decent flavour but was over cooked, and was way over-salted even to my saline loving taste. The spinach was rather limp (9/20). At this stage of the meal I baled out, as unless Michel Guérard himself was doing an implausible stagier role in the kitchen as pastry chef, nothing was going to save this meal.
Service was functional, with my half-finished bowl of soup left on the table until the main course arrived, despite this being a pretty quiet early lunch service, so it was not as if the waiter had a lot else to do. For two courses at lunch and water only to drink, with no coffee, the bill still come to 358 kuna (£43) before tip, which is an awful lot of money for a casual lunch, let alone one of this low standard. If you had three courses and shared a modest bottle of wine then a more typical cost per person would be about £80 or more, which would leave anyone weeping into their thin soup. I have no idea how this place has kept going for a century based on this meal, but I suspect that the flocks of tourists in Dubrovnik mean that any restaurant has rich pickings of customers that are unlikely to return and so don’t need to be looked after that well.