By Alexander McCowan
We arrive early evening two days after the opening and there was none of the evidence of the premature start; all was calm and orderly. Sensibly spaced tables, comfortable chairs, menu nailed to the wall; the whole card amounts to 14 entries. A cursory examination reveals a couple of stunners I have never seen on a Nicosia menu before: marrow bones on the starter and braised beef cheeks on the main card.
The wine list is even more surprising; it contains only French wines from obscure small wineries and something specially for me: the wines of Languedoc Roussillon, the traditional seat of French rebellion: remember the Cathars? My sister lived in the heart of the region and we did some serious damage to their products. Montpelier was the home of Jules Planchon, who established the phylloxera resistant vines. Back in the sixties the wine was mostly red, cheap and rough, and was drawn from the barrel or the litre sized plastic bottles.
Everything has improved since then and it still remains the best value for money in France; Atelier sells four reds the most expensive at €22. Bring on Jeff Carrel pinot noir.
While we peruse the menu the waiter places a basket of hot fresh bread and a pot of hot blue cheese garnished with radishes. The starter list offers Perfect Egg with Seared Mushrooms; Full Bodied Marrow Beef Bones; Soup of the Day; and Parmesan Crème Brulee with tomato and basil. From this we select the bones for me and the crème brulee for the companion. The main section has six offerings: locally Smoked Trout; Steak Tartare; Lamb Crumble; Braised Beef Cheeks; Roast Sea Bass; and Roast Chicken. All dishes accompanied with special sauces. Beef cheeks for me and crumble for madam the companion.
The wine arrives as close to chambre as possible on a chilly night in Nicosia. Good choice. The bones cut horizontaly and ripe with steaming hot marrow with a drizzle of sauce beside are redolent of war-time childhood when offal reigned. The companion claims her dish is delicious. My cheeks are delivered with a small bowl of buttered carrots, and are perfectly braised, I could have eaten them with a spoon.
Lamb crumble not only contains slivers of lamb, probably shank, but kidneys and tomatoes and aubergine. Both meals could not be faulted. The chef has an extremely light touch; bravo.
From the sweet list we select a Rice Pudding with Salted Butter Caramel that comes in a drizzle pot and I can’t resist the Paris Brest. The pudding was cooked French style, al dente, not creamy as in the Italian method with which my companion is familiar, and my choux pastry was a little to much on the chew side, but after such a superb meal it seems churlish to mention it. It is one of the most enjoyable culinary evenings I can remember.
Yani, the proprietor, is half French and hails from Montpelier, and his chef is Parisien, and I hope they stay. This place will become the ‘talk of the town’ and richly deserves it. Booking is essential as they have only 60 covers. Plenty of car parks in the area.
SPECIALTY French cuisine
WHERE Archangel Michael 3, old town Nicosia (site of the late Casa Vieja)
CONTACT 22 262369
PRICE Very reasonable