If tradition, consistency and brilliantly prepared Cypriot food is what you seek, look no further than Trikoupis Street number 65, where stands the doyen of all Cypriot tavernas: Zanettos.
There should be a sign above the entrance: ‘Enter ye not without a mighty appetite’, because you will certainly be put to the test over the course of the evening.
We arrive early on a Wednesday evening and are greeted by Panicos, the master of the mezedes, and all else under his roof. A former Mr Cyprus and Business graduate, he has taken the taverna – the oldest in Cyprus – established 1938, to the pinnacle of Cypriot cuisine.
There are no menus. We know what to expect. A steady stream of dishes containing everything one expects from a meze and then some more. The only choice the customer has, is what to drink; we select a half litre of house red and settle down to do battle with the kitchen.
Bowls of buttered toast and pitta accommodate the dips that include garlic mash; these must be treated with caution, because while tempting, one must be aware of what is to follow. A bowl of village salad is next, enough for ten, followed by dishes of florets of cauliflower and slithers of courgette, cooked in what I thought was a delicate tempura but proved to be a kitchen original, and exceedingly delicious; a sizzling dish of pork belly and the best village sausage, rich in flavour and gentle on the jaws.
Plates of bulgari, scrambled eggs with tomatoes, ravioli, a pyramid of steamed rice with grilled mushrooms; souvla: pork and chicken. Calves liver – a rare treat – sheftalia, followed by the sine qua non of any traditional mezedes: escargot; rich in sauce and volcanically hot.
We laboured mightily to make a decent impression on the table, and eventually retreated, but not before Panicos delivered another plate of snails. We ordered coffees, which came with a plate of sliced fruit, glycos, semolina tarts, and two bowls of mahalabi. Can we stand? Just about.
The ambience is extraordinary; Zanettos is home to many of the best known Cypriot musicians and artists; Panicos has held sway for over 25 years and knows everybody, his walls are covered with photos of his friends. The service was impeccable.
If one seeks a venue to impress those visitors with the best of native cuisine, or just a good night out, look no further than Zanettos.
SPECIALTY: Meze – Cypriot and Mediterannean dishes
WHERE: Trikoupi Street, 65. Nicosia old city
CONTACT 22-765501, 99-495519
PRICE Very reasonable