Opposite the famous Famagusta Gate is the Mitsides flour mill, and behind it is the Sipouraki meze restaurant; a perfect little gem. I have known this area for over 20 years and have never before noticed the restaurant, which would be inexcusable if I couldn’t claim that the mill is so overwhelmingly ugly that one could be forgiven from believing that anything good could exist in its shadow.
The companion and I arrive on a Thursday evening a little too early for the kitchen: no service before eight. The ensuing walk raised the appetite, stretched the legs and led to drinks in Bastione, a stone’s throw away. Returning on time we were settled on an outside table under a spreading tree. We are greeted by Dora, who settles the drinks and Evangelia who deals with food. There is a very homely feel about the site, the outside is painted blue and white, the small paved area is also painted and the whole atmosphere is redolent of country comfort and tradition, yet it is located inside the medieval walls of our ancient city. Traditional chairs, well-spaced, solid, wooden tables, an aromatic hedge and some friendly cats heralded the start of a very pleasant evening.
The menu takes the form of a small, wood-covered ring binder. The first two pages offer the cold meze that consists of a number of familiar salads and dips from which the companion selected tzatziki. The hot pages contain 20 dishes, the first four feature cheeses: with sipoura; in filo with honey and poppy seeds; with fresh tomato, peppers, olive oil and oregano. There is an interesting mushrooms with Commandaria; pumpkin balls; roast pancetta; grilled pork, either marinated or a loin in wine sauce. There is an unusual combination of pork, chicken and beef mixed with pasta, feta, peppers and tomato sauce. Another first was grilled chicken breast with yogurt sauce and lemon drops. To finish we were offered grilled squid, and octopus grilled in herbs.
The pumpkin dish sounded so unlikely that I ordered it. Madam, the companion, chose grilled octopus, which left me with the squid, and as Evangelia detected my interest in marine biology, she told me that the chef was preparing fresh baked cod. Certainly.
Thursday is a music night, so are Saturday and Sunday. The group plays classic Hellenic folk music at a volume that doesn’t frighten the horses. Our first dish is delivered with a basket of hot crispy triangles of an unusual pitta bread. The pumpkin balls look and taste very similar to courgette fritters; there are four of them and they are served in a tiny frying pan and sit in a tzatziki sauce. Nothing at Tsipouraki is commonplace. The fried potatoes are wrapped in a napkin and served in a small metal bucket; so is the squid which is coated in a tempura that would raise Japanese eyebrows. The octopus is perfect; crisp, sweet and herb enriched. The cod is served in a paper satchel, tied at the top, and the customer is invited to cut the string to release the steaming fillet cooked in a tomato sauce and served with a small pot of beans. The portion is large, big enough to satisfy a shark for a week.
Everything about this delightful restaurant pleases. So much care has been taken by Katerina – the very young proprietor – over food, decoration, presentation, staff and ambience. The kitchen is overseen by the Greek duo of Chrisovalantis and Vagia. A memorable evening and perhaps one that should not be noised abroad. Let us keep it to ourselves.
SPECIALTY Classic Mediterranean
WHERE Othello 1, Behind Mitsides Mill, Nicosia
WHEN lunches served at weekends
CONTACT 99-754417. Booking essential
HOW MUCH small plates around €4, meze €14, live music nights €2 per person