It was a Deja Vu moment. Called the restaurant on Tuesday to book a table for two at an establishment that opened three weeks ago and capable of seating 270 diners. Fully booked; no room. Suppose I arrive early, about 7.30? ‘You would have to agree to leave after an hour’. Damn. Not the companion’s idea of a pleasant evening. ‘What about tomorrow?’ I ask; same response. The intake of breath when a seat for lunch was mentioned, needed no further enquiry. Apparently there was some chance for Saturday if I confirmed the booking immediately. Blimey. I knew the company had moved from that hugely popular site behind the old stadium (now a carpark) and rumours of an alleged split in the management were spreading. But it was obviously no cause for distress.
Many years ago only membership of the political hierarchy would guarantee a seat at the Mignon table that occupied the site before Pantopoleio, which seems to be moving in the same direction, alas. It must be the location; opposite a hotel, overlooked by KYP our Secret Service headquarters – no secrets in Cyprus – same road as the American Embassy, a brisk walk from Parliament, the courts, and too many ministries.
Following day, madam, the Piedmontese companion, booked a table for two at lunch-time. Informing the reception that we will sit inside and arrive between 12.30 and 1pm: OK? ‘No problem madam’. Is it me?
No trouble with space, the tables afford privacy, but the interior has the personality of an airport lounge: the acoustics prevent conversation with another person unless they are sitting on your lap. Cacophony rules. Many recognisable faces beam across at each other, sign language is the lingua franca.
The staff are young, attractive and move at the speed of light – one needs to be very quick to gain their attention. We were settled with our drinks and the menu, a large single sheet, well designed, easy to follow. Salads, Starters, Pasta and Main Dishes on one side; drinks and sweets on the reverse. Five salads, seven main items, and eight starters. Then the dishes of the day that are described as specialties. Why? Who knows.
The companion wants a steak so orders a green salad that contains dill, shredded lettuce, purslane, scallions, oil and vinegar. Some of the starters are unusual: trahanas with halloumi and tomato jam; meatballs with vegetables, feta, mint and oregano and sour cheese. For myself, the white cod roe dressed with olive oil, lemon and onion. By this time we had a basket of an excellent crafted bread, a small bowl of olives and a pickled chilli.
The main lunch dishes had no surprises except Brizolakia tou Kampou: grilled bacon came with stewed vegetables, feta and herbs. The Rib-eye steak was served with fried potatoes.
The roe covered a large dish and was delicious, one eats it by spreading it over the crusty bread. From the ‘specials’ I ordered the casseroled loin of pork with the apricots served in a bed of garlic mashed potatoes, and rich in a heavy sauce.
However, the grilled steak was disappointing: it was a piece of Rib-eye Angus from Ireland, served rare – as requested – but dry and without sauce. The chips were fine. For the price it should have been fillet. My dish was unmemorable, pork loin will not be at its best when casseroled.
The sweets were as expected although I was surprised by the Halva, made from semolina.
This establishment has such a following it will run for years. If you want to impress, book early, don’t expect to walk in and be served.
Ilias is in the kitchen and will return it to the old ways given time. Costas knows what is needed in the main area, and sooner rather than the alternative.
SPECIALTY Traditional Hellenic
WHERE Methochiou St 38, Nicosia
WHEN Monday to Saturday. Lunch and Dinner. Booking essential.
CONTACT 22 675151
PRICE Not unreasonable