If brevity and simplicity on the menu reflect the kitchen’s integrity – what you see is what you get – then this is ‘the place’. It’s decades since I dined here, and when my companions demanded traditional Cypriot cuisine that didn’t involve pizzas and burgers something different was required. I knew changes had been made: everything around Ayios Antonios has been furnished and burnished to a standard Antonios would not recognise. Coffee shops by the dozen, car parks with electronic barriers, interminable roadworks. yellow lines everywhere.
Our traditional tavernas, like coloured butterflies and honest politicians, are an endangered species, but the survivors are a hardy breed, and have not only retained the ancient dishes but have kept their patrons. I believe we should award them listed monument status and supply discerning tourists – possibly an oxymoron – with the addresses of the establishments so they know where the soul of our country resides: at the dinner table. Shouting and eating and wearing socks.
At lunchtime you have to be the chief of police or a cabinet minister to get a place at the trough, but early evening is easier. But remember to book.
Table for four, nicely dressed and well spaced. Sometimes the seasonal fare, recently shot, trapped or gathered will appear on an ‘A’ board, but none tonight.
Perhaps the liberals or newspapers have intimidated them. Speed is a feature of Stoa: each diner had a menu and an interpreter within minutes of entering; the more complex the English, the more exciting the dish. Item seven on the pork section; ‘beacon with wine saece’ was slightly testing, but no problem with ‘cattle fish’.
However, when I spotted three dishes as rare as an honest lawyer in Limassol, namely Rabbit Stew; Lamb’s liver; and the acme of Cypriot delight Lamb’s Head I knew all was right with our world.
All that you expect from the charcoal is there: pork in all its slices, lamb, inside and out, offal aplenty along with beef; excellent salads and kebabs.
The ladies want fish. Hot bread, tzantziki, pickles to tittilate the taste buds. At the last moment I spotted a platter of enormous snails travelling past and was sure my companions would enjoy them. A feature of H Stoa is their preparation of squid which I think they braise – quite delicious. Half a carafe of house wine to complement the Bass and Bream, a full bottle of Nemea for the kebabs, kalamari, souvlaki and lamb’s head – they strip it from the bone; I swear I’ve not had better, a little chilled Petritis with the snails that are served with the traditional dipping dish of wine vinegar. My Oxford-based companions have rarely eaten such a wealth of Cypriot delights. Haste ye back.
SPECIALTIES Classic Cypriot cuisine
WHERE 28 Digenis Akritas, Ayios Antonios, Nicosia
COST Very reasonable