Cyprus at its best?

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I’ve been coming to Paphos and the surrounding area for over 13 years now, since my parents retired out here. I’ve seen a lot of restaurants come and go between trips, I’ve seen a lot of land disappear under development after development, and I’ve had a range of meals from very poor to highly memorable.

And my favourites remain those places that continue to cook simply, that cook local food and tend to cook seasonally. Which pretty much defines my preferences in the UK as well!

Part of me is almost loathe to talk about the places I love, as I don’t want them to get spoilt. But equally you always want good places to do well, and times have been tough here too. So my three choices all deserve to keep going, and to keep doing what they do well.

Firstly, if you want dinner with a sunset, then I’d break my rule about avoiding restaurants with a great view. Yialis is on the coast beyond Coral Bay, at the unspoilt, rocky end, with nothing much else around. This, like all of my choices, is family run, and simple. Sometimes there’ll be a choice and sometimes they’ll just tell you what they’re cooking. Sometimes there’s fish, there’ll always be meat (pork when we were there this week) and a progression of dishes before the main part arrives. Don’t expect a wine list, and in fact a cold Keo is probably the best accompaniment. Just watch out for sand flies after the sun goes down!

If she’s cooking, then I’d be very happy to sit down for lunch at Nitsa’s in Houlou. Except it’s not even called that, so don’t go looking it up in the phone book! It’s now one of two places in Houlou but Andreas and Nitsa have been there the longest I think. I’ve had simple salad followed by freshly made feta cheese with ripe watermelon, which was just delicious. And Andreas does some of the best souvla around. Just depends how many people are booked in, so if you want a scenic trip for a Sunday lunch then it’s worth booking first (tel: 267 24161).

This trip’s highlight was dinner at Laona. Tucked up one of the side streets behind the old market in Paphos, this bills itself as the house of traditional Cypriot meals, which is not always a good sign. But here it is, and I would say the welcome and hospitality was of the traditional type as well. A small meze was by no means meagre, and every dish was beautifully flavoured and spiced. Standout dish for me was the rabbit stifado, cooked slowly with onions, vinegar, cloves and black pepper, with the slowness taking out the sharpness of the ingredients, just leaving a sweet, tender dish.

To me, these places do represent a great side of eating out in Cyprus, as they would anywhere. I’d eat at these places on each trip out here and there aren’t many I’d say that about. Things have changed a lot since my folks moved here though: used to be that if dinner was over five Cypriot pounds my dad thought it was an expensive night out! I didn’t choose these places because they were reasonable, I chose them because they still recognised, and represent, good ingredients, well cooked. That’s what I call value for money.

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Helen Tarver

Collector of great gifts and fabulous food, mum, cake baker & eater, wine opener. I write about food and the gift of it in its many forms.

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