“We make our own wine – both red and white. There are no sulphates in it, which means no hangover.”
As a 30-something who now drinks a fraction of what she used to, this news is music to my ears. I can no longer deal with hangovers, and as it’s only 1pm on a Friday afternoon, I also cannot deal with the prospect of a midday alcoholic slump.
We’re at Seven St. Georges Tavern in Paphos, which, according to a friend of ours, serves the best mezethes in the country. Mezethes are to Cypriot cuisine what tapas are to Spanish and meze are to Lebanese. In other words, they’re a big deal. For someone to recommend them as the best is no small feat; every other restaurant in the country sells them, so they must be doing something right here.
Ben is talking us through what to expect from today’s lunch. The English Cypriot runs the restaurant, which has been open for 20 years, along with his father, George, and brother, Damian. He’s friendly, witty and clearly cares about his customers, as he’s keen to ensure we have a good time. He tells us how everything served at the restaurant is organic, seasonal and bought fresh every day.
They raise their own chickens, rabbits and ducks, and they also grow many vegetables. He explains how they do traditional Cypriot dishes as well as their own interpretations of the cuisine. I’m excited to hear this – I love it when people try fresh approaches with food. I also momentarily wonder how the restaurant is received by the more traditional Cypriots, whom I remember to be rather stuck in their old ways.
“I’ll just ask one thing from you: keep an open mind,” he implores us before disappearing into the kitchen.
When we arrived at the restaurant, we weren’t even sure if it was even open. The building is made in the traditional Cypriot style of stone walls, and the door, which had no window, was shut. We pushed it open, though, and were greeted by the sweet aroma of cinnamon – something was clearly baking in the kitchen, and it smelt delicious. The restaurant’s décor hails back to a Cyprus of the past; there is various bric-à-brac on the shelves, such as old vases and ceramic pots, while the furniture is all made from wood. The colour theme is distinctively brown – a colour that I’ve come to associate with old Cypriot houses. It feels like the dining area at a yiayia’s (grandmother’s) house; this is definitely an advantage.
First comes out the red wine. Although I cannot claim to be a connoisseur of grape beverages, I do think I have the ability to differentiate between a decent and a not-so-decent bottle of red. This is definitely on the decent side of the fence; nicely light and dry.
The first round of dishes includes the staple salad, a freshly baked loaf of Cypriot bread (brilliantly crusty on the outside, deliriously fluffy on the inside), as well as a variety of starters – eggplant, beetroot, carrot salad, olive paste (they also make this and their own olive oil) and a type of cabbage paste.
The crusty, warm bread goes brilliantly with the various dips and salads, so much so we almost shamelessly finish the whole loaf during this first sitting.
Salads are followed by a succession of both traditional and the not-so-traditional main courses. Examples include baby cabbage cooked with mustard seeds, lamb served with a homemade plumb chutney, kfeftiko (a traditional Cypriot lamb dish), roast potatoes, leeks and onions cooked in rosemary, and lamb afelia. This is a meat feast, although I’m aware that if you tell them you’re vegetarian they’ll lay on all their veggie options.
We wade through approximately 30 various dishes, willing each other to eat more. We’re enjoying the food and laid-back ambiance so much that we don’t want to tell them to stop bringing more out. But the carb-laden roast potatoes that come towards the end seal the deal, and we notion to Ben to stop serving us.
“Any room for dessert?” comes a question in reply.
Ankit and I look at each other, bellies bursting over the seams of our jeans. Our stomaches are very much telling us no, while our heads are still full of the memory of the sweet-smelling cinnamon that greeted us upon arrival. Ben tells us that they have freshly baked apple crumble in the kitchen, so we ask for a portion and loosen our top buttons. It’s time we man up.
Some of the dishes at 7 St. Georges are, indeed, unconventional. For example, I don’t recall rosemary being used in Cypriot cuisine. But the combinations of flavours work well, while the overall ‘Cypriotness’ of the occasion remains intact. This must be the secret to their success – they are doing something a little bit different, while still keeping the more traditional eaters happy.
As we finish off our coffees, Ben’s father, George, comes over to ask us how we know the friend who recommended them to us. We end up chatting with him for over half an hour about Cypriot politics, India, and genetically modified basmati rice. It’s one of the things I miss the most from family-owned restaurants in Cyprus; the whole affair feels more like being at a relative’s house than being in a restaurant.
It’s clear that the management team cares about its customers, so it’s not a surprise that 20 years on this is still a successful establishment. The whole experience is warm and welcoming – the exact things that Cypriot hospitality is known the world over for.
And, of course, the food is something special. It’s refreshing to find establishments like this, which are looking to serve really good food that’s made from fresh, organic produce. The price may be slightly on the steep side, but with food and hospitality like this, it’s definitely worth the trip.
P.s. Sulphate-free wine does, indeed, keep you hangover free.
Mezethes cost €17 per person. The prices does not include drinks and desserts.
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Telephone: 99 655 824
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Have you ever come across a good restaurant that serves a new interpretation of your home country’s cuisine?