Zante - Reviewed by Charles Dodd
Even in these tough times you still see a lot of shiny new metal on the roads, as our countrymen sport their new Mercs, BMWs and Range Rovers. Yes, I know many of these glitzy heaps are owned by the banks. So what a pleasure it is to meet a (former) banker who owns his own house and 20-year old car, as well as a few thousand vines and the land they’re planted on. “Neither a borrower or a lender be”, is one motto he lives by. “Always have a business plan” is the other.
I first interviewed Costas Tsiakkas and his life and business partner Marina close on 20 years ago, when they had not long started making wine in the hills around Pelendri. “It was tough going, then”, Costas acknowledges, as he tells me of current year-on-year sales increases. It was, because the trail-blazing Cyprus winemakers were only just feeling their way towards a product acceptable to international tastes, with vestiges of the days of wine making in Pithari still lingering.
Unlike a few people I could name, the Tsiakkases always were (and are) prepared to listen, and in truth there was quite a lot they were told about their early wines. However they took it all on board and, with the co-operation and help of fellow winemakers and retained oenologists, their wines simply got better every year. Today, their style is assured and confident. The wines stand up in international company. But more importantly, they feel and taste Cypriot.
“The future doesn’t lie with ‘foreign’ grape varieties,” says Costas. “It is with indigenous grapes we must move forward”. Like the Yianoulli (“Little John”) vines he is presently growing and making small quantities from – 230 bottles in 2011. One practical reason, he argues, is that Cyprus is facing years of drought and vines that need less water and have the DNA to find what there is, will be the ones to plant.
As for the local wine market, Tsiakkas considers local producers will go on having to fight for sales, and that imports which have a 70% share, may well keep it that way. “Why”, he says, “now we even have Tesco wines at Alpha Mega”.
For two decades now, I have watched in admiration as Costas and Marina have built their winery and their business, looked after their family and run up and down the hill from Limassol to Pelendri every day pursuing their dream. But time marches on. Will it remain a family business? Son Number 1 is a Chemistry MBA, Number 2 is doing an agricultural degree. A good sign.
The Tsiakkas winery is probably in the prettiest location in Cyprus. It is certainly the highest, at 1500 metres, which gives the vines a better chance of moisture and a longer, gentler ripening season. Team Tsiakkas, which numbers a resident oenologist, visiting specialists and local advisers such as Sophocleous Vlassides who is an oenology graduate of the famous Davis University in
A couple of weeks ago an artist friend told us about the exhibition at the Zante Restaurant near Limassol, and there it was again, mentioned in the Cyprus Gourmet. So, two of us agreed it was time to pay the place a visit. We found the restaurant quite easily – up the Troodos road, past the Heritage School and shortly after the turn-off to Palodhia and Apeshia – on the left of the main road just where it becomes three-track. It’s a big place, imaginatively restored after years lying unused. We learned that some features of the building had been reconstructed from abandoned timber, now put to good use as a bar.
We were there at a quiet time (although the location does have to cope with the noise of passing traffic). The exhibition of mostly post-card-sized works contains some fine pieces and was well mounted in a very spacious area. However, we had come mainly for lunch and settled down to choose from a sensible menu. Some restaurants try to cover too many options and may slip up as a result. Zante works well with a menu the size of a single sheet of A4. (There is a second page, headed “Breakbrunch Menu” for those who like to have breakfast at any time of day, and Aris mentioned a few “specials”, but there was plenty of choice on the main menu.)
Aris opened the Zante Café Bar Restaurant last October. It runs in company with the Sante Irene, a venue for indoor and outdoor events, notably for weddings, with an outdoor capacity for 2,000 people. Indeed, the restaurant itself is a large and airy structure, probably well-suited to big parties. The two of us had the place to ourselves, and Aris gave us his full attention, front of house and in the kitchen.
One of us fancied a stir-fry and chose tiger prawns, spiced up on request; and the other had a very satisfying mini mezze. Both dishes lived up to expectation and contained some pleasing touches, all tastefully presented. Water in a lidded jug had greeted us on arrival, one of us had a beer and an upside-down cheesecake, and the bill came to less than thirty euros. The mini-mezze person judged the cuisine to be quite refined and healthy, a judgment with which the beerdrinking upside-down-cheesecake person readily agreed.
One particular plus was the price of coffee. Having stupidly paid over four euros for an undistinguished Cypriot metrio not long ago, we were gratified to see the same item priced at one euro at the Zante. In fact zero euros for us, because coffee was on the house.
Elena writes: “Author Sonia Demetriou will be here from the UK to talk about the inspiration behind her gorgeous book ‘Androula’s Kitchen – Cyprus on a Plate’. It’s a stunning publication that covers Cypriot arts and crafts, recent history, the great outdoors, as well as traditional recipes. Come and join us in the Orexi Secret Garden for lunch under the mishmash (apricot) tree. We will be serving French Onion and Parmesan Soup, Home-made Focaccia Bread and a glass of Ayios Onoufrios or Vasilikon for the grand total of 10 euros! Last year’s author lunch was a great success, so come along if you fancy an afternoon of scrumptious food and literary chat. Booking is essential. Phone 99 887293 if you’re interested.
A Bowl of Soup, a Crust of Bread and a Beautiful Book Friday, May 30, @1pm, at Orexi Catering, Drousia