Zante - Re­viewed by Charles Dodd

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - Patrick Skin­ner

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.

HAP­PEN­INGS

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

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