Cypriot hospitality is legendary. Whether in Cyprus or in London or in any of the many diaspora locations throughout the world where Cypriot communities have become established, restaurants are the number one occupation. Unsurprisingly however, nowhere is Cypriot food better exemplified than in Cyprus itself. On this island, there is a perfect storm collision of generous hospitality, sun-ripened fruit and vegetables, naturally grown meat, delicious wine and - best of all - low, low prices.
It goes without saying that you can eat any cuisine in Cyprus. The cuisine of the heart though... the central offering that any decent Cypriot will want to offer you is the meze. What is the meze? The meze is a multi course feast of a meal. A never ending banquet of tiny plates, each offering a delicious taste of island produce, sometimes served plain, on it's own, standing on its own deliciousness; sometimes mingled with other ingredients, herbs, spices. Typically, a full meze will begin with around 13 cold meze plates, followed by 7 hot meze plates, then a main course, then a dessert, then coffee and a liqueur. Typical cold meze plates will include: beetroot, salad, yoghurt, bulgar wheat salad, houmus, tzatziki, goats cheese, olives, breads, aubergine salad, tahini; hot meze plates will be: liver and onions, meat balls, lamb sausage, grilled halloumi cheese, potato pancakes. Mains: lamb cutlets, shish kebab, chicken kebab, fish kebab.
Around Villa Rockheart there are a number of excellent restaurants serving meze - or sometimes called "full kebab". Here I list my favourites in all their different flavours of fabulous feistiness! All of the restaurants below serve a la carte menus but meze is the "main" offering.
Cenap: A traditional restaurant in the centre of Alsancak village, about 10 minutes drive. You can have the massive meze or the slightly less massive meze. It's a huge feast. Go hungry. The massive meze has about 50 dishes :) You can eat inside or outside and there is generally musical entertainment. Around 55 - 65 ytl per person
Archway: A traditional restaurant in the village of Zehtinlik, about 15 minutes drive. Huge restaurant where staff dress in traditional Cypriot costume. Often musicians play. Otherwise offerings very much like Cenap. Superb outdoor setting on a summer's night with views down a ravine towards the sea.
Villagio Templos: A lovely Turkish style house in Zehtinlik village. Excellent ambience both indoors and outdoors. The meze is built around a large joint of lamb: either leg, shoulder or crown roast. You can choose large meze or slightly less large meze around this main. The dishes here are a bit more unusual than in other restaurants. The joint of lamb is massive. Cost is around 50 ytl. Highly recommended
Charcos: A quirky restaurant in an old Turkish house and garden in Lapta (20 mins drive). This is only barely a meze but it is a delicious offering. You choose your main course from a large menu and this determines the cost of your meal. Included in this price is a starter which is generally a generous bowl of thick lentil soup; you also get bread, garlic butter and olives; then your main comes served with a large salad and a huge bowl of fabulous "from scratch" chips. The meal ends with a dessert, coffee and a liquer - all for the price of the main course.
Tervetuloa: Lovely Cypriot restaurant more or less at the bottom of our hill, just off the main road where the Merit Hotel sign is. You can eat in the garden or inside. Like Charcos, the price of the meal depends on the main course chosen, generally around 40 ytl. There is a wide range of choice from lamb cutlets to sea bass, meat cooked in a roof tile, chicken. For the price of the main you get 13 cold meze dishes, 5 hot meze dishes, the main, a dessert, coffee and a liqueur. Fantastic value and a very welcoming atmosphere.
10 minutes drive away near Escape Beach. Like the previous restaurants, the price depends on your choice of main. Steaks are a feature here and they are very very good. The twist is that you cook them yourself on a hot stone on the table. Various sauces accompany the main together with a large salad and chips. Before the main you get around 10 cold meze and 5 hot meze dishes and there is also coffee and liqueur. About 50 ytl.
The Kyrenia Tavern: In the old Turkish Quarter of Kyrenia, this quirky but much beloved restaurant is an old house and garden, run by an aged Turkish Cypriot couple and their son who worked as a chef in London. The meze is huge and imaginative. You have to book in advance and the choice surrounds the main: lamb shank, chicken or vegetarian. Most people oft for the lamb shank. The meal also includes a choice of red, white or rose wine. A very large number of cold meze plates is followed by a large number of hot meze tastes, then the main course, then a small dessert, a HUGE fruit display plate, coffee and liqueurs. Price is around 55 ytl. A very unique experience.
Niazis: Traditional Cypriot meze served around a choice of kebabs, served in a lively, buzzing atmosphere. The restaurant is almost opposite the Dome hotel in Kyrenia. Prices are around 45 ytl.