I know this isn’t really fair of me to review a place that hardly anyone will get a chance to go to, but I was so impressed with this restaurant that I had to write about it. I also had to share some of my rather bad photos with you, in the vain hope that they might manage convey some of the magic that this place holds.
Going to Cyprus for Christmas was wonderful. Getting to see my Mum for the first time in years doubly so. We spent time visiting various places, cooking and eating and generally talking and catching up. A lot of time was also spent fussing the cat, and on a cold night in Cyprus, sitting in front of the fire surrounded by Christmas lights and watching silly TV, stroking a wildly purring, warm kitty is a perfect thing to do.
The Friday before I was due to return to Blighty, Mum took me to a local restaurant, tucked away in the old quarter of Girne, right next door to a Greek church, though now deconsecrated.
It looks pretty unassuming, and quite small at first glance. This was a traditionally built Cypriot home, and has been turned into a restaurant, run by mother and daughter. It’s called Ikimiz, which means “The Two of Us.”
The welcome is warm, in manner and in temperature, and we were very glad of both. It really does feel like you are in someone’s living room, that you are just out at a friend’s house for dinner.
I simply had to explore.
The view from my seat at table:
The gorgeous painted door next to us:
The entire place is full of artwork and decoration, all done by Fatma, the Mama and chef proprietor.
I decided to have a wander about outside.
What I found when I came out of the restaurant part was quite unexpected.
This was what I could see from our table, and I wanted to know what lay beyond that.
To the right, as you walk outside, there is a covered bar area ‘walled’ by plastic, where people were sitting with a calor gas fire, drinking and chatting. It looked very cosy indeed, with cushions and warm fabrics.
Just past that there are steps up to another courtyard.
Everywhere you look, there is a personal touch. An old bike fixed to the wall, as though the rider has just raced in from school and left their bike leaning. Pretty cups, or coffee pots placed here and there, but none of it contrived at all. The feeling that someone absolutely adores this little place is obvious throughout.
Up the steps and there it all is.
My photos do not do justice to the breathtaking effect of standing under a cold indigo sky, and seeing an orange tree in full fruit in front of you. To me it felt as if I had found the tree of golden apples, completely by accident.
Every part of this homely, comfortable place has something that has been chosen with care and love.
I could have stayed out there all night, hearing the gods speak and watching the years roll by. But dinner called.
First a beautiful lemon drink, which was a cross between lemon and orange. I have a suspicion it was made with the same lemons as the ones I hauled back to England in my suitcase. A cross between a tangerine and a lemon. The drink was sweet, but not sugary, and tart enough that it was refreshing.
Next up, a small appetiser of toasted bread and crushed coriander olives.
The hostess, Latife, brought out a menu on a blackboard so that we could choose the rest of our dinner. It’s not a big menu, but that is good, as if there were any more dishes, choosing would be nigh on impossible.
All the cooking was taking place in the walled in kitchen next to us, and every so often Fatma (Mama and chef) came out to say hello and ask how we were, talking to my Mum as if they were old friends.
Mum chose macaroni layered with meat and topped with a béchamel sauce, I chose assorted dolma. Vegetables stuffed with finely ground lamb.
Everything tasted of my childhood, which is what I wanted, and what my Mum knew that I would love. Cypriot food, for me, is set slightly apart from Greek food. There are more spices, a more Arabic influence perhaps. Whatever the reason, it is the food I grew up with, and often crave. So far our meal and hit every button. (The photos will not be brilliant, as it is very dimly lit.)
Latife then brought us out a crunchy, fresh salad, with spikes of herb flavours and a light dressing.
Mum had chosen steak and I went for spiced minced meat wrapped in homemade filo pastry with almonds.
I think it is safe to say that they do not stint on portion sizes.
I’m not sure how I managed it, but I did. Mainly because it was so very tasty.
The pastry wasn’t heavy at all, even though it had soaked up the sauce, and the spiced lamb was soft and well-flavoured with a fine texture. The sauce, or gravy, call it what you will, was deeply savoury and very meaty. For me, the addition of rice and potatoes was a bit too much, but then I don’t really eat an awful lot of carbohydrates usually. This time though, I was not going to miss out!
There was no way we were going to have room for dessert, or even a coffee.
We just sat, relaxed, listening and watching the restaurant bustle around us.
Even the Ladies’ Toilets have been made to look pretty. I loved the door
and the painted mirror too.
Not a surface, or a wall, or a corner has been neglected. You are eating your dinner in a house that is loved, looked after by people who exude charm and kindliness.
I may have wanted to kidnap this chair.
While we sat and chatted, Mama came out of the kitchen, took off her chef’s hat and shook out her hair, obviously done for the night. She came and spoke to my Mum, and although I can’t understand Turkish, I got the gist of “Is this your daughter? She looks like one of us!”
I should point out that Mum and I do not have the same colouring, so it takes people by surprise at first.
The next thing I knew I was being hugged by Fatma, and given a kiss on both cheeks. Believe me, when in Cyprus, you get used to this pretty darned quickly. No British reserve here.
Finally we said our goodbyes, and went out into the night. There was a full moon, and the sky was almost luminous with it.
The streets were very dark, and the houses looked all the more cosy for it. I didn’t want to leave but we were both starting to fall asleep, and Cyprus driving is fairly interesting at the best of times, but with no street lights…I shall leave it to you to imagine.
We bid everyone a fond farewell, and returned home to sleep the sleep of the very well fed.
Fatma Erim “All I ever wanted was to make our place feel like your own home, like you’re sitting in your own garden enjoying traditional home-made Cypriot food.”