Monday, April 6, 2015

Michelin Man

This review is long overdue. Periklis Roussounides, alongside Martino Speciale of No Reservations, are the best chefs in Nicosia and arguably all of Cyprus. What I most admire of their cooking is their restraint; less is more in both of their carefully thought-out repertoires. Subtlety and refinement with dashes of creativity take centre stage on each one of their plates. Many chefs sometimes try too hard to impress, muddling up flavours and techniques to create disjointed and messy offerings. This is never the case with Roussounides or Speciale. Periklis, of course, is The Rock's only Michelin Man, having received a single star decades ago for his restaurant XO, which (unfortunately) had to give it back upon closing. Let's just assume the island wasn't ready for that type of experience...

Last time we sampled Roussounides' food, Little Miss Despot was doused in olive oil and clad in white like a porcelain doll from seventy years ago. She had just received the Holy Spirit and decided to treat forty-plus guests to dinner at Dia Xeiros, his latest culinary lab. That was almost a year-and-a-half ago and I often felt guilty for not having returned. So a few weeks ago we rectified our oversight and headed there for dinner with The Wife, Ph.D., My Zolpidem Supplier and Cousin #4.

The corner restaurant itself is quite understated with simple chairs and tables in white and natural wood. Beautiful woven pillows made by acclaimed Cypriot designer Joanna Louca add pops of color to an L-shaped bench that anchors the back of the room. A small white bar sits across the longer side of the bench and an ample patio that serves as outdoor seating area surrounds most of the restaurant.

The menu consists of avant-garde interpretations of Greek and Cypriot dishes, all superbly prepared and presented. For Little Miss Despot's baptism, for instance, the appetisers included a creamy orzo risotto with wild mushrooms and truffle foam, chicken livers tossed in Commandaria, fresh mint and pomegranate, and Cretan dakos stuffed with feta and sitting on a rich tomato sauce. On our latest visit, we started off with a crisp and well-balanced romaine lettuce salad with dried figs, anari cheese (the local ricotta), roasted hazelnuts and a semi-sweet vinaigrette. As a main, I had a lamb shank with pickled onions, velvety mashed potatoes and a sweet reduction; the meat, which had already been removed from the bone, fell apart and matched nicely with the creaminess, bite and sweetness supplied in loads by its accoutrements. The Wife, Ph.D., and My Zolpidem Supplier had one of my favourite dishes: pork cheeks with a honey mustard glaze, turnip and sweet potato purees, and fried potatoes, a combination of textures, techniques and flavors that sings. One small issue I did find with the food was it could have been served a bit warmer.

Alas, I do have one major complaint. For a restaurant of this stature, the wine list is rather underwhelming. Most wines are Greek and Cypriot and this is commendable. However, the range is limited as it's dominated by Boutari, Tselepos and Kyperounda, all great producers but whose overwhelming presence takes away from the potential for diversity in the wine catalogue. That night, we sampled the 2012 Tselepos Nemea Driopi Agiorgitiko, an easy drinking, fruity and slightly spicy wine that matched most of our dishes.

In any case, I'm sure we'll be back sooner rather than later. Might be time for me to find a Godfather of my own, strip naked before a cassocked priest and then throw a party chock-full of Hallelujahs. Happy Easter, y'all.

Whine On The Rocks' Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Sparkling Spatulas

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