Friday, 31 October 2008

If I don't eat it quickly I'll thnk about it too much

We have had a lovely week in Cyprus. Their summer doesn’t officially finish until the end of this week and the weather has been just beautiful. All of us, even the sun phobic 21st Century Teenager (to be fair he has cause to be), have picked up some colour. The only thing I have not enjoyed as much as I expected to is the food.

I had hoped to have accumulated a list of good restaurants in Paphos for my blog, but I can honestly say that, despite a great deal of effort and money spent, we have only found one restaurant we feel is excellent, and one that is very good, both of them in the hotel. This is, sadly, partly because of the effect of tourism on Cyprus, in that the very hospitable Cypriots try to serve us what they feel we like. This often turns out to be a great deal of meat and chips or French fries, alongside very few vegetables, which is of course perceived as the typical British/European diet. Nowadays, not everyone (particularly not the sort of folk to frequent more expensive hotels) eats like that anymore and it makes finding something to eat rather tricky. Olive oil is used in virtually everything. I am aware of the benefits of this wonderful oil, and indeed I use it myself in almost all my recipes calling for oil of any kind, but the use of it in cuisine here is almost to excess. It’s just a cultural thing, but sadly it has not agreed with me. The 21st Century Husband and I have suffered from regular indigestion along with various other difficulties arising from a huge change in diet.

Having said that, the breakfasts served in the hotel are very good, particularly the made to order omelettes. The chef who makes them is a jovial chap, and looks every inch the part of the typical chef, from his tall white chef’s cap to his very rotund tummy. I am amazed at how he remembers each guest by name, and even the things they like on their omelettes. This is a very large hotel, and it is fully booked at the moment. I don’t know how he does it. The rest of breakfast is a buffet,including a huge table full of fresh fruit of every description, yogurt, and even fresh dates. These juicy mouthfuls bear little resemblance to their dried cousins and I found them an absolute delight. There is another table full of pastries to rival those from some of the finest patisseries in Europe, and for those who like a full English breaksfast, a table with silver chafing dishes full of bacon, eggs and even pancakes and French toast awaits.

Both the restaurants we have felt are worthy of note are actually in the hotel, which is called The Elysium. Our favourite is the Ristorante Bacco, which as you can tell from the name is Italian. It resembles a typical Italian Cave restaurant, tucked away in the cellars of Rome, although of course this appearance is a total illusion. Our first dinner there I enjoyed a small plate of linguini to start, dressed in the most beautiful pesto I have ever tasted. It was clearly freshly made and the pine nuts bore no resemblance to the ones we get in England, which have clearly been a long time in transport. The 21st Century Husband had a salad of asparagus, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes with a lovely balsamic dressing. For main course, he and I had fresh sea bass (and the sea bass in Cyprus is like none of have tasted elsewhere, having travelled only a few yards from the sea to the plate) and the 21st Century Teenager enjoyed a Veal Milanese dish which he said was the best he has ever tasted. As I said to the sommelier, he has had Veal Milanese in a lot of different countries, so the restaurant can feel justifiably proud. The desserts were quite exquisite. My Tiramisu was as good as any I have eaten in Italy. We have since had another very enjoyable dinner there, although I would note that their definition of medium, when it comes to cooking steak, veers more towards rare than any medium I have ever encountered – even in France! It left the 21st Century Teenager lost for words, and being reluctant to ask for the steak to be cooked a bit more, he proceeded to eat it at lightening speed. When asked why the rush, he replied, “If I don’t eat it quickly I’ll think about it too much!” It did flag up our British reluctance to complain and I watched incredulous as a lady at an adjacent table sat unable to eat her steak it was so rare, but refusing to complain, and even refusing to allow it to be sent back! We pay so much for food in restaurants and yet we refuse to insist on getting what we want. Hopefully I’ll be able to teach the 21st Century Teenager the art of the diplomatic complaint before he is forced to down a $60 steak at speed again.

The other restaurant we enjoyed is the Epicurean Restaurant. It is not as good as Bacco, and our first meal there was a bit disappointing, with the exception of the incredible Cypriot Orange Cake we all enjoyed for dessert. Made with fresh oranges and ground almonds, this amazing concoction soaked in orange water was tender and almost too delicious to describe. Last night, however, our slightly reluctant determination to return was rewarded with a beautiful meal. A herb crusted salmon followed plates of Cypriot Meze (plates of ham, warmed pitta, hummus, feta cheese and other Greek dips). All were delicious. And our dessert of warm chocolate sauce poured over vanilla ice cream resting on a small bed of brownie style cake with a molten chocolate middle was just incredible.

For those of you who have been following the blog, and my interest in the seemingly world wide fascination with foie gras, I am pleased to report that every restaurant I have been to here has also offered a dish containing this controversial ingredient. Indeed the Quail with Foie Gras came highly recommended at Bacco while the Twice Fried Foie Gras at the Epicurean had many takers. Other restaurants offered variations on this theme, from the expected to the extraordinary. So here in Cyprus foie gras is thriving, just as it seems to be virtually worldwide. Chicago and New York chefs can certainly take heart!

The staff here are very attentive, although the subtleties of language sometimes lead to great confusion. We found out this morning that we were in fact booked into two restaurants last night by hotel reception, one of which we had been told we could not book into as it was fully booked! The staff in the restaurants are much better, particularly the Head Waiter and the Sommelier at Ristorante Bacco, who are attentive in the extreme, but not to the point of intrusion.

Speaking of Sommeliers, we have had some wonderful wines here in Cyprus, many of them recommended by this amazing young woman whose knowledge of wines belies her youth.

So although our holiday may have been an overall disappointment in terms of gastronomic pleasure there have been a few very memorable meals. And in terms of relaxation it has been quite unparalleled. The hotel’s spa and the gorgeous weather have ensured that! So on the whole, a very successful holiday but sadly not much to report back for the blog. If I were seeking total relaxation I would come here again, but for total relaxation with a gourmet edge, I’d probably head for Italy instead.

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