Restaurant review: KyreniaBy Tom Fahey
March 13, 2013
Now of course, restaurants do exist to give us pleasure and we don’t owe them anything.
But among all the formula curry houses and trattorias, the faceless chains, and the bevy of pubs serving food from a packet common to every British town and city, there are a few quirky, one-off establishments daring to do something different that we really do have a business supporting.
Such restaurants are usually small, unassuming sort of places and if absent-minded regulars do forget just how much enjoyment they’ve gleaned from meals past, worst case scenario is they might never get to go back.
With that in mind, bless me Reading for I have sinned, it’s been four years since my last visit to Kyrenia.
Walking through the door entirely unannounced on a random Saturday night, the last thing I expected was the metaphorical red carpet.
It’s very hard for restaurant staff to fake enthusiasm, and the glowing, first-name greeting, more appropriate to a long lost family member than some flaky punter, immediately reminded me why I used to visit monthly.
Seeing it repeated for other diners – all of them far more loyal than fickle-old-me – bought on a pang of guilt. How could I have neglected this local gem for the anonymity of so many fancy London tables?
I remembered how the minimalist, bistro-style looks and smart white clothing had so appealed in contrast to the daft mock-pantheon pillars, plastic urns and painted hillside friezes of the formula Greek restaurants I’d learnt to routinely avoid.
I recalled the three set meze menus (£18-£23) – each offering more food than it ever seemed strictly sensible to consume, yet each impossible not to finish.
Then effort invested in a wine list at least 50 per cent Greek came flooding back along with the realisation that Greek wine in fact isn’t all pine-flavoured meths. A glass of house white clocks generously in at £4, and pretty reasonable stuff it is too.
My meals here rarely, if ever, differed, but food militancy and an obsession with seasonal eating loses all relevance when you’re tucking in to traditional, national cuisine that’s consistently bloody tasty.
First, as always, the cold meze. Dishes of humous, tzatziki and taramasalata as serviceable as ever, but it’s the more unique options that have always made Kyrenia special: Pantzarosalata, a pink-tinged blend of walnut, beetroot and yogurt, potato salad dressed lightly with parsley and onions, a properly made tabouleh loaded with parsley and tender little button mushrooms pickled in vinegar.
Newbies should approach with caution – pitta bread may come unbidden but that’s no reason to eat it all because your cosy little table is about to overflow with hot meze.
Rice and meat-stuffed vine leaves, beef meatballs crunchy on the outside, gooey and fatty in the centre, fried calamari rings jumping from crisp to tender in a single bite, great chunks of Cypriot sausage laced with red wine, thinner, cinnamon-scented efforts, and a great pile of butterbeans in tomato sauce.
The seafood option includes king prawns, whitebait and, my personal favourite, chunky tentacles of octopus, long braised, brushed with oil and almost burnt on the char-grill.
A third course brings both pain and pleasure. The former because you’re approaching full, the latter because the melting, five-hour baked shoulder of lamb that is Kyrenia’s Kleftiko is a treat no matter how tight your belt, especially alongside the cool relief of Greek salad packed with feta, olives, tomato and cucumber.
Souvlaki kebabs served alongside it are left somewhat in the shade, but they take centre stage made with monkfish for anyone ordering the seafood option.
In all my visits to Kyrenia I cannot recall eating any baklava. Perhaps because I’ve been too full to manage it, or perhaps because Ihor – officially the nicest restaurant manager in Reading – always seems to have a shot of ouzo ready the second I’m done with the platter of fruit that concludes every Kyrenia meze.
Kyrenia is a unique restaurant that knows and values regular customers. Aside from receiving a lot of very good food for not too much money, being welcomed so warmly is the reason they come back again and again.
Well, most of them anyway. From herein, I pledge a monthly visit.
- Telephone: 0118 9476444
- Website: www.kyreniarestaurant.com
- Address: Kyrenia
6 Prospect Street