Dining Out



“Compliments to the Chef”


This cartoon is a from a 1970s issue of the much-missed magazine of humour and good writing, “PUNCH”    For several years, in the 1960s I had the pleasure (mostly) of working as its publicity and promotions consultant. 

Sometimes, the chef comes out of his kitchen, generally when last orders for main courses have been completed, to say “Hello” to his customers. A custom I like, because it bespeaks confidence on his part. Sometimes his tour of the restaurant is cursory, his simple comment being “Everything alright?” “Yes, thank you”, we generally say, or some-such word as “Wonderful”. On other occasions he stops with ‘regulars’ who tell him what a good fellow he is. The best chefs talk to ALL the customers, and listen to any comments including bullshit (or genuine) praise, and criticisms.

From my own dining experience you are most likely to see the chef in these circumstances: (a) When he/she owns the place and does the cooking; (b) When the place is up-market/expensive or a hotel (where restaurants are often dreary places and anything out of the ordinary helps brighten up the occasion) (c) The guy is not 100% confident about the cuisine and thinks “the personal touch” will help create happy customers.

All too often customers are so besotted at the mere fact that the man who has cooked the meal for which they are paying fifty Pounds a head has deigned to come out of his den to hold court with them, so all they can mutter is how great it was. When they get home, of course, the wife says: “HUH! And you said how tough the steak was and that the sauce was crap!”

Mind you, there’s one restaurant not far from where I’m writing this where, IF the chef stops by your table he’ll chin-wag for ages – a case of where he talks as well as he cooks.

Recently, staying at a 3-star tourist hotel in Scotland, we enjoyed our dinner main course of Braised Beef in Red Wine and when the chef did his rounds we told him so. He then described the six hours it had taken from trimming and cutting the meat to bringing it slow-cooked out of the oven. The next morning, outside the hotel I encountered a large van with a famous catering firm’s name on the side. The delivery man told me his firm provided ALL the food served in the hotel, including the braised steak.

I don’t mind ready-cooked meals. And you find them all over the place, especially when travelling. I remember one day when I looked at the dish before me. It was baked macaroni, better known to Greeks and Cypriots as Macaronia Pasticcio. The sauce was fluffy, the pasta properly cooked and the minced meat very tasty. Now this is a dish I often avoid. At its best it’s wonderful. But in the hands of fifty per cent of the taverna cooks it’s a heavy, dry, indigestion-creating disaster.

Where was I? I was 10,000 metres in the air, sky or whatever. Up there, on a Cyprus Airways Airbus 320 bound for Stansted. By the side of my tray was a little bottle of Island Vines red (I had at least two) I was content.

I am not a snob about flying or eating airlines’ food. 95% of my air journeys have been in economy class (I figure the back of the aeroplane with the peasant like me in it, with luck, lands at the same time as the front), and of the other times, up-front with the alcoholics, eating roast New Zealand lamb washed down by Chateau Margaux at midnight wasn’t worth paying six times the economy class fare.

I have maybe pushed a tray away untouched three times in several thousand flights (Sudan Airways springs to mind), and the grub at the back has nearly always been OK. Mary and I once flew to Stockholm from London in the front row of Economy. we got a cold lunch. The chap in front, back row of Business Class, got a hot meal. “My word”, I said to Mary, “that smells good”. “Yes”, came a voice from the seat in front, “But it’s not worth a hundred and fifty Pounds”.

An oriental flavour…


The oral tradition is strong throughout the Mediterranean region, where distances are considerable and life has been essentially rural. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in Arab countries — where apocryphal stories have been passed from village to village and father to son for centuries. Many are cautionary, some are philosophical and many are amusing and concern what we might term "the clever village simpleton". None are more worth telling than those of’ one such figure-of-fun, Jahar", or "Joha". This one is Palestinian.

Jahar was invited to dine at the desert tent of Sheikh Abdallah and sat cross-legged on a large carpet on the ground. A huge oval platter was brought forth. Upon it a whole sheep, stuffed with boned chickens, themselves stuffed with smaller birds, which in turn were stuffed with minced lamb and pine-nuts. The sheep was surrounded by huge mounds of steaming rice, into which fat and meat juices were freely running.

The guests took Arabic bread in their right hands (ONLY in their right hands) and scooped slivers of meat, rice and juices and quickly transferred the delicious food to their mouths. But Jahar had noticed that the ground was sloping away from him and the desirable melted fat and juices were seeping into the rice on the opposite side from him. He pondered upon this for a minute or two and then announced:

"I was attacked by three robbers on my way here this night".

"O Jahar", the Sheikh asked with concern, "What happened? Are you alright?"

"O Master", replied Jahar, "Allah, to whom all praise and thanks, protected me. I spurred my donkey and ran at the biggest robber. I jumped off and hit him with my stick, whereupon the other two ran away. Then I grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him around and away…. just as I turn this platter". And with that he gave the huge dish a mighty heave, so that the juicy rice came round to face him. With a smile of triumph he took bread and mouthfuls of meat, rice, fat and juice.

You may not be in the mood for whole stuffed sheep, but you may like a lovely succulent rice dish that originated in Turkey. It can use cooked lamb, if you like and is therefore good for using up "left-overs", but you may prefer fresh meat, I do. It is called:


Ingredients for 6 servings

450 grams long-grain rice

1 litre light meat or chicken stock

450 grams of lamb, diced

2 good sized onions and 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced

450 grams of ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 coffee cup of pine-nuts or sliced peeled almonds grilled brown

60 grams currants or sultanas

5-6 tablespoons rendered lamb fat, "dripping" or olive oil

1 scant teaspoon ground cinnamon and 2 pinches ground cumin

Salt and pepper to taste


1. In a heavy saucepan with lid, heat 4 tablespoons of fat or oil, tip in the rice and stir well until rice has a coating of fat.

2. Pour in the stock, cover and bring to boil. Turn down heat and

put lid on. After 15-20 minutes the rice should be cooked and liquid absorbed. In a large frying pan, heat remainder of fat/oil and fry onions until beginning to turn golden.

3. Add all the other ingredients and gently fry for 5-8 minutes.

4. Combine the meat mixture and the rice in a large warmed

serving bowl and serve with yogurt and salad.

And what can one do with rice, when there’s no meat about? Vegetarian pilaffs can be delicious — these for instance:


1. Onions, very, very thinly sliced, fried in a very little oil, very

slowly, until they are going brown and crisp; add some flaked

almonds and thinly sliced mushrooms, stir and fry for another

five minutes or so.

2. Mix in the rice and serve.

3. Just as the rice is cooked, stir in frozen peas, sweet corn and

very finely sliced red pepper and leave for 5-10 minutes. Very pretty.


1. Slice and fry an onion and several cloves of garlic. Stirring


2. When they are cooked through and theedges are stsrting to

Brown, add a sliced green pepper, some mushrooms and a handful of sultanas, and fry for 5 more minutes.

. 3. Then stir in 3-4 chopped tomatoes.

4. Cook on medium heat for around 10 minutes, adding salt,

pepper, powdered cumin and cinnamon to taste. Stir now

and then.

5. Serve on a bed of rice, with accompaniments of your choice: a hot and spicy chutney, some stir-fried chopped green vegetables or tiny cauliflower florets.

On Opening a New Restaurant during an Apocalypse — Matthew Stowell’s Despatch from Cyprus


Viva Vadym!


You have to be a man of courage and, some would say, more than a little trella to open a fine dining restaurant of even moderate size in the desolate atmosphere of the current grim economy. Vadym Gruzyn, who has just opened Viva la Vida in Old Limassol (featuring a Mediterranean menu), would seem to possess both qualifications. Fortunately, for him and for us (his potential customers) he is also a man of excellent taste, wide experience in food and wine, and hard-won wisdom in the ways of intelligent pricing. But how he manages to produce haute cuisine dishes at such low prices is beyond even a waste-not/want-not mindset such as my own. At the grand opening, Adrianne Phillipou of the Cyprus Weekly told me, "Is this what we need now—another fine-dining restaurant in the middle of mass restaurant bankruptcy?" But she had seen only the grand opening menu, which didn’t display prices. And she hadn’t been served the first course.

Viva la Vida 2 interiorHaving tasted the food on that night and then again at lunch the other day, I would say that Viva La Vida is exactly what Cyprus needs in the middle of a—let’s hope temporary—financial apocalypse. Of course, lunch or dinner will cost a bit more than you would pay at a souvlaki joint or a chain pizza outlet (Does good pizza exist in Cyprus?), but you will be dining in the manner of such well-heeled notables as Sir Elton John, a gourmet for whom Chef Patrick at Viva la Vida was personal cook a few years ago.

"I don’t like empty restaurants," declared Vadym over a glass or two of the excellent red wine, Paladin Salbanello. "My intention was to open a restaurant serving quality food at truly affordable prices. Why should only the top 10% of society be able to dine well?" This is a man after my own heart and palate (but not my bank account).

The space that Viva La Vida now occupies has a long history of restaurants, but its most recent occupant was Kokolaikia. Vadym performed extensive renovations and redesign, retaining an ancient tree that dominates the courtyard but also importing—at great expense—an even more ancient olive tree. The result is one of the most pleasant courtyard dining areas in Cyprus. But the interior rooms also have their own special charm and practiced air of unfussy comfort. The walls are adorned with an evocative collection of nostalgic black-and-white photos of old Limassol (40s? 50s?) by Edward, one of the premier photographers of the island’s historic past. The high-tech kitchen features a wide picture window through which diners can observe Patrick and his accomplished crew slice and dice, sauté and grill, steam, roast and bake the food they have chosen from a limited but extraordinary menu. For example, where else in Cyprus can you find authentic bouillabaisse? (I do know one place but it serves a bouillabaisse that no resident of Marseille would serve to even his pet piranha). Viva la Vida’s version, at €15, is a small miracle.

Viva la Vida 1  Mussels


Other sampled and enthusiastically recommended dishes, from across the Mediterranean, are: refreshing Gazpacho Soup (€6) from Spain; herb-encrusted Bruschetta with prosciutto and figs (€7) and scrumptious Lobster & Saffron Pasta (€25) from Italy; tangy and wholesome Grilled Swordfish with lemon caper sauce (€20) from Malta; plus wonderful Black Angus Chateaubriand with Bordelaise sauce and plump, astoundingly delicious Mussels Mariniere (white wine and garlic sauce) (€12), both of French origin. For dessert, I can attest to the excellence of Chef Patrick’s Vanilla Cheesecake and the Italian-influenced Fig & Pear Tart with frangipane. I wish I had a piece of the latter to enjoy with my Lebanese coffee right now.

Viva la Vida 3 steak

In future visits, I’m anxious to try the Shellfish Soup, the Chicken ‘Faux’ Gras, the Marinated Sardines from Slovenia, the gingery Grouper from Morocco and the Spanish Prawns in garlic, lemon and chilli. I will also go back again and again for the Mussels, which are from Greece and large and the best I’ve eaten since my Cape Cod days. I was recently in Brussels, where mussels are king, and I sampled that delicacy with tremendous pleasure in three different eateries. I never expected any restaurant in Cyprus to top that experience, but Vadym and Chef Patrick have done just that.

The wine list, still being developed, now boasts more than 80 labels, and naturally concentrates on the Mediterranean, including bottles from France, Italy, Greece, Spain, Lebanon, Portugal and Cyprus. The list reveals solid knowledge and experience in wine, the prices not overly inflated. Personally, I believe that list would be much improved by adding more labels from Cyprus—we have at least 20 producers of top quality wines now—as the local grapes pair so favourably with Mediterranean cuisine.

But this is a minor caveat. The good news is that Viva La Vida has started off with culinary fireworks, a very attractive setting, soft prices and a well-trained staff who know how to smile and work efficiently to please each guest. It’s the right formula for success, one that will help create a quickly expanding coterie of loyal and satisfied fans. We also commend Viva La Vida for hosting live jazz in its courtyard every Friday evening from 8 o’clock on. It adds another soupçon of class to an already top class venture.

Viva La Vida, 239 St Andrew (Agiou Andreou) Street, Limassol 25 377 753, open every day for lunch and dinner. Meal for two with wine or beer, €30 – €60.

Swedish Lunch at “The Bell”


Jonny Nicolson, The Bell at Sax’s ebullient and enterprising chef-proprietor seems to add and more strings to his culinary bow as the weeks go by. Among a variety of events and occasions he has organised in his tenure is a themed monthly lunch. To date, among others, we have sampled Lebanese, Greek, French and Swiss […]

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The SuffolkEater reviews the Seafood & Grill at the Brudenell, Aldeburgh


To get the best of eating at the Brudenell Hotel Aldeburgh, you need daylight and either a table on the terrace or one inside with a sea view. However, as we found out a week or two ago, its Seafood & Grill has a pleasant, comfortable feeling about it on a blustery rainy autumn evening. […]

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