Swill Magazine Issue 5 - Out Now

In a small beach town, on a not-particularly-famous Greek island, there’s a fine diner with no roof, no menu and no opening hours.

Emily Lloyd-Tait

fish

Even finding it is a mystery that involves leaving the sealed road that runs along the waterfront and heading down the shingled path that may or may not have scorpions on it (we’re warned to wear closed-toe shoes). Turn right at a hand-painted sign on the wall of a crumbling garage and eventually reach a garden gate with mermaids on it.  This is the front door of chef Kiriakos Antoniou’s restaurant. It’s an entirely outdoor affair where tables are set up in a courtyard surrounded by ancient olive trees draped in festoon lights. Luckily for everyone, the biting flies go to sleep once the sun goes down, but the stray cats are still free to roam under the tables and the cicada song drowns out just about everything else.

It’s the restaurant Antoniou’s mother, Stella, ran for 25 years, serving traditional Greek dishes such as stuffed tomatoes, taramasalata, tzatziki, moussaka, dolmadakia and pastitsio. Lamb and goat were often cooked over coals in the outdoor wood-fired oven. That oven is still burning, but these days it’s most likely to have an octopus in it, cooked slow and low in its own juices. The result is parchment-thin slices as tender as ham and almost as briny, served with squid ink mayonnaise and an earthy paprika sauce. Where his mother used seawater to cure olives, Antoniou uses it to clean giant prawns (“I don’t want to wash away the taste of the sea”.)

Instead of setting the opening hours and waiting for people to come, he only opens when there are reservations. “One day I can have five tables, and one day I can have three,” he says. “But this is life. Financially, it’s a sacrifice, but when I work less, I have more ideas. I cook better.” During the days when the restaurant is open, he designs his menu based on what his suppliers bring to the door. “I have people who go looking for what I want. Maybe a dusky grouper, or an amberjack,” he says. “If they find a big octopus, I want it so I can create. It provides so many opportunities – carpaccio, risotto, dried octopus. I once tried doing seven courses of nothing but octopus – it was very fun.”

When he gets a supply of big prawns, he combines raw slices – so thin they’re almost invisible – with little nubs, cooked and dressed in a butter emulsion. When sea bream is plentiful, he might serve some as a ceviche with local lemons and onion – the fillets pan-fried for a later course. Eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and rocket are brought down the mountain from his father-in-law’s garden while chickens and roosters are sourced from other farms on the island.

In between prep and service, Antoniou takes breaks by jumping off the concrete jetty into the crystal clear waters of the Aegean sea. Once a day, he swims the full length of the 1.5km bay. In fact, when I finally sit down for the seven-course tasting menu, it’s the first time I see him in anything other than his swimmers.

 

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Words

Emily Lloyd-Tait

Art

Maria Michurina

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