“ Address: Piale Pashia 28 / 6026 Larnaca / Cyprus / Greece „
For me, one of the undoubted benefits of going on an island holiday is that you are usually not far from a fish restaurant. I do like a well grilled fresh fish, served simply with a wedge of lemon and a healthy sprinkling of parsley, black pepper and sea salt.
On our almost annual visits to Cyprus, we stay in the Larnaka area and, as you can imagine, the seafront is teeming with eating establishments clamouring for our custom. I am a fairly reserved sort, and find the sidewalk "greeters" - whose job it is to pull you toward the garishly displayed menu boards obstructively placed in the middle of the pavement - very off-putting.
This sort of hard sell is not an experience I particularly enjoy, so a few years ago, I was very pleased to find an excellent fish taverna - the Monte Carlo - a stones throw away from the bright lights and bustle of the Finikoudes (the main palm-lined sea-front promenade in Larnaka Town) which we now visit at least once for dinner during our holidays.
As you drive (or walk) around the bulk of the old Venetian Fort which anchors the west end of the Finikoudes, the playful chaos of the promenade melts away behind you, and you find yourself on the quieter seafront road of Piale Pasia leading up toward Makenzy Beach.
A word of warning - there is no guard rail on the "sea" side of this relatively narrow and dimly lit quayside thoroughfare, and there is a precipitous five foot drop into the sea, which laps directly up against the concrete, causing a fair bit of spray on windier days.
The Monte Carlo is a short way down from the fort and very hard to miss. The brightly lit main dining room of the restaurant is perched directly over the sea on a concrete pier, with the kitchens, toilets and indoor restaurant actually located in the building across the road. The Cypriots have the most liberal attitude to parking I have ever seen, so you can pretty much deposit your car where you like (within reason of course).
We entered the "satellite" dining room and were very quickly (and warmly) welcomed by a splendidly moustachioed middle-aged gentleman dressed in an open-necked white shirt and black trousers - a uniform typical of waiting staff in this part of the world.
He introduced himself as Savvas, and after determining that we'd rather smell the sea air than pollute our lungs with cigarette smoke, he escorted us to a table by one of the large open windows. As we sat down and accepted the proffered menus, our wide eyed four year old was still marvelling at Savvas' impressive facial hair and it was all I could do to stop her from pointing.
It was a balmy evening with the slightest hint of lingering humidity when we visited, but with all the windows open to the sea, the dining area was blessed with a gentle and refreshing through breeze. The direction of the wind is fairly predictable and thoughtfully, the smoking section is located down wind. It's a rather effective use of nature, as several diners were smoking in fairly close proximity to us, yet we did not get even the slightest hint of smoke.
The room, which seats around a hundred covers, is classically decorated with traditional wood tables and chairs. The crisp white tablecloth had a blue runner, with blue and white striped salt and pepper pots and a small blue dish filled with sea salt - an obvious and not so subtle tribute to the colours of Greece.
The view out of the window at night isn't much to speak of, but we had a nearly full moon whose pale white light danced across the waves towards us, accompanied by the sound of the water rhythmically and hypnotically lapping against the quayside. My sense of peace and relaxation was abruptly shattered by my four year old daughter, who announced to the whole dining room exactly how hungry she was and precisely what she thought about that.
The hard cover fold-out menu is an impressive affair, offering a large variety of locally caught fish served grilled or fried. The selection includes native red and grey mullet, kalamari, fresh octopus and tsipoura (gilthead sea bream) as well as more internationally recognised salmon, sea bass, swordfish and tuna. Unusually, a lot of fish restaurants do not serve fresh squid in Cyprus (a lot of it is frozen and imported), but the Monte Cristo does offer it.
If you fancy a bit of everything, I would highly recommend the fish meze at 19 Euro per person. You will get the traditional starters such as taramasalata, tzatziki, hummous and grilled halloumi (amongst others) followed by a enough grilled and fried fish courses (fried whitebait, mullet, kalamari, octopus etc.) to feed a small army.
If you don't fancy fish, I'm tempted to say you're in the wrong place, but fortunately the menu also offers many Cypriot meat and vegetable specialities such as sheftalia, saganaki, chicken and lamb grills, moussaka and pastitsio. I haven't tried any of these, so you're on your own here, but if the rest of the food is anything to go by, you shouldn't be disappointed.
The wine list is extensive and offers many international wines as well as those produced locally. These Cyprus wines are invariably cheaper, but a perfectly adequate accompaniment to your meal. I would recommend the dry white Aphrodite, or if you fancy something more medium sweet, the St Pantaleimon, both of which are produced by Keo (more famous for their beer). As always, large (660ml) and small (330ml) bottles of Keo and Carlsberg, both brewed in Cyprus, are available for a reasonable 3.50 and 2.00 respectively.
When Savvas came to take our order, I was slightly surprised when he entered our selections into a snazzy electronic tablet he pulled out from his back pocket. It seemed so incongruous with the traditional surroundings, but I suppose it saves him and his colleagues a dash across the road to the kitchens.
Eschewing the gut-busting meze, we opted for a small selection of starters followed by a grill each for our mains. We don't order specifically for our daughter as we - and she - are content to share. I ordered taramasalata (2.50), hummous for my wife (2.70), a plate of green olives (2.70) and a Greek salad (2.60 per person).
The portions were quite large and way too much for us to finish (not that we didn't try). The starters arrived with a small dish of mixed pickle and warm sesame seed baps - a departure from the pitta or Cyprus round bread usually served.
The taramasalata was fluffy, lemony and a quite pale pink with lumps of identifiable cod roe in it - absolutely delicious and clearly fresh and home-made. It was pleasing that the garish pink colouring usually added to this dish was nowhere to be seen.
The hummous was also very good - an almost perfect creamy harmony of garlic, lemon juice, chick peas, tahini and olive oil ("almost perfect" because obviously, only my Mum's is perfect). We also demolished the cracked green olives, which were marinated in lemon juice, garlic and herbs and swimming in extra virgin olive oil.
For the main course, I chose a grilled swordfish steak (12.50) with baked potato (instead of fries), and my wife plumped for fried red mullet (16.00). My fish was served with a lemon wedge, liberal sprinkling of parsley, steamed carrots and green beans and a small pile of rice. The sizeable steak was criss-crossed by grill marks and perfectly cooked. It smelled divine, was outstandingly fresh, full of flavour and practically melted in the mouth.
My wife had a bit more of a challenge with her mullet. She was presented with four whole fish (head and tail on) which had been gutted and fried, and spent a good while carefully de-boning and cleaning it before eating. In the past she has ordered the same and been given two larger fish (obviously half the work) so it obviously what you get depends on the catch of the day and portions are determined by weight. The fish itself was very tasty and less oily than I expected a fried fish to be.
We went on a Sunday night around 8:30pm and the dining room was only around half full, but it started filling up later and was quite busy when we were getting ready to leave. Service was friendly, attentive and faultless without being obtrusive.
Our total bill came to 45 Euro (not including tips), which included an apple juice and a bottle of mineral water. I declined my usual Cyprus coffee to keep the extras down, as this was without doubt the most expensive meal we had in Cyprus.
Some of that was our fault - we later learned that there is a selection called "salad and dips", which includes the dips we ordered, plus tzatziki and Greek salad - in smaller, more manageable portions - and at the bargain price of 2.90 Euro per person. Had we known, it would have saved us around 7.00 Euro and rescued us from the deadly sin of gluttony. To be frank, I was a bit miffed that it wasn't suggested to us when we ordered.
The food and the service are without doubt, top notch and the dining room over the sea is a very nice feature, especially if you fancy a bit of peace and quiet away from the tourist hub-bub of the Finikoudes. If you are looking for quality fish, simply served and expertly cooked, then look no further than the Monte Carlo. Highly recommended.
Monte Carlo Restaurant
Fanos Stasopoulos (Manager)
28 Piale Pasia
Tel: 2465 3815 or 2462 9504
All major credit cards (including AMEX) accepted.
© Hishyeness 2009