Newest Review: ... Meze - either Fish or Meat - can be ordered for a minimum of two people and is a real gut-buster that is much kinder on your wallet t... more
Panicos on the Streets of Pervolia
Soutsos Taverna (Pervolia, Cyprus)
Member Name: Hishyeness
Soutsos Taverna (Pervolia, Cyprus)
Advantages: Great atmosphere, good food, attentive service and Panicos
Disadvantages: Eastern European staff make proceddings slightly less authentic
Cyprus is our favourite holiday destination, and I am lucky to be blessed with access to a self-catering beach house - owned by my father-in-law - just a few miles west of Larnaka airport. We usually take the very civilised 8:45am flight with BA from Heathrow, and after a four and something hour flight, it sets us down in Cyprus around half past three local time.
After opening up the house, dumping our suitcases, making a mad dash out for the self-catering basics and arranging it all in the fridge, we like nothing better than to visit our favourite local taverna to get into the Cypriot swing of things.
Soutsos Taverna, run by a real local character called Panicos, has been our first night destination for the last four or five visits. We visited twice during our latest two week stay, but this review is an amalgamation of our overall impressions over several visits in recent years.
Soutsos is in the heart of the town of Pervolia, next to the town hall and across the street from the main church - Agios Irini - a useful landmark as its spire is the tallest in the area. There is a free car park across the road to the left of the restaurant.
The area has seen a fair bit of development since our first visit almost eight years ago, but the central part, with its many kaffenion (Greek coffee houses) and taverna's, still retains a certain village charm, especially when the area is closed off to traffic and pedestrianised during the evening.
Soutsos provides a typical and genuine Cypriot taverna menu. It features the usual host of starters and hot and cold mezedes (2 to 4 Euro if ordered individually) supplemented by some excellent grills - souvla, souvlakia, steaks and chops - and standout local specialities such as afelia, sheftalia, stifado, pastitsio, rabbit stew and moussaka. The excellent kleftiko and lamb tavvas are only available on Saturday (while supplies last).
Prices range from about 6 to 10 Euro for main courses, with the Mixed Grill and finer cuts of steak a little dearer. Desserts are simple and few in number - baklava, yoghurt with honey and walnuts, fresh seasonal fruit and ice cream - but rarely ordered for reasons which will become clear.
For the European and British crowd that simply can't survive without the comforts of home, more international dishes such as pizza, spaghetti Bolognese and omelettes also make a token appearance. I won't go into too much more detail here about the menu, as Cypriot and Greek food would probably warrant a review of its own. More detail on what we actually ate this time follows further below.
Portions are very generous, and most grills are served with a healthy portion of salad (tomato, cucumber, onion and cabbage) and a more unhealthy portion of excellent chips. You can ask for a jacket potato instead, which is usually oven baked to perfection.
The Soutsos Meze - either Fish or Meat - can be ordered for a minimum of two people and is a real gut-buster that is much kinder on your wallet than your waistline at Euro 16.50 (Meat) and Euro 19.50 (Fish) per person. One thing I would say is that despite the fact that portion sizes and the number of courses seems to have been scaled back in the last few years, it still represents excellent value for money.
A word to the less culinary adventurous - one of the courses will be local snails cooked in shell with garlic and butter, so its best to establish whether or not you are likely to want them when you order!
The tables at Soutsos spill out into the street, and it's is a great place to people watch, especially in the early evening. Old men gather around backgammon boards, trading insults with each roll of the dice while absent-mindedly cycling through their worry beads. Younger men enjoy a smoke and an ouzo, or perhaps a café kypriako as they work diligently through bags of sunflower seeds and discuss the pressing issues of the day. Amusingly, other than tourists and restaurant staff, women are usually nowhere to be seen.
Occasionally there is a mini-drama as a furious looking wife or significant other comes to retrieve a wayward husband who is perhaps a little tardy for his supper, usually resulting in a cacophony of uproarious laughter from his mates as he sheepishly shuffles off home. These genuine little street scenes - real windows into village life - create a unique atmosphere that you just can't get on the multi-national chain dominated and neon-lit beachfront strip in Larnaka.
Greek Bouzouki music is piped in discreetly on well concealed speakers under the main canopy, but if you want the real thing, visit on Thursday night from around 8:30pm, as they have an excellent live band. If the dinner crowd has enough visiting Greeks in it, expect spontaneous outbreaks of dancing and general joviality.
The one real change over the years has been the total transformation of the waiting staff. Long gone are the professional middle-aged Greek waiters in open necked white shirts and black trousers, with their impressive flourishes and intimate knowledge of the (now ever-diminishing) wine list. They have been slowly and steadily replaced by migrant Poles, Bulgarians and Romanians.
Although the Cypriot management team remains the same and are very much in evidence, some of the local flavour has departed with the loss of local staff. I was very disappointed, when after months of listening to language tapes, the reply to my opening salvo of "ligo nero me lemonia parakalo" ("some water with lemon please") was the rather sheepish "I am sorry, I do not speak Greek".
To be frank, I was somewhat taken aback. It turns out our waiter was Bulgarian and had been in Cyprus only a few weeks before being taken on as summer staff at Soutsos. He was a nice enough chap, but I did find myself vaguely disappointed. Despite this, service was quick, attentive and professional.
However, there is one fellow who makes this establishment what it is, and if they ever lose him, I fear Soutsos will turn into just another ordinary eaterie. His name is Panicos, a larger than life local boy made good, who makes his rounds after 9pm most nights - but always at weekends - joshing with his customers, summoning white shirted minions left, right and centre to attend instantly to his customers needs, and generally enjoying himself as lord of the manor and life and soul of the party.
Large in size as well as in character (though he is not fat - just stocky) he sports splendid facial hair, a gold tooth and a bandana over his head, giving him a roguish, swashbuckling air. When he is in attendance, the whole place gets a natural lift. Every table gets spoken to - and he always handles the payment at the end of the meal - to ensure everything was just so, to pronounce a handful of random items as being "on the khouse" (usually coffees and sweets) and to offer a "last night" gift of a bottle of his own house red wine if you make it known you are visiting for the last time before returning home.
OUR MOST RECENT EXPERIENCE
On our first night, we started lightly, with two dips - Tachini (sesame paste) and Tzatziki (thick Greek yoghurt with garlic, cucumber and mint) which were served with a basket of freshly toasted pitta bread. We also ordered a khoriatiki (village) salad - made with delicious and flavourful tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, lettuce and herbs topped with a generous slab of feta cheese. I make a point of ordering the oil and vinegar on the side, otherwise it tends to get slathered in both.
For our mains we ordered one pork and one chicken souvlakia (the Greek name for cubes of meat cooked kebab-style on a skewer). As previously mentioned, these are served with more salad and loads of chips (on our second trip, we left out the starter salad, as there was plenty of it served with the mains). My chicken was succulent, tender and well marinated. All it needed was a squeeze of lemon and it was perfect. My wife's pork was also very well done, but slightly on the fatty side.
We didn't order dessert as we were given fresh slabs of cold and sweet watermelon, as well as a plate of sweets on the house (sugared and preserved watermelon rind, orange peel and whole walnut flavoured with orange blossom water and cloves - which sounds vile, but they were absolutely delicious and incredibly more-ish). I finished with a well-made medium sweet Cyprus coffee (café kypriako metrio).
Apart from the food, we had two litres of water, which I was disappointed to see were imported from Italy (the Troodos mountains have a plentiful supply of excellent mineral water bottled from Agios Nicolaos or Agros so I can't understand the need to import) and a can of Sprite for the little one.
For the three of us (we didn't order separately for our four year old - she just had some of ours) the total bill came to a very reasonable 29 Euro. The second time we went, we ordered similarly, adding taramasalata (creamy and pleasant - if a touch too salty - and afflicted with that awful day-glo pink colouring that seems a mandatory addition) and substituting the chicken souvlakia for a chicken souvla instead (chunks of chicken instead of cubes). The bill was a similar 33 Euro and in my view at least, represents excellent value for money.
We do not generally drink a great deal, so both of our visits excluded the added cost of alcohol. However, a large local Keo beer (660ml) costs 3 Euro, while a smaller one (330ml) is 2 Euro, so you're better off sharing a larger bottle (or getting one all to yourself!). The many local wines available (such as Aphrodite or St Pantaleimon) will only set you back around 6 Euro, so will hardly break the bank.
The inside of the restaurant has a medieval theme, although you would never know this unless you went to use the toilets. The washrooms are modern and clean, with disabled facilities provided. All major credit cards -including Amex - are accepted, and the portable card machines used tableside ensure that your card will never leave your sight. Highchairs are provided for infants and small children, but most of the chairs are fairly low in relation to the tables, so you may need to provide younger kids with a booster of some sort (we brought our own).
As mentioned, Soutsos is located in the village of Pervolia, which is about 15km along the coast to the southwest of Larnaka. From the centre of Larnaka Town, follow the signs for the airport, then, once past the airport, continue straight ahead through two roundabouts until you reach a T-junction. Turn left here, and then right at the next T-junction, and follow signs for Kiti. Once through Kiti, Perivolia is clearly sign-posted. It should take you no more than 30 minutes from central Larnaka.
Pervolia Village Square
Tel: 24 424 832
Mobile: 99 682 957
Although the place has lost some of its local charm due to the new, migrant staff, the food is still excellent and you still get a great village feel. Soutsos also seems to have developed a line in hosting large coach parties at the weekends, so it pays to call ahead on the busiest nights (Thursday through Sunday) to ensure they can find space for you.
© Hishyeness 2009
Summary: A taste of "real" Cyprus and a perfect alternative to glitzy beachfront tourist traps
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