There’s something about the produce in Cyprus. The tomatoes taste sweeter, the watermelons juicier and the oranges zestier than any we’ve tasted elsewhere.
But the domination of local cuisine by the set meze means you’ll sometimes find yourself plowing through another plate of grilled pork, village salad and chips, thinking, “There has to be another way to cook all of this amazing stuff.” Peiragmena does exactly that.
“We want to serve whatever’s in season,” said 43-year-old owner Yiannis Katchis. “We use various cooking methods and combinations of flavors, and every three months we change our menu. This is our philosophy.”
Situated in an old stone dairy in Lympia, a village halfway between Nicosia and Larnaca, the restaurant serves a seven-course menu with the option of any dish as an à la carte main course. Peiragmena means “tweaked” in Greek, and while the overall concept of the menu is Mediterranean, many of the dishes are new takes on Cypriot favorites.
“It’s not Cypriot, Greek or French, but there’s a lot of influence from various places we were,” Katchis said. “My partner was in Paris, I was in New York, so we bring things to the table, talk about them and move along.”
Katchis worked in restaurants and hotels in Manhattan and Rhode Island, and his business partner, Vasilis Koutouroushis, trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and worked at Le Meridien hotel in that city. They opened Peiragmena in February 2015 after deciding they couldn’t afford to serve the quality of food in the atmosphere they wanted if they had to pay higher rent in Nicosia, where they both grew up.
For summer dining, the restaurant has a pretty courtyard dotted with citrus trees. Inside, through a traditional archway, there’s another dining area with simple stone walls and a cozy bar area.
This summer’s menu focuses on stone fruits and melons. A meal begins with dips and salad, including a light-as-air zucchini and lemon-salt purée made from palkapa zucchini, the oversized Cypriot variety, which is usually served boiled and sliced with black-eyed peas and a squeeze of lemon juice. There’s also a flawless duck- and chicken-liver parfait with wild berry compote. The accompanying salad is full of perfect peaches and dressed with melon vinaigrette.
Next comes fried duck ravioli with plum marmalade and cream-topped chard, cracked wheat and spring onion served in a teacup.
Citrus chicken, which has proved so popular that it’s now always part of the menu, is a perfectly balanced mix of caramelized thigh meat, hits of lemon, orange and grapefruit and a hint of sweetness from honey.
There’s also grilled pork bifteki, a lighter take on the traditional Greek fried version, with fresh corn salsa and yogurt avocado sauce, a slow-braised beef brisket with tomato sauce and a pork, Guinness and summer vegetable stew served with carrot mash and a crunchy salad with walnut vinaigrette.
Accompanying all of this is fantastic homemade, long-fermented ciabatta, so good that it’s hard to hold back from taking just one more slice in order to save room for the next course.
But restraint is paramount, as dessert at Peiragmena is one of the best we’ve ever tried – fresh watermelon sorbet with a crisp cantaloupe tempura that sings of summer.
Everything is so sophisticated, inventive and flavorful that one would be happy to pay Paris or New York prices, but the bill comes in at €18 per person for the set menu. Wines are all local or Greek and don’t add much to the tab.
“This food is something new for our clientele,” said Katchis. “We need them to come in and taste it. We want to stick to the price we’re at now, and using local ingredients and promoting local produce help us keep to a lower budget.” That’s a tweak we wholeheartedly approve of.