Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Panorama Taverna, Kefalonia

My sister Helena chose our holiday this year, as she had suggested a family trip and we were distinctly lacking in imagination. Fiscardo, on the Greek island of Kefalonia, was our destination.

Kefalonia satisfies all the beach holiday 'must haves': crystal clear water, beautiful beaches, quaint harbours, and a predictable climate. It also wipes you out. I'm not talking waves, but wallets. Fiscardo harbour's summer takings (€7 frappe, anyone?) will most likely solve the nation's debt crisis.

We followed the flocks to the harbour, and ate mediocre food at £30 a head for a few nights (chewy stifado, and enough Greek salads to put me off feta for life), before we decided to turn away from the harbour, dragged ourselves up the hill, and came across this beautiful place overlooking the bay.

The 83 year old owner and chef, Hrodotos, has been running his business, Panorama Taverna, for over 40 years. He'll offer you a laminated menu, but there's little point reading it. He makes 2 or 3 slow-cook dishes early every morning, and has a fresh selection of fish, meat, and vegetables for grilling or deep frying. Every day the menu changes: just as it should be. 'Let me tell you what we've got', followed by mouthwatering descriptions of the components of each dish, was music to our ears.

This was the beautifully rich feta (used judiciously) and tomato saganaki.

This murky Greek version of 'bouillabaisse' won't win any beauty contests. Hrodotos described it as 'special bouillabaisse', and it didn't disappoint on flavour: delicate and soft flakes of cod and red mullet in a light and herby vegetable-based stock, a refreshing change to the heavy greasy dishes Greece has earned a dubious reputation for.

Fried calamari. Not a hint of chewiness to these deep-fried and perfectly seasoned cephalopods - a hard trick to pull off.

Slow-cooked veal with lemon, carrot and potato. I rarely add potato to stews, rather cook them separately. If you do too, break the habit. It's easier to chuck them in a stew, requires fewer pans, and they take on the taste of the rich stock. Our 1-year-old boy couldn't get enough of this. The lemon and carrots gave it a fresh and sweet lift, and the veal could not have been more tender. A simple yet artful dish.

The homemade crème caramel. These little beauties were still setting, so I didn't get a chance to try them. I was reliably informed that they are worth waiting for.

Here's the man himself, gamely giving our boy a lift.

Should you find yourself homing in on one of Greece's most beautiful islands, please resist the overpriced harbour and head here. Hrodotos will welcome you with open arms, and the most spectacular home cooked Greek food you have ever eaten.


Russell Norman knows how to roll out a successful establishment. His easy-please small plates have had (primarily) young and hungry Londoners salivating and swooning for the last two years as he has opened, in quick succession, Polpo, Polpetto, Spuntino, and now da Polpo.

The informality of his brand (I think I'm safe in saying he has a little empire on the go) is key: osterias and bacaros featuring bare brick walls, sparse decor, no reservations, friendly and relaxed staff - if your tattoo is impressive enough you're in, apparently - serving at a prominent bar, and food for sharing.

Lunch at Spuntino ticked off three of his four joints.

The anonymous entrance is slap bang in the middle of porn central, Soho, and it fits right in. A good kind of seedy, its intimate subterranean vibe and bare walls exude NY cool. More a bar with food than a diner, the menu veers from Italian-style cicchetti, crostini, and pizzette to petite versions of American diner classics: mac & cheese, cheddar grits, sliders, chopped salad, and steak and eggs. Basically, anything that pairs well with a stiff drink.

Truffled egg toast £6. Click here to read Helen Graves in raptures over this now-near-mythical creation. I could smell it before I could see it. 'What's that horrid smell?', were my exact words, I believe. But like great cheese, you can't let one sense fool you, especially when it comes to truffles. This is a masterpiece, a brick of artery-tickling greatness: soft bread holding a molten egg yolk, smothered in truffle-infused melted cheese.

Eggplant chips with fennel yogurt £3.50. Good idea, but I couldn't taste the aubergine (the crunchy coating was too dense), or the fennel. Perfectly edible, and moreish, just not impressive.

Fennel, radicchio, hazelnut and truffle salad £5.50. This was very lovely: crunchy leaves smothered in a mustardy smooth dressing, spiked with a dash of truffle oil.

Baked figs, prosciutto, gorgonzola and walnuts £7. For me, the only let down. It was just a bit boring: heavy, and too sweet and sickly.

Zucchini pizzetta £6.50. A favourite from Polpo: I love these pizzettas. A thin, crispy base, with a perfectly judged topping decorated with chilli and mint. A refreshing pizza, and an obvious oximoron, in one.

We also found room for two of the four "sliders" (£4.50-£5 each), mini burgers in soft mini buns. The best burger meat I've eaten in London, though I have yet to try Meatwagon, Byron, or Bar Boulud. Let me put you in the safe hands of Burgerac to take you through these mini meaty delights in salivating detail. They vanished the moment they were served, hence no pic.

Shoestring fries £3.50. Addictive. Light as air, they practically evaporated on the tongue after that satisfying first crunch.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich £6.50. This was a sight to behold: two layers of peanut butter ice cream (more butter than ice, I'm guessing, as it was set but not freezing cold - hello heart attack...), sandwiched with raspberry jam. Sinful, and well worth a short stay in hell.

Lunch bill for 3: £69 incl. service at 12.5% and two glasses of Trebbiano at £7 each.

Spuntino offers good value, great food, and a hip place to prop yourself up at the end of a long night. I'm pretty sure I'm the last person in the capital to have made it there, and you're all probably seasoned regulars, but just in case... go!

Norman's opening a Jewish deli in Covent Garden soon. God help us, he'll be running for Mayor next.

Spuntino on Urbanspoon