Comfort food with a contemporary edge in the heart of Cape Town’s culinary centre.
Inspired by his Cypriot heritage, Nic Charalambous has opened an ouzeri – the first in Cape Town – on Cape Town’s burgeoning Wale Street. A cornerstone of Greek dining, ouzeris are casual after-work spots where locals gather to grab a bite to eat and a glass of ouzo or local wine (more about this later).
After running a string of pop-ups in the city, 31-year-old Nic decided he wanted a permanent space of his own, where he could recreate the regional dishes of Cyprus and Greece from his childhood, adding a few Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes inspired by his travels.
The interiors, courtesy of Master Studio, reflect the Aegean aesthetic, with curved white walls, arched niches, mosaic-tiled floors and tapestries, which speak to the craftsmanship of the region.
A soft-cornered rectangular hole in the wall looks into the open kitchen where Silwood-trained Nic and his passionate team conjure the most delicious array of modern Mediterranean comfort food.
Nic is passionate about supporting the “right kind of farming” and can literally account for every ingredient in every dish! The oregano, for example, comes from Meuse Farm in Hout Bay, which Nic dries himself. The halloumi – heavenly – was made on the very morning we dined there and is produced by Maria Van Zyl of Cream of the Crop.
As for the drinks, Nic has been equally forensic about selecting authentic, small-batch natural wines to accompany his dishes. The barrel wine – a staple of any ouzeri – is a collaboration with winemaker Jasper Wickens. Served in a traditional carafe and enjoyed in tumblers, it’s a wonderful accompaniment to the bold flavours of Nic’s food.
What’s on Ouzeri’s menu?
Redolent with classic Mediterranean flavours (olive oil, lemon, garlic, peppers and oregano), the menu features dishes from Corfu, Sifnos, Florina, Thessaloniki, Sparta and Macedonia. Mezze plates include chickpea fries, warm green olives with spicy paprika oil and eliopita (classic Cypriot olive bread), with delicious dips such as tashi (tahini-garlic-lemon) and tirokafteri (spicy peppers and feta).
Nic uses a charcoal grill to cook fish, thin-cut lamb chops and homemade sausages, as they would on the islands. It’s an exquisite balance between tradition, contemporary cooking and Nic’s own interpretation.
Mains feature hearty comfort dishes like youvetsi (meat stew with orzo pasta), lamb ribs with skordalia (garlicky mashed potato dip), manti (Greek-Turkish ravioli-like dumplings) and grilled lahana dolmades (mince-stuffed cabbage) with fennel sauce.
The sweet ending is a simple choice of yoghurt cake with a sour cherry syrup, or traditional mahalepi (a rosewater-cream pudding) with pomegranate, Campari and clementine sorbet.
All dishes are suitable (and recommended) to share among the table. A relaxed meal at Ouzeri is sure to be a joyful, big-on-flavour occasion that needs to be repeated very often.
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