Greece’s cuisine has been widely done in South Africa, however, not much of Cyrpus, which is why Ouzeri is celebrating the two.
With experienced Chef Nic Charalambous as its founder, Ouzeri creates dishes that meets the two.
He explains he’s trying to champion Greece as a whole through his cuisines and the different regions within Greece, and “obviously Cyrpus itself.”
Speaking to The Citizen said he didn’t have fears of conceptualising Ouzeri during the initial stages of the Covid-19 pandemic because he felt like there was a “cleansing” for the restaurant industry, as new establishments blossomed after the turmoil.
Returning back to Cape Town from Dubai, he returned with the concept of Ouzeri.
The name Ouzeri means a type of local hangout, tavern or bar you would find in Greece and Cyprus, that people clamour to after work, to enjoy good food and drinks.
Charalambous explains that Cypriot food has a bit more influence from Lebanon, Syria, Turkey and other parts of the Middle East because of its close proximity to those countries.
“[Cypriot food] has a bit more diversity in flavours. Traditional Greek dishes such as dolmades are stuffed vine leaves with rice. In Cyprus we don’t call them dolmades, we call them Koupepia.”
He says Ouzeri’s dolmades are served similar to how they do it in Lebanon or Turkey because there is more of a tomato base profile in the way they are cooked and served.
Because the chef is heavily influenced by his heritage, he joked that his family didn’t necessarily have a say on the final menu but they influenced his style of cooking from a nostalgic point of view.
This is demonstrated in menu items such as the Cypriot olive bread, taking inspiration from his grandmother’s recipe, a potato bread dough with an olive mixture, Charalambous says they bake it and serve it with anchovies and garlic.
He suggests people try the potato bread describing it as salty and fresh. Homemade halloumi by his sister-in-law, the hard cheese is grilled, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. He included on his list roasted olives and something different beef shin youvetsi with pasta rice.
Its been about a month since Ouzeri opened and the response has been “incredible and overwhelming”.
“I am really happy with how it has gone and how the team has managed, it’s been very good,” he says.
Having worked with the Tashas Group, which has many locations in South Africa and in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Charalambous worked in the Greek restaurant Avil in Dubai, he took some mentorship from the founder and owner Natasha Sideris.
“She has just been an incredible advisory for me, small things I wouldn’t have thought about.”
He further explains aspects of how to manage and train staff, “that has been her advice on how to keep everyone on board, keep people energised and happy, ready to come back the next day”.
Owning a restaurant and running it is a daunting and exhausting task, Charalambous says he reflected back on their first week to appreciate that his plans were finally coming together.
He adds the extra satisfaction came when a customer reiterated the experience he wanted them to feel. A restaurant which is relaxed “attentive and laid back in its style”.