Chef Nic Charalambous has been operating his pop-up food brand, Ouzeri, in Cape Town since late 2020 when South Africa was still in the throes of countless lockdown restrictions. His offering at the time (“A Greek Feast at Home”) included honest, flavour-packed Greek-style dishes like roasted olives with citrus, garlic and chilli; halloumi with apricot dressing; and lamb yiouvetsi, a stew made with orzo, cooked in a tasty tomato-based sauce.
Nic’s food is influenced by the culture with which he grew up and the regional cooking of Cyprus and Greece. The great news is that his food will be available at his soon-to-be-opened restaurant in Cape Town’s CBD.
“When I started working in the industry, there was such a focus on cooking and learning about other food cultures and techniques,” says Nic. “This, of course, has been very important to me as a professional, but I realised that I wanted to understand and learn more about my own food heritage.”
So the seed for Ouzeri was planted. And, over the years, Nic has been adding layers to how he wanted this idea to grow. He’s run various pop-ups at different locations in Cape Town, including The Athletic Club and Social and Leo’s Wine Bar, where diners were able to get a taste of the chef’s story on a plate together with the relaxed, intimate and hospitable ambience he created.
The name “Ouzeri” is the term for a traditional Greek blue-collar hangout. A place to catch up and unwind with a glass of ouzo or wine and some local mezze after work, often with a band playing rebetiko (Greek blues) in the background. Over time, the ouzeri evolved. The food became more substantial, there were waiters working tables, and the drinks list grew. But the food and the wine remained local and regional.
“The idea of such a personalised space where you can relax but also let loose really inspired me,” says Nic, “I want to cook food that has meaning and personal connection and tells a story of time and place. I try to do this by cooking with ingredients grown and produced by people who really care about what they do. You can then add the rest.”
View this post on Instagram
Nic will be mentored by restaurateur Natasha Sideris (of Tashas fame) and his long-time friend Sara Milner will be running the kitchen as head chef. The menu, while being based on regional Greek cooking, will also bring in elements from Nic’s travels through other parts of the Mediterranean.
Diners will no doubt find popular favourites like the Ouzeri potato bread with walnut, skordalia and anchovy or the tirokafteri (spicy feta dip) with crisps and paprika salt. The menu will be broken into sections: small snacks to enjoy with an ouzo or aperitivo, some classic and contemporary mezze plates, and some larger plates to be shared or enjoyed alone. For winter, you can expect comforting classics like the yiouvetsi and octopus stifado or pork chops with braised lentils and wild winter greens.
The wine list will be carefully curated, showcasing natural wines that are produced using minimal intervention in the vineyard and the cellar. There will also be a selection of ouzo and vermouths to sip on with your mezze.
And the space?
“I have been thrilled to work with Master Studio on the design of Ouzeri,” says Nic. “We wanted to create something that shared my vision of cooking food influenced by the unique regions of Greece and Cyprus. And we have brought all of these together in a space that feels nostalgic yet sophisticated. There are elements of the Aegean with curved white walls and mosaiced floors. There is the incredible tapestry that speaks to the craftsmanship of Cyprus and mainland Greece. And all of this is juxtaposed with clean lines of stainless steel and brass light fittings on the wooden ceiling. I can’t wait to see our beautiful bar under the wooden stairs that looks like something out of an old Athenian tavern. There will be lots of music and it will sometimes get loud! We will have an eclectic selection of music and even some records playing on weekend nights.”
Ouzeri will be located at 58 Wale Street in Cape Town and will be open for lunch and dinner. Bookings will open in mid-May.
Brought to you by Retail Capital. Click here for more new restaurant news.