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Chef and owner Nic Charalambous started Ouzeri as a series of pop-ups to showcase traditional Greek and Cypriot cuisine, and to present a version that had not yet been seen in South Africa. It was so successful that he opened a permanent space, which bridges the gap between familiar and experimental. The menu is compact, and intentionally so. Nic strives to offer a balanced variety and a perfectly curated experience through just 16 dishes, using ingredients treated with immense care, attention and precision, allowing them to take centre stage in unexpected ways. Start with small plates such as tirokafteri (a spicy feta dip) with perfectly cooked chickpea fries and pil biber chilli; beef tartare with a deep, nutty walnut skordalia (garlicky potato dip), toasted buckwheat, pickled chillies, grated Karoo Crumble cheese, chives and lemon zest; or anari-and-spinach dumplings with burnt whey butter and aged halloumi. For mains, opt for smoked mussels with chicken rice and avgolemono – a beautifully executed lemony chicken broth enriched with whey rather than egg – or the supremely popular beef shin youvetsi with roasted bone marrow and goat’s cheese. Revithia (chickpeas), served with mushrooms, slow-cooked chard and yoghurt, offer a completely new and memorable take on this humble legume and will keep vegetarians more than happy. There are just two desserts on offer: a yoghurt cake with mastiha (mastic) cream, figs and almonds; or mahalepi with sorbet – a soft, rosy panna-cotta-textured dessert with grapefruit sorbet – simple, refreshing flavours to end the meal. Each dish is listed with its place of origin and the presentation is uncontrived, trusting the distinction of flavours and ingredients, and offering excellent value for money. The experience of eating here is relaxed and confident, trusting in good, well-prepared ingredients, great flavours and textures.
A tightly curated beverage list is on offer, and a cocktail – such as ouzo and grapefruit – might be suggested to kick things off. Two “barrel” house wines (a red and a white), made in the Swartland, are served by the carafe as is traditional at a Greek taverna. The list is rounded out by interesting garagiste finds, including some skin-contact and sparkling options. The sommelier is happy to suggest pairings, and there are some special options on offer.
Service is relaxed, attentive and confident, with knowledgeable staff more than happy to make suggestions from the menu and the wine list.
The space is busy and lively, but not loud. The understated, stylish Mediterranean decor completely suits the style of food and service, creating a gracious feel in a very urban environment. Expect whitewashed walls, a muted colour palette and elegant yet simple decor.