PORT Elizabeth restaurateur George Ioannides is back with a bang and so is Zorbas, the quaint Greek restaurant he and his ex-wife, Bonny, had started up in Central all those years ago.
I remember the charming little place that later moved to the beachfront, where it was never the same (in my opinion, at any rate).
Much has happened since I had my very first lamb shank at the “old” Zorbas… not least the couple’s sensationally messy divorce that made newspaper headlines more than once.
But all that is water under the bridge now; everyone has moved on and it is good to see George back in the restaurant trade and doing what he does best.
Our first (almost) visit a few weeks ago did not come off as our timing was poor – we’d gone there on a whim, without booking. It was also the day the matric results were released, which meant securing a table was “impossible, just impossible”, as the young lady at the front desk told us, since half of PE was celebrating.
So back we went a couple of weeks later, this time having made that booking. I’m happy we did too, as Zorbas has been packed to rafters virtually since the day it opened. We went on one of those balmy summer nights where you really feel like you might be parked under a Mediterranean sky – a fantasy Zorbas’ pared down decor feeds perfectly since it has that breezy Greek taverna feel down to a T.
We were especially struck by how reasonable the prices on the menu were considering the fine quality of the food, apparent from the first bite.
My starter of peri-peri chicken livers (R30) was among the best I’ve ever had, as the livers were deliciously soft and creamy. The sauce was not just your usual peri-peri gum-number, but rich and multi-layered with the flavours of slow-cooked tomatoes and herbs.
Salvelio, my husband, started with the crumbed calamari (also R30) which had a delightful crispy coating and was prepared to perfection.
He was equally impressed with his main course of whole baby chicken, more of a whopper than a baby and which had crispy skin and succulent meat permeating lemon and herb flavours.
“Don’t you just hate it when you order baby chicken but then the meat itself has no flavour? No such disappointment here,” Salvelio pronounced. You may also order it flavoured with peri-peri or garlic butter sauce.
My main course of lamb shank (R89), to my crushing disappointment, was a different story.
I must, at this point, confess the whole reason I was so keen to go to Zorbas in the first place was because, up to this point, at least three people had told me “you just have to have the lamb shank – best I’ve ever had”.
So that’s what I did; also because I had such fond memories of that very first lamb shank at Zorbas, magnificent in its Greek-style gravy, all those years ago.
In some ways my order this time around WAS amazing – I could tell the meat was of a excellent grade, the lamb tender and juicy as can be, the sauce a symphony of flavours. The only trouble was that, on this particular night, the chef had had such a heavy hand with the salt that it rendered the dish inedible. I tried my best but it was not to be, and so I sent back the plate and heartily tucked into Salvelio’s megababy-chicken instead.
Several others in the restaurant also seemed to have had issues with over-seasoned food, so I can only guess it was an uncharacteristic mishap with that particular batch of shanks.
For dessert we had baklava, that old Greek favourite, nicely done though it could’ve had more nuts, and a cigar-shaped treat whose name I forget but which I would definitely order again.
When our bill came I was taken aback to see we had been charged for the virtually uneaten lamb dish, but I did not challenge it as the meal had been most enjoyable otherwise, the service excellent and the food well priced.
George personally phoned me about five minutes after we left (I’d supplied a cell number when we booked) to apologise, saying his staff had not alerted him to the complaint, and offering us a free lunch on another occasion as we should not have been billed for the lamb.
Though I appreciated the offer I am unable to take it up as Weekend Post had paid for the meal and so it would not be ethical to do so.
But I will certainly go back and dine at Zorbas again at my own expense as I loved the food and atmosphere, and believe the salt situation to have been a once-off.
Zorbas is on 083-297-2444. This review visit was unannounced and the meal paid for in full.