Ηaving choices in eating has probably been a human impulse since the dawn of time. One can almost hear the cave dweller saying, “No, I think we should splurge tonight, dear, and have the wild-boar steaks.”
John Leonard, What the Ancient Greeks Ate (and How They Ate It)
I dined recently in four excellent Corfu restaurants. As a chef, historian and culinary travel writer I struggled for years with the term “authentic cuisine” until I came to the realization it was only a marketing term with little to no basis in reality. Of these three choices, what’s “authentic” Greek/Corfu: kumquats from southeast Asia first grown on Corfu by a British botanist in the 1860s, molecular gastronomy at the Venetian Well restaurant or maybe the McDonald’s on the UNESCO World Heritage City of Corfu Town’s main square, Spianada?
Like most of Greece, Corfu cuisine is regional and heavily influenced by the geo-political realities that shaped this ancient land. An Ionian island just off the north west coast of Greece, its cuisine morphed depending on the current conqueror. Its history is as convoluted as any in the eastern Mediterranean world.
Corfiot food is a mongrel of the Balkans, ancient Greek/Mediterranean (the Spice Route), the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Venetian Empire, France and England – too name just a few influences. This is not to diminish the quality of Corfu products (except too many candied kumquats). Food requires quality preparation to be enjoyed by diners, not provenance.
The Venitian Well, Akrotiri Cafe, Evdemon Restaurant and Domes Miramare epitomize quality. They would stand out no matter where they are located. That’s all that counts.
In this photo essay there is no attempt to explain in detail the dishes. The taste complexity would make this article a cookbook. Besides, the number one rule that attracts a diner to the dish is the eyes. We first and foremost “eat with our eyes.”
Anyone familiar with Eastern Mediterranean cuisine will recognize the ingredients in most of the dishes. Perhaps the molecular gastronomic creations are different (and require a food science background) but the general ingredients are familiar. So…eat with your eyes.
Centrally located in the heart of the historic center of the architecturally distinctive Venetian influenced Corfu Town is the superb Venetian Well restaurant. The actual carved stone well was constructed in 1699 during the nearly 500 years of rule by Venice. Housed in a quiet residential neighborhood off the tourist beat, Chef Yannis Vlachos creates dishes that are visually appealing and culinary surprises.
(soup: crayfish, sweet pumpkin, ginger, lobster, corn mousse, tiny mushrooms)
The half dozen courses were paired with a half dozen excellent wines. The only “unusual” creation was the molecular beetroot bubble encasing seasoned olive oil with a garnish of feta. The icy bubble exploded in the mouth with pleasant flavors.
The chef employed other modern popular techniques including sous vide for fork tender baby lamb. An amuse bouche of beer ice proceeded an imaginative deconstructed tiramisu.
Akrotiri Cafe commands a stunning sea view high on the cliffs of Corfu. Patrons can dine on the terrace or in the modern glass walled main building with its comfortable furnishings and bar that create a lounge atmosphere. Chef Fotis Fotopoulos heads the kitchen.
Among his creations was a creamy cold Greek Salad Soup, which was neither a salad nor a soup but a “composed salad” with a tasty feta cheese mousse as its base. The kumquat, ice cream and mint pavlova was among the better dishes I ate using this ubiquitous fruit.
Dining in the Evdemon Restaurant is akin to an enjoyable evening in a friend’s home. The intimate venue, again with a stunning view especially nice at sunset, is utterly relaxing. The chef/owner is an accomplished artist (no idea how she finds time). Her work decorates the restaurant and the daily hand written menu!
The menu changes daily as well as the list of just a few wines from local Nicoluzo Winery that will pair well with the dishes. Among excellent dishes was eggplant ravioli with a sauce of grilled cherries, basil olive oil and a bit of chili for complexity. The Black Angus steak with a sauce of caramelized onions and a hint of chili was rich with a delicious mouth feel.
Corfu’s elegant and famous Domes Miramare Resort has a history as interesting as the island of Corfu. Constructed in 1962 by Aristotle Onassis, it was purchased in 2018 by the Emir of Qatar. After undergoing a 50 million dollar renovation the 188 room luxury resort is under the capable hands of a management company that has a great measure of independence.
Just 10 miles southwest of the UNESCO World Heritage city of Corfu Town this 5 star resort features a large stunning lobby filled with original art work. Local Corfu food products are artistically arranged and available for purchase.
Kostas Bibles, general manager, George Kiriakou, guest experience manager (note: the resort offers two water taxis to take guests on excursions to nearby sites) and Executive Chef Petzos Dimas create a waterfront dining experience worthy of a reason to plan a visit to Corfu.
The photos will speak for themselves. The ingredients are familiar to anyone who has dined on Greek cuisine. The presentations are art works equal to the ones in the lobby.
The renowned food writer M.F.K. Fisher said, ”First we eat, then we do everything else.” I do not think there is a Greek who would disagree. The prerequisite is quality ingredients cooked with expertise, not provenance.
When you go: Corfu International Airport (CFU) serves direct flights from many European cities including London, Frankfurt and Rome. Frequent flights connect the island to Athens and Thessaloniki. Ferry and coach bus connections to major Greek cities are frequent as well.
Special thanks: to The Golden Butler, Safari Xperience and Ducas Tours & Travel for facilitating my tour of Corfu.
Travel with Pen and Palate every month to Greece and the world in the Hellenic News of America.