This 'citizen of nowhere' goes to Lemonia
It's always summer in Lemonia
Remember back in May when I entered the competition I wasn’t going to win? Probably not as I’ve had quite a few new subscribers since then… Welcome to this week’s newbies by the way! It’s a joy to have you and thank you to those who shared this newsletter last week. This week’s newsletter is a bit different from usual as I’m going to be publishing my entry for the competition for emerging food critics that I correctly predicted that I wasn’t going to win. I hope you enjoy your trip to Lemonia…
Lemonia, Primrose Hill, London
My Greek-Cypriot grandma, my Yia Yia, never understood that I didn’t like figs. She’d follow me around her small flat above a souvenir shop in Cyprus’ capital city, Nicosia, trying to convince me to eat them. I refused the figs, but I loved everything else she fed us. I thought it was so radical that she gave us marble cake for breakfast. Whenever I eat something that’s as sweet as that vanilla and chocolate marble cake, I recall the sugary taste of permitted rebellion.
Back in England, at a friend’s house, I’d watch their parents slide fish fingers onto our plates and I’d understand that my family was different. My mother is Irish, so I never felt fully anything. Now I have three passports and I eat a lot of fish fingers. Our former prime minister, Theresa May, said in a Brexit speech that ‘if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.’ So she might call me a ‘citizen of nowhere’ and I’d tell her to go to Lemonia.
Lemonia, in Primrose Hill in London, is where my half-Cypriot, half-Irish, London-dwelling family of four feel at home. We go to Lemonia for all family occasions. My parents have been going since my mother was pregnant with my sister and the restaurant was in a smaller space across the street. My sister told me she was having a baby in Lemonia and it wasn’t long until we were there with my nephew, who was given the good Greek name, Theo. Lemonia is where we’d be going for my thirty-second birthday this year if the country wasn’t in lockdown.
When we step through the doors of Lemonia, we’re transported out of the manicured streets of Primrose Hill and into the hustle and bustle of a Cypriot taverna. It’s always summer in Lemonia. The restaurant is warm, it’s bright and we wait for our table in the middle of controlled chaos. We’re shown to our table by the hostess, who weaves ahead of us through the waiters and places a plate of oily olives, carrots and radishes on the table that’s ours. The last of those olives are my sister’s.
Nothing changes at Lemonia, including the waiters. They’re all like my dad. They share his dry, but somewhat slapstick sense of humour. You hesitate for a moment when you’re not sure if they’re being serious or not and then you relax when they give you a cheeky wink. This style of humour has stressed out my English boyfriends in the past.
The starters, all on small meze plates, arrive quickly and with a fanfare of waiters coming from all angles around you. Before the waiters have finished putting the plates down, we start re-arranging where the dishes go based on our individual preferences. Our first tabouleh goes in front of my sister, the second tabouleh goes in front of my mother and the taramasalata is placed in front of me. I never learnt to speak Greek properly, so my communication with my Cypriot grandparents was limited to nods, smiles and eating their food. This is what happens when we’re devouring the starters at Lemonia. We descend into silence and we only communicate with each other with nods, smiles and pointing at the food. We pause only to reach over for more piping-hot pita bread, which is always rapidly replenished by the waiters without us needing to ask them to do so. The tabouleh is so finely chopped and zesty that placing it in my mouth is as refreshing as running into the sea on a scorching hot day.
Lemonia’s taramasalata is my favourite in London. My love for its thick and creamy consistency is unconditional. It strikes the perfect balance between the too pink, too fake cheap taramasalatas out there and the too delicate, too whipped and light types which are found in trendy restaurants. Those who know me well, know how much I love taramasalata. My mother sometimes can’t remember whether it’s the Waitrose or the Marks and Spencer’s one which is my supermarket favourite, so when she knows I’m coming home, she buys both.
Most of us order kebabs. The chicken is juicy, fragrant and the herbs taste delicate and are complemented with the lemon zest. My sister married, *the family whispers* a vegetarian, except he’s actually pescatarian, so he and my sister order the fish kebabs which are inferior to the meat ones. The fish is juicy, like the meat, but the way it slips around the tongue makes it too slimy for my tastes.
My dad, the only true Cypriot at our table, orders the traditional Cypriot dish of lamb kleftiko. The lamb is cooked in the oven on a low heat for hours. The meat is so soft and juicy that it slides off the bone like silk panties sliding down a newly-shaved leg. I feel mild envy when I see the softness of the meat, but the kleftiko doesn’t come with chips and I want chips with my kebabs. On occasion, the chips are undercooked, but on most visits, they’re crunchy on the outside, and soft on the inside. I drown them in salt.
At home, we eat salad with almost every meal and at Lemonia we make no exception, so we order an extra Greek salad for the table. I always finish it. The sweetness of the dressing with the salty boost of feta makes the salad incredibly moreish. I’m a slow eater, so I’m often munching on the salad long after everyone else has finished their main courses.
You’ll like Lemonia’s dessert menu if you like honey and nuts. We have baklava for dessert which is so sweet, that I enjoy it with the same delightedness as I did when I was in Nicosia and having cake for breakfast. If I’m feeling like more of a palette cleansing dessert, or have somewhere to go after my meal which isn’t a sofa, then I have the yoghurt, honey, fruit and nuts. The Greek yoghurt has a little tang to it, which is well balanced out with the sweetness of the honey and the salt of the nuts. When they bring the bill, they also bring Cypriot delight to the table. My dad instantly reaches over, clasps the little cocktail stick stuck in one of the sweets, taps it so some sugar falls off and eats it whole in one bite. Then he looks up at me, winks and smiles.
Figs are nowhere to be seen on the menu at Lemonia, which is a shame because I like figs now and I feel a twinge of guilt thinking of my Yia Yia whenever I eat them. I can’t go back in time and eat figs with my Yia Yia, but when restaurants in London do reopen, I can go back to Lemonia.