The first thing one notices about Enya’s Mediterranean Kitchen are the cheese graters serving as lampshades for the bulbs overhead.
The dining room of the restaurant, located next to MK’s Pizza near Sheger Building on Namibia Street in Bole Medhanialem, is not large, fitting only seven tables. When Enya Gerassimides, co-owner and main chef, comes over to say hello, one starts to feel as though it is one’s mother’s kitchen.
Gerassimides, who took her first venture into the hospitality sector about a month ago with the opening of her restaurant, refers to the patrons of her restaurant as “guests.”
“I have been cooking since I was little,” she told Fortune on Tuesday, April 5, 2011. “Although it is my hobby and I am not a professional chef, I cook authentic Greek dishes that taste like home cooked food.”
Greek cuisine can be defined as more “hearty” than “refined,” and so is the cosy atmosphere. Emphasising the idea of a “kitchen” are the pasta strainers serving as lamp shades for the ceiling and wall lights. Using kitchen utensils as décor has surely never looked this tasteful, and while the ambience is casual, the room itself is certainly not.
Upon entering, a wave of warmth meets the eye, with yellow lighting and dark wood furniture, the serviettes and roses on the tables softening the hard surfaces of crockery and cutlery. The furniture arrangement is exact, making optimal use of the limited space. There are even candles in the spotless toilet.
“I am a perfectionist and want to be very good at what I do,” Gerassimides said.
She does not veer off this course to serve anything but the real deal.
The extra virgin olive oil (a characteristic element of Greek cuisine and used in most dishes), feta cheese (served with olive oil and oregano for 59 Br), kalamata olives (35 Br for a snack), and ouzo (25 Br), a clear anise flavoured liqueur that turns milky white when water or ice is added, are from Greece.
There are not any dessert items on the menu, as baklava, phyllo pastry layers filled with nuts and drenched in honey, is meant to be made with walnuts, and this is difficult or very expensive to come by; however, it should not be substituted with pecan nuts, according to Gerassimides, who aims to keep her prices reasonable.
The menu, on which the prices are indicated exclusive of VAT, features a diverse variety of dishes. The mezze (appetizers) range in price between 38 Br and 65 Br.
The lachanodolmades (60 Br), tender cabbage leaves filled with rice, herbs, and oregano, is a variation on dolmades (65 Br), grapevine leaves stuffed with rice and herbs; the light and slightly sour dish is a good way to start the meal.
There are also sparakopita (39 Br), a little pie made from crispy savoury Greek phyllo (another imported item) filled with leaks, herbs, feta cheese, and fresh spinach and onions.
The aside from olives, the vegetables and fruit are obtained from local markets.
Enya’s keftedakia (48 Br) is meatballs with oregano and mint and pan-fried in olive oil, while padjarosalarta (45 Br) is roasted beef with special dressing of extra virgin oil, yogurt, and nuts Patzaria skordalia (45 Br) features roasted beets served with potato garlic puree (skordalia). Another dip is tzatziki (35 Br), thick tangy yogurt with garlic and cucumber.
Pikilies (assorted mezze platters) feature Greek salad, skewed dolamades, olives, and dipping sauces (85 Br, meant for two people) and a piece of pie with dolmades, meat, feta cheese, vegetables, and dipping sauces (90 Br).
These platters are ideal for snacks with drinks, such as ouzo, local beer (ranging between 6.26 Br and 12 Br), or wine. A glass of red wine goes for 42 Br, and a glass of white costs 35 Br. Bottles of Italian red are 150 Br to 285 Br each, and a bottle of white costs 190 Br.
“We used to stock South African wine but it is not very popular,” Gerassimides told Fortune. “My guests argued that it is a Mediterranean restaurant and we should stick to wine from that region, hence the Italian brands. I have not been able to find Greek wine in Addis Abeba.”
The restaurateur was born to Greek parents in Ethiopia. The family moved to Greece when she was 12 years old. However, after 35 years there, she decided to return “home” with her husband and daughter, in August 2010.
“In Greece, I missed Ethiopia, but now I do not miss Greece,” she said.
Perhaps, the most famous of Greek dishes is the Greek Salad (77 Br), known in Greece as village salad, consisting essentially from tomatoes with cucumber, onions, capers, feta cheese, and olives, dressed with olive oil.
Different main dish specials are available everyday. On Tuesday, these were moussaka (75 Br), soutzoukakia (75 Br), arnaki sournov (76 Br), and Nile perch (95 Br).
Guests do not pour over the menu for a long time, as Gerassimides assists (she takes each food order personally), and there are not enough to go around the room. Made from brown and beige handmade paper (there is a smaller version for drinks), the items are beautifully written by hand.
“I plan to rotate the menu and include dishes from different regions to see what works,” Gerassimides explained.
Moussaka is an oven baked casserole consisting of layers of ground meat, eggplant, potato, and zucchini topped with béchamel (white) sauce and served with bay leaves.
“I receive many compliments for this dish specifically,” Gerassimides said. “This is something I do very well.”
The soutzoukakia smyrneika is elongated meatballs prepared with cumin, cinnamon, and garlic. First they are dipped in a little flour and pan-fried before slowly being boiled with a tomato sauce.
“I put in a lot of cumin,” said the chef. “That is the secret.”
The arnaki sournov is known as one of the most common dishes to be had by Greek families for Sunday roast. The lamb and potatoes are roasted with garlic, lemon, and oregano. Other meat specials (kreata) include stifao (75 Br), tender beef slowly cooked in red wine, and chicken with potatoes and lemon sauce (69 Br).
Aside from the Nile perch, dressed with olive oil and served with skordalia, there is more fish dished on offer, such as fried fish of the day, dressed with olive oil and served with skordalia (85 Br), as well as boneless pan-fried fish mixed with herbs and served with skordalia (75 Br).
Pasta lovers can also indulge in a variety of spaghetti and sauces ranging from Napolitano (fresh tomato and onion sauce) for 39 Br to Kokkimisto spaghetti with spicy fresh tomato sauce (60 Br).
Enya’s Mediterranean Kitchen starts serving meals from 11:30am until closing time, everyday.
“I have not decided what times or days to close,” she told Fortune. “It is too soon since opening. We have been busy at unexpected times, so I have not been able to determine the best time to take a break.”
She is still training the kitchen staff in cooking Greek food the Greek way and interfaces with the guests, all at once. In this, she has help from Angelina Bekakos, her nine-year old, who she calls “the restaurant’s mascot” and the energy ball helps the two waitresses serve guests.
At first, it is perplexing when they disappear when one wants to order food, only to return with Gerassimides. The service is fast and the food cooked in no time at all, resulting in a high turnover of customers. However, one is tempted to linger as, in the absence of baked dessert, guests are served complimentary fruit platters and coffee at the end of their meal.
Yet, the space is small and due to the turnover was not filled to its capacity, which might make it cramped and sacrifice all a guest’s privacy. Yet, that is only if one must have privacy in one’s mother’s kitchen.
By MIREILLE DE VILLIERS, SPECIAL TO FORTUNE