Paxos – island eating


See also Greece is the word

Love rather than food was the primary reason we undertook the rather taxing journey to Paxos. 

An invitation to the final stage of the wedding of the son of one of my closest friends to a fellow lawyer received almost a year ago sent Jancis into a frenzy of planning which only partly bore fruit, sadly, thanks to British Airways’ IT fiasco. 

The Friday afternoon fixed for the ceremony fell at the end of the half-term week, specifically chosen to suit the bride's brother, a schoolteacher. But in the end neither he nor our daughter's family made the trip – he because his wife was awaiting the imminent arrival of twins while our daughter's family's flight was cancelled by BA and with it went our week together en famille in a villa. We stayed instead in the Torri e Merli boutique hotel.

My gastronomic expectations for our four days on this Ionian island were not that lofty. The setting, Ben’s Bar overlooking the beach, for the welcome party for the 120 guests on the Wednesday evening was memorable for the arrival by boat of the bride and her bridesmaids; the first appearance of the drone that was to film the entire event; the Greek wines carefully and kindly chosen by Julia; and the fabulous sunset.

The next evening the food was far more memorable, at a much smaller event at the villa of the groom's family for their friends. A few dozen of us enjoyed rare grilled tuna; chicken from a very well tended barbecue; beautiful dishes and platters of salads and the grilled vegetable for which the island is famous; all followed by several boxes of the sweetest baklava bought in from a sweet shop in nearby Gaios.

But Nature again was the star of the show. Across the water the sunset provided a cloud formation in the shape of that cloud forever associated with the fallout from the H bomb over Hiroshima. But on the terrace round the pool it was peaceful, quiet and took on many, different shades of pink before the sun actually set behind it.

The wedding dinner at Erimitis restaurant was again as notable for its location and its views (looking west into the setting sun with towering white cliffs to one side) as it was for the inevitable lesson in catering logistics explained to me by the mother of the groom. She had come with her future daughter-in-law last September for a tasting of the menu. Everything had tasted beautifully, she confessed to me, but that had been when the kitchen had been cooking for three. The same menu, this time cooked and served to 120, did not reach the same heights. But the speeches were great fun.

Perhaps it was this run of slightly disappointing meals that made our Saturday lunch at Boukoulos restaurant seem so spectacular. Or perhaps, again, it was the setting.

This restaurant is a 10-minute walk from the small port of Loggos, home to the usual collection of tavernas on the sea front; yachts moored quietly at anchor; shops selling everything to do with a holiday in the sun; and, most unusually, on the way out of this small town, a rare, independent bakery. Most of the bread on Paxos is white and Mother's Pride-like in appearance and texture.

We climbed the road past the bakery and dropped down on to the shingle Levrechio beach in a small cove. Initially we just stood there admiring its beauty and the crystalline turquoise of the sea.

Having swum and relaxed, we decided to head off to Bouloukos, a shaded taverna under the trees behind the beach where all the elements seemed to collide. A young waiter in a crisp white shirt with the restaurant's name clearly emblazoned on it; 'Zorba The Greek' playing over the loudspeakers; and dappled light falling on to the table that we were shown to for our lunch, the beach beckoning us from behind a row of bamboos. All seemed highly promising. And the menu, unlike many on the island, was freshly typed and in a wooden folder which they stored in a specially made box in between the tables on the beach and the main cooking area inside.

Our meal was spectacularly fresh. A plate of quickly fried prawns which we enjoyed, on the recommendation of the owner Spiros Anemogiannis, with a bowl of their tzatiki, that thick white Greek combination of yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and lemon. But this had a smoky aftertaste that made it taste even better than usual. The bread was very good too, firm and crusty, and when I asked whether this was from the bakery that we had seen in Loggos, I was firmly told that this was not the case. ‘We bake our own bread', the waiter told me with great pride, pointing to the oven beside the kitchen.

Then we moved on to a plate of courgette fritters, not the usual matchsticks but shaved lengthways into thin ribbons before being swiftly and carefully fried, and a fabulous dish of octopus with orzo in red wine. Octopus, a dish long associated with Greece, is not found fresh as widely as it once was but here it was very fresh, and served mingled with a large plate of what I believe is a form of pasta overlooked by too many chefs as it merges effortlessly with whichever major ingredient it is cooked with, including in this case the red wine. We shared a bottle of Greek rosé, a 2015 based on Bordeaux grapes (shame on us) that was admittedly a little too old, and finished with a scoop of slightly over-sweet vanilla ice cream and a bill for €84.

Not one cent did I begrudge the proprietor. From our table with its views of the beach and the sea to its spotless interior complete with a large tray of lemons on the bar and a magnificent wooden sailing boat attached to the walls, there was no shortage of good things to look at. And I could not help but notice the presence of a female chef in the kitchen.

That night while I ate a bowl of pretty ordinary spaghetti carbonara outside a bar in the port of Gaios as I watched Cristiano Ronaldo torment the Juventus defence, Jancis returned with 10 friends for supper at Bouloukos. I was very jealous.

Bouloukos Levrechio Beach, Loggos, Paxos, 49082 Greece; tel +30 2662 031336