Sometimes the heat and humidity of the coastal strip in July and August becomes too much for even the most avid of sun worshippers in my house: hence the cry of “let’s head for the hills”.
What a joy to drive up to the mountains above Paphos and feel the air lighten and cool around you. On such a trip the thought of food is inevitable and Imogen’s Inn Taverna in the centre of the picturesque mountain village of Kathikas will satisfy even the most demanding of weary travellers.
As you step, blinking from the sunlight, into the cool dark courtyard all shaded with fig trees, you know you are in for a treat. Be careful though, the restaurant is situated down a narrow entrance, so it’s easy to miss. The courtyard is inviting with tables spread with red and white check cloths and the quiet chatter of happy clients, accompanied by the gentle clinking of crockery and delicious aromas. The inside area for colder days is creatively decorated with a vast selection of ancestral photos and posters.
Imogen’s Inn Taverna, which opened in 1996, is most certainly a family affair. The chef (leading a large team) is the charming Marina Neofitou, who comes from a family of restaurateurs. Her Cypriot parents, who were born in Egypt, had a restaurant in London and she was taught to cook by her mother. Her recipes are family favourites and are a closely guarded secret. Front of house, her partner Apostolos Vlachas and their son Paris serve the customers. The restaurant is named after their daughter Imogen. The spices that Marina grew up with are apparent in her Cypriot cooking and she uses locally sourced products wherever possible.
My travelling companions and I were ready for a feast by the time we reached this cool oasis in the hills. The menu has something for everyone, including a wide range of salads, meats from the grill and main courses including spinach pie, beef ossobuco, chicken pie and moussaka. The menu is designed for all: meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans. There are daily specials with Tuesdays being fish night and Friday kleftico night.
From a large selection of starters we went for the humous and melitzanosalata – a dip made from aubergines, tahini, garlic and fresh herbs – and both were on another level. This was accompanied by feta triangles, again not the usual offering of this traditional dish: beautiful filo pastry stuffed with feta, glazed with pomegranate molasses and dusted with toasted sesame seeds. We also sampled spanakorizo – a divine combination of spinach, lentils and basmati rice traditionally cooked with onions and garlic.
We were there on a Friday night and one of our party was able to order the special of the day, his favourite lamb kleftico. He considers himself a kleftiko expert, and to say he was in food heaven would be an understatement. He declared it to be the best kleftico he had ever tasted, very rich with red wine and oregano. Stuffed vegetables and meatballs in tomato sauce were our other main courses. Again, they were excellent served with wonderful homemade chips and salad.
Imogen’s dessert offerings depend on the day, as all are made on a daily basis. Our luck was in, as we had the choice of oven-baked lemon cheesecake, tiramisu and baklava. As there were three of us for dinner, we ordered one of each. Though not usually a dessert fan, I have to say if I fancied something sweet, I would happily make the 40-minute journey from home just for the cheesecake or tiramisu. No wonder this is one of celebrity chef Paul Hollywood’s favourite restaurants, as he stated on social media recently, with himself and his TV crew enjoying the food in the courtyard.
Imogen’s is so well-known that booking is essential. If you ever find yourself near Kathikas in the heat of the summer, make sure you don’t miss this gem of a restaurant which represents all that is excellent about Cypriot cooking. We cannot wait to return.