Agios Antonios market, 70008778, LEFKOSIA (NICOSIA)
Tue-Sun 12:30-15:00, 19:30-23:00
Food: [rating:4] 4/5
Service: [rating:3.5] 3.5/5
Ambiance: [rating:3] 3/5
When writing about Italian restaurants in general (Italian being one of my favourite cuisines), I can become a bit overexcited if I like it, and overly strict and judgmental when it is of average quality. So reviewing an Italian restaurant can be a double-edged sword.
As Isolani is the newly arrived sister restaurant of Limoncello (and is situated right next to it inside the market), I was definitely a bit predisposed in having rather high expectations of quality food and attention on detail to be found at Isolani. Having known Andreas, the owner, for sometime I know that he wouldn’t open something unless he had done his research and his trials. In fact when I heard he would open a traditional pizzeria I was immediately happy, as I am frankly tired of all the international restaurants-trying-to-be-gourmet-and-innovative-but-end-up-being-boring-and-unexciting. Traditional and tasty is the way to go!
Before I start writing about the food I need to clarify something I think. An Italian restaurant can be a lot of things, it can be a trattoria, it can be a and an osteria, it can be a pizzeria. Furethermore, if it is, for example, a trattoria it can be one that focuses on Tuscan food, Sicilian food, Bologna flavours and so on. My point is that, just because it is an Italian pizzeria it doesn’t mean that it offers everything that is Italian, something that a lot of people expect.
The short list of starters consists of a few classics like bruschetta with home-made bread, focaccia al’ aglio and one of my favourite dishes, parigiana di melanzane, while the pasta list consists of 3 dishes, all oven baked. There’s garlic in most dishes and I would suggest you get over it and enjoy it as it goes well with everything! As expected, the longest list is the one of the pizzas which other than the “Cipriota” (Cypriot), mostly includes traditional Italian combinations and ingredients like artichokes, prosciutto and Italian cheeses.
The eggplant “parmigiana” that we tried as a starter came fresh from the oven in a clay pot with melting mozzarella and thin eggplant slices. It was very tasty with had a strong flavour of Italy with extra cheese and extra olive oil. Although we were recommended to share the lasagne, a best seller, I really wanted to try the “conchiglioni”, large pasta stuffed with ragout lamb and eggplant cooked in basil béchamel– a dish strictly for meat lovers. Everything about it was good but I thought the flavour of the lamb was a bit overwhelming.
Finally the “Ponzese” pizza that we tried (mozzarella, prosciutto cotto, mushrooms artichokes and black olives) was excellent. In fact I was happy to see that their pizzas came as they were supposed to: out of a wood burning oven, prepared right there and then in front of our eyes by an Italian chef! The crust was thin, not at all soggy (a common effect on thin crust), with a generous amount of ingredients. I think that it would benefit from a bit more seasoning but I didn’t think this was too bad at all as the seasoning depends on the taste buds of each person. I was happy to have already found a favourite pizza. It was the “Isolana” and had the following toppings: spinach, prosciutto di Parma, egg and truffle oil. I loved the fact that the taste of truffle oil was strong and that the egg was not overcooked.
Although we were full having shared all of the above across three proud Cypriot family members we did try the tiramisu. I was reluctant to order only because I wanted to try their chocolate roll, but it didn’t stop us from devouring a large bowl of it!
Prices are all under 9€ for starters and 10-14€ for pizzas, something that I am generally happy to pay for good quality and tasty food. Even though the ambiance is quite fine (we got used to the renovated Agios Antonios market already), the main highlight is the guaranteed good food that is not pretending to be something it’s not.