Crete: Panorama Taverna & George

This is for my lovely friend Jane – possibly the blog’s biggest fan:
If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that I agreed with George, owner of Panorama Taverna in Istron, to go back for dinner at 8.00. In the end, with darkness falling around 7.00, the wind still whipping up strongly, and perhaps mostly because I’m not the greatest fan of eating late, I set off down the road for the short walk at 7.30. Outside was Gabriella, the girl who’d made my coffee this morning. Oh you’re here, she said. Everyone’s waiting for you; George is ready. I was a bit taken aback. I’m early, I said.

Inside, George strode towards me, sat me at a table I was happy with. Inside away from the cold and wind. A menu was put before me. A small bottle of raki brought – to help my digestion, George explained. They made it themselves. And very good it was too.

I hadn’t been give raki at the beginning of a meal before, although I’d read that sometimes it’s given as an aperitif rather than a digestif. Or even before and after a meal. With George’s help I chose a lamb dish baked with vegetables and feta. I said I’d like a glass of red wine as well. A huge glass came.

I could get seriously drunk before any food came. But I was very restrained. It wasn’t too long before Gabriella brought my food.

As is the custom here, there was lots of it. Apart from the lamb, there were chips and rice with vegetables and a lovely tzatziki. There was a basket with warm bread and small bowls of tapenade and mayonnaise. The lamb was very nice, the meat tender, the vegetables not too well done and the feta adding a salty tanginess. I ate the meat dish, the tzatziki and a few chips but there was no way I could manage bread too. George and Gabriella checked I was OK a few times; that I was happy with the food.

A cat joined me. It miaowed a request for food that I ignored. It tried to climb on to me. I said No firmly. It obviously understands English and obeyed and just sat looking at me for a while. Cats are everywhere in Greece and frequently in restaurants. I’m a cat person so it’s OK with me but I know a few people who wouldn’t like them in close proximity while eating. Or indeed, anytime. They’re beautiful cats. Quite small with huge, wonderful eyes.

After I’d finished my lamb and the plates were cleared away, Gabriella brought me a plate of watermelon. For the sweet-toothed amongst you, you’ll be disappointed to hear that I’ve not once been offered a dessert in Crete. Temptation has not come my way.

Then came a small glass of something fruity – and alcoholic. I asked Gabriella what it was. A surprise, she said! I decided I shouldn’t drink much. Fruity it might be but it could lead me down a false track like a glass of icy Pimm’s.

Gabriella came and sat down and talked to me. She apologised for not having time to sit and talk when I had coffee this morning. It was a kind thought but I’d never have expected it. We talked about her living in Istron, London, the weather. She said if I came back August was a better time to come. Then she went.

George came bringing another glass of the fruity digestif. How was my meal? Tell him honestly. And which was the best place to eat in Istron now. I prevaricated. It’s not the kind of question I like. Truthfully I said I’d had different food elsewhere. In Meraki I usually ate just meze. Then I added that I’d had some fish soup there at lunchtime. George got up. Fish soup! He disappeared. I knew what was about to happen. He came back with a bowl of fish soup. You know I can’t possibly eat that, I said. But I’ll taste it. It was very good.

George disappeared for a while to attend other customers. Two men and a young chef from the kitchen sat at the next table. George came back and sat with me. He told the men about my blog. Showed them the card I’d given him this morning. During this, one of the men sent across some of his pomegranate to me. The fruit in Crete tastes better than anywhere else, he told me. It was the richness of the soil, he explained. George leant in closer to me. Had I found a nice man in Istron, he asked. No, I laughed. I was on holiday. I wasn’t looking for a man here.

I decided it was probably time to go. I paid. I said goodbye to Gabriella. Come for coffee tomorrow, she urged. I’d already told them tomorrow is my last day. George saw me on my way out. I was a lovely lady, he told me. I thanked him. Said good night and headed back down the road. It seems in Istron there is never a straightforward meal out. But what a fabulous thing that has been.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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