For someone as steeped in restaurants as myself, it is just bizarre to come across a great restaurant by accident that no one has heard of, has no web site, no reviews and I think no phone number. I am pinching myself the morning after and wondering if was all a mirage. Type Michalis Koumpiadis into Google and get some Greek. Type Ta Kiouypa and you can just about figure that there is a restaurant in Athens, (in fact run by his other son).
The pedestrianised old town of Rhodes is not short of eateries but they are for the most part slavish serveries to the tourists from neighbouring Faliraki and polyglot mix of international visitors. Ta Kiouypa might have been beamed down from another cosmos. The name Kiouypa translates as the pitchers as in wine rather than baseball,
As bizarre is to be informed that the house speciality is... kebab. The best kebab in the world perhaps? Too much sun perhaps? No, my instincts are not wrong on this one.
I am not actually the first person (as if) to find this. The night before Eric Clapton was in and his music is still playing on the cd. The night before that Roman Abramovich was in. Ta Kiouypa is hooked into a different network to those I am usually tuned into. Koumpiadis has owned restaurants in Greece through his life and is well known locally.
The restaurant is at the top of the hill, just set apart a few hundred metres above the tourist thoroughfares next to a closed Hugo Boss outlet and the bags, belts and bead sellers. There is a big book, a pulpit bible sized book, on a table set in the street where others have written their endorsements. It is a big book full of compliments because it has to be, I suspect.
Two rows of tables are set up on the terrace and patrolled by waiters in white shirts and uniform coloured braces (as opposed to dicky bows or ties). At this time of year the insides are redundant although, in the characteristic way that some great restaurants often have, the dining room proper is a slightly ugly pink and cream small box of a room that is not designed to be seen empty with an open plan kitchen staffed exclusively this night by an all female crew. For baking of this level you probably need a feminine touch. Michalis is sitting there alone watching over proceedings, his wife taking the money at the till, his son (black braces) Thiannis is explaining the dishes to the outside tables.
You have a warm Mediterranean evening, a quiet open street and suddenly bingo you have this food.
The warm filo pastry, made with the juice of unripe, green apples filled with goat's cheese is one of those miracles of cuisine where what you eat becomes, well something apart, if not art, but a transformation of the norm, the achievement of many years intuitive understanding of flavours, textures and the combustions required to achieve lightness, crispness and the oozing succulence of the just warm cheese. In 2009 the Guardian (I find out later) rated the aubergine at his other Athens restaurant the second best dish in the world (a spurious, ridiculous task but I will work the conceit anyway) but it is hard to see that it could be better than this...two dishes in the top 10? In the world?
Then comes corn bread with a carrot and yoghurt dip and a tapenade There is a menu but it is redundant tonight as the form is that a tray of starters is just brought out of the kitchen to choose from straight away...
Aubergine tonight is smoked and served with more yoghurt, a variation for sure but mystical, lyrical. There are snails, there is marinated octopus (which is also a spectacular grill later), broad beans crushed with orange, aubergine with pine kernels, wild greens - you could order the lot really for a huge mezze.
Main courses are largely grills but we are mandated strongly to the kebabs, spiced or with tomato and yoghurt, to which Thanassis adds in the rooster kebab (it is not chicken here, it is rooster, marinated although I am not sure if that is bad English or there is a cull on cockerels). The grill and the kebab are a style point in Greek cuisine here, it is the centre point, as in Italian meals, where that is what you get, protein, grilled, simple, seasoned, spiced, unadorned It is the pivotal point in the meal to where everything leads and from where everything follows...the kitchen is taking a breather while it is actually working on other dishes. It is an elemental reminder that you are here to eat, to be nourished, not to be fussed about with.
The chicken is laced with yoghurt and poppy seed, garnished with coleslaw and onions...They are good kebabs although how good can a kebab be?
What follows is a Chocolate Shock, a variation on that old (great) French dish negresse en chemise, only here there is no chemise. And then this slice of cake with a yoghurt ice cream. Cakes have different names in different cuisines but if I said this was Madeira made with cornmeal and it is perhaps a third contender for top 10 dishes in the world, that might do it justice...
We wash all this down with kioupias (I am taking to this word, as in copious ) of local white.
Brilliant place. Brilliant cooking. Brilliant staff.
Menekelous 22, Old Town, Rhodes, 85100.