WHEN Toula Katsarou-Vergeti published her Corfoit Delicacies of My Grandmother (Plous) in 2003 both the book and the restaurant were still rooted in the taverna heritage of tarama and tatziki. There was a notably good section on octopus. The first time I visited on the sea at Agni some years ago, it was still cooking in the same idiom, better than others but largely the same. In the last three years with the arrival of George as front of house it has morphed into something apart. It used to be people talked about her grilled prawns served on rice, now the emphasis is more likely to be talk about the rice – two kinds cooked with pine kernels – than the prawns.
The bread here is not the usual pappy white local bakery slices but home baked rolls. There are other subtle touches, so the supreme creamy tarama arrives with hot pitta triangles. There is a present from the kitchen of a slate of local produce – cheese, salami, olives, fig bread to open things.
There were stunning starters – a tartar of tuna mixed with tomato and shoots of samphire sauced with three blobs of what was called black mayonnaise but involved squid ink and olives somehow. As good was a stunning chargrilled squid stuffed with feta and tomato and grilled, served with a whole courgette, a green caper salsa and the black plate scattered with flecks of orange and red pepper. Another special of the night was carpaccio of tuna served with a potato salad. And fried prawns from Simi served in their own basket. And the octopus salad…
Either you treat the menu as one large mezze and share. Or you go for fish. As a caveat to that I have witnessed two people assert that her spaghetti vongole is the best, ever.
And then there is there is the signature rice, but that can share.
There is a knowledge here about different kinds of fish – in Greek there are declensions that cover different bass, bream to describe the meatiness, the delicacy, the elasticity, the sweetness, things that have not translated into English (which given how many scholars come here to pour over the ruins and the old texts is a bit shameful). The day’s catch is brought out to show on a platter before being dispatched to the grill and then expertly carved with fork and spoon by the table. A big fish is a good move in this context.
Big fish are not what you usually get in London and even if you could get one you might not have a kettle or a grill big enough to cook it on. And anyway big fish in London (unless it is a salmon) is what they throw back in New Zealand. These fish were not enormous but could feed four or more. They are served simply with oil and lemon and old school steamed vegetables. It is a rare treat, priced universally in three tiers from 90 to 70 to 50 euros depending on the species, lobster and red mullet at the top.
Tourists tend to go to the other two restaurants on the beach at Agni both of which are more brazen in their adverting and bring people in by boat and except on Sunday lunch when the Greeks arrive here in force, it can be calmer. In truth Toulas has outgrown the beach – it is now in its 36th year – the sunset, the jetty, the speedboats, the yachts, the clear waters where you can swim with the fish, have become distractions to her cooking. If this were in Athens or in the hills it would be seen for what it is, probably the best restaurant in Greece, or almost. (Pace Michalis Koumpiadis)
Toula’s, Agni, Corfu 49083 TEL: 00302663091350 – FAX: 00302663091045 email@example.com
There is a web site but like the cookbook it is lacking in certain essentials.