I must admit, I was fairly sceptical of this place at first. Why did it keep changing names? I had lost interest from the moment &Union became Weinhaus & Biergarten, possibly because it was just too difficult to pronounce, and also because &Union was a pretty good place, why did it need to change names when nothing inside seemed any different? And then suddenly Love Thy Neighbour was branded on the wall, leading to total confusion and even more reluctance on my part.
My presumptions changed when I attended a friend’s farewell, which revealed a proper dining room inside where there used to be a sparse bar area and counter. The walls had been jazzed up in a deep green with colourful hanging paintings, low hanging glass orb lights illuminating the table tops, and new slinky black steel chairs replacing the previous short stools.
The whole mood of the once beer hall-type space has now been replaced by one of sophistication, with a shift of focus from beer to food, contemporary Greek food that is, with a dash of Middle Eastern flavour.
Food24 was invited to try out the menu highlights over lunch, which gave me the opportunity to really understand the restaurant’s intention and to eat way too much exceptionally tasty food – never a bad thing.
The chef behind the magic on our plates was Nick Charalambous, his name offering a clue to his ability with Greek cooking. His family heritage lies in Cyprus where he recently visited, drawing culinary inspiration which he has successfully translated into the Winter menu at Love Thy Neighbour. Menu revisions like these will be a constant feature of the restaurant as Nick sticks to strict policies of ethical and seasonal sourcing of ingredients.
The fire outside in the courtyard is an integral part of the food and offers a laid-back mood making you feel just like you’re at a braai. This atmosphere changes once you’re inside, where a slightly more elegant mood prevails.
A lot of the food is cooked over the coals outside, giving it that charred quality and at times a smoky flavour. Even the bowl of olives has lightly burnt crispy edges which now seems like the only way olives should be enjoyed, rubbed with toasted rosemary and drizzled with olive oil.
The food kept coming, plates were proportionate to a group of four or so sharing, and each dish held ripples of flavour that had the whole table chiming in compliments. Dishes were colourful, fresh, and had a strong embodiment of Middle Eastern flavour, staying true to Cyprus’s cuisine that is directly influenced by its location. Nick has taken this style of cooking, enhanced it, and made it his own, giving it a unique and contemporary execution.
Here are the beautiful dishes from the Winter menu at Love Thy Neighbour that you simply have to try for yourself:
Taramasalata and preserved lemon, green olives and sumac Fava with fire roasted shallots, capers and nigella seeds, served with fire grilled flatbreads.
White anchovy with toasted chopped almonds, celery and olive oil.
The aubergine fries with whipped feta and date molasses, sesame seeds and mint, were a total hit. Smaller dishes like these are perfect for accompanying a drink.
The halloumi saganaki with pumpkin preserve and walnut salsa showed off Nick’s consistent balancing of flavours and his thoughtful approach to textures on each plate. The preserve sliced through the saltiness of the halloumi, which was again countered by the crunchy, oiliness of the nut salsa.
Warming and rich ricotta dumplings with chard, warm yoghurt, burnt chilli butter and sumac – a meal all on its own.
The cabbage had been cooking over the coals for around seven hours before we ate them. This was a highlight of the lunch and a dish that I cannot wait to eat again. The cabbage was basted in lamb lard and still held its crunch, and was served with tahini, muhamarra and sprinkled with dukkah.
Celeriac and green apple salad with kohlrabi, radish and dill and well as, chicken and pork souvla served with tzatziki.
Sheftalia, which is lamb and pork Greek sausages, served with sumac onions, parsley and herb salsa.
Finally for dessert, lemon Loukamdes (doughnuts) covered in traditional orange blossom syrup and served with a hot hazelnut chocolate sauce.
The food was sensational to say the least, and the lunch really showed off the versatility of both the Winter menu and the restaurant space itself. The menu is best shared because you’ll want to try a bit of everything, however some dishes like the ricotta dumplings or the Sheftalia are perfect as a main meal.
Then there’s the more snacky type food like the dips and flatbreads and the aubergine fries to accompany a glass of wine. It’s safe to say that Love Thy Neighbour is an exciting new dining spot, offering food that deviates from the Bree Street norm, and it really will wow you with intense flavours, impeccable quality and a highly considered, dynamic menu.