Every February, the only thing I find crazier than the people who go overboard on Valentine’s Day, is their antithesis the love-Scrooge militia throwing around words like “rampant consumerism”. Calm down everyone. As long as whatever you do is reasonably within your budget and lifestyle (it’s not just about romance, you can show love – for free or otherwise – to family and friends too!), why not get into the spirit and have some fun?
With that ethos in mind, this year I ended up having one of the best value-for-money Valentine’s Day meals I’ve ever had. It was at Maqam Al Sultan, a Lebanese restaurant right on the Larnaca seafront. Being so close to the point of origin, I had high expectations for Lebanese food in Cyprus – apparently Lebanese trading schooners would anchor in Larnaca Bay as late as the 1950’s, not far from where the restaurant now sits.
Still not used to “Cypriot dinner time”, my table was booked for 7pm and at that hour the restaurant was virtually empty – that did not last long though, and later in the night there were a lot of parties being politely turned away at the door, despite the restaurant being quite spacious with indoor and outdoor areas, all of which were flamboyantly decorated for the occasion.
They were offering a special menu, which we knew would include a mezze, a main course, dessert and a bottle of wine for €65 per couple (a price unheard of in the US or UK on a Valentine’s Day weekend). So we had expected the mezze to be more of a sharing platter-type starter, but it was a full on mezze with 15 dishes. All the little plates were good, but what I most enjoyed was that they offered popular dishes like tabouleh and falafel, alongside dishes I’d never tried before like sambousek lahme, batata harra and rahib.
By the time the mezze was over we were actually already full and having serious doubts over our ability to ingest the main courses, and we could overhear other tables having the same struggle. We’d picked the ouzi, a slow cooked lamb dish served over rice mixed with ground meat and crushed nuts, and the pomegranate molasses and pistachio-encrusted salmon fillet. They were delicious but huge portions, so once we managed to make a decent dent into them and the belly dancers started, we decided to just sip some wine and share a shisha before tackling the dessert.
When the dessert did come, it was (thankfully) a dainty portion of ashtaliyeh, a kind of rosewater panna cotta, which was light enough to let us walk gracefully out onto the Finikoudes Promenade at the end of the evening rather than being forcefully rolled.
The quality (and quantity of food) for the price was extraordinary, especially considering the attentive service and the night’s entertainment. I would certainly recommend Maqam Al Sultan for a meal out in Larnaca, and next time I’m there I might even be persuaded to get up and join the belly dancers!