Kefalonia – a culinary journey

The largest of the Ionian Islands, Kefalonia is as diverse as it is vast. From the farmland and vineyards of the Paliki Peninsula, to the sheer cliffs and rocky shoreline of the north, this island is filled with surprises and brimming with Greek charm. Although famously known as the location for the blockbuster movie Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, the pull of this instagramable island destination is deeper and more visceral than Hollywood’s immortalization of the island – there is in fact far more to it than meets the eye. Prepare to be seduced by this island on so many levels, from its crystal-clear waters, stunning stretches of sand, picturesque villages and rich biodiversity all the way to its medieval castles and monasteries. Our focus however in this article is on the food – delicious, fresh, colourful and full of flavour, you’ll embark on a culinary journey to find tavernas and restaurants serving up creative, tasty cuisine.

You don’t need to leave home, lunch by the pool with breathtaking views over the Ionian Sea is hard to beat, but in the first of our Kefalonia destination guides, we focus on eating out with Kefaloni homeowner Denise (view home) sharing her top six eateries on the island from an authentic, family-run taverna to a trendy, vibrant wine bar…

This is an excellent family-run taverna in a lovely rural setting, you’ll often see sheep wander past! As far as the food goes, the meat grills are divine and the pork steak – that takes up the whole plate – is incredible. The chicken kebab is to die for and the vegetable mezes – in particular the spinach and potato au gratin, the stuffed aubergines and the mushrooms in red wine sauce – are heaven on a plate.  Beautiful deserts come in the form of lemon meringue pie, brownies, chocolate soufflé and the best Greek (French!) dessert ever – Mille-feuille. Well priced and good value this little dinner-only hotspot is a must-try, but be sure to make a reservation in July and August as it is hugely popular with the locals and tourists alike.

This traditional beach tavern, with beautiful coastal views, is the perfect spot for both lunch and dinner and is precisely what Greek culinary dreams are made of. Think tender, perfectky-cooked calamari, expertly grilled octopus, and moreish saganaki (a sinful deep fried cheese – similar to haloumi.) With a wide variety of local organic and French wines on offer, speak to the owner Panos Sarris, who is also a sommelier and who makes his own excellent white wine and award winning extra virgin olive oil – Panachori – to ask for his recommendations on the perfect wine to accompany your meal. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you’ll need to make a reservation, particularly if you’re hoping to have dinner there, during the peak of the season –from July to mid-September.

  • COVA BAR, Avithos Beach

In this very unassuming wooden structure on the beach, you’ll discover one of the most chilled-out, laidback places on the island. Toes in the sand, fabulous sunsets and bar snacks available ( from hot dogs to pastas to sushi) is what this cosy little seaside venue is all about. Try the aperol spritz or opt for a refreshing mojito, but dress casually and expect to while away the time well into the wee small hours of the morning.

Perched elegantly over a pretty, quaint little beach harbour, is fine-dining restaurant Denis. The beautiful setting, wide variety of cocktails, interesting restaurant decor with a huge al fresco bar carved from an enormous piece of wood and decent, hearty food with an interesting twist, make this one of our favourites. It’s open for lunch and dinner.

A funky and upmarket, but very relaxed little venue offers a top selection of International fare. Try the risotto or order one of their juicy burgers and pair your choice with a bottle of wine from the extensive wine list, which includes wines from all over the world. Oinops is open for lunch where you can sit outside, while evening meals are served inside. The service is excellent it’s open until late and it has a really good vibe.

  • CASA GREC, Argostoli

This restaurant has a fantastic reputation on the island for exquisite upmarket cuisine. Set in a quaint courtyard and serving up a mixture of Greek and international fare with dishes such as a yummy lentil salad and Prawns Provençal on offer, Casa Grec is slightly more expensive than most, but it’s well worth every Euro. There is a Good wine list and it’s popular with the locals so be sure to make a reservation to avoid disappointment.

Should you be embarking on a day trip to the area, this casual, simple little gem is very much worth seeking out. The excellent food comes from an eclectic international menu – try the black beans and the fasoulia ( green beans in tomato sauce) and the grilled sardines. There is a beautiful beach below that is well worth checking out, and the views across to Ithaca island are breath-taking.  

With stunning views across the whole of the Livathou region – including St. Georges castle in Mazarakata – and sumptuous, traditional Greek fare whipped up by an excellent chef, this little eatery is perfect for a romantic dinner. For added romance, request a table under the vines in the outside courtyard on warm summer nights.

  • KASTRO CAFÉ, Mazarakata

Another family-run taverna where you can grab a hearty breakfast to kick start your day, or hit up for a spot of lunch, provides a pretty garden setting adjacent to St. George’s Castle in Mazararkata. The wonderful, happy service and amazing breakfasts, coupled with the very tasty, traditional Greek food infused with a variety of British flavours and favourites make this feel like a home away from home particularly as the owners, Spiros and Nicky, will make you feel very welcome indeed.

Situated beside a beautiful, picturesque harbour where you can watch the sailors as they tie up their yachts and come ashore, Vasso’s offers top notch food and friendly service. Restaurants in the north of the island are a little more expensive than the south so expect to pay more, but with the freshest fish caught directly from the Ionian Sea, the wide variety of appetizers and snacks, the unique and unusual salads and a carefully selected wine list, it’s totally worth it. 

  • IL FAMILIA, Sami

Situated a little away from the main harbour front, this lovely restaurant offers a wide variety of traditional Italian favourites from pasta and pizza to grilled meats and vegetarian dishes. 

  • THE MERMAID TAVERNA, Sami

When you arrive, be sure to seek out Effie so you can ask her for Mama’s specials of the day. The family recipes produce unsophisticated, yet delicious, fare served up in huge portions just “like Mama used to make it”. So kick back and relax as you take in the views across the harbour, watch the world go by and listen to Effie’s captivating stories.

  • THE OLIVE LOUNGE, Lourdas

A cut above the rest, The Olive lounge serves up dinner in the form of excellent traditional food accompanied by excellent service and an impressive wine list. It’s quite a large space, but is still cosy and the setting if beautiful. 

Thank you to Denise for sharing these culinary gems with us, our tastebuds are tingling for some Kefalonian cuisine. Denise’s  stunning home (sleeps 11) is nestled in the south-west corner of Kefalonia in the Leivatho area, a beautiful location in the little village of Kleismata. It has terrific access to sandy coves and beaches, and also offers amazing hillside walking trails, perfect for working up an appetite!

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