I’ve been quiet the last few weeks; I’ve been on a much deserved holiday to the Cycladic islands in Greece. I’ve been to Mykonos and Santorini many times before, and I added a few new islands in my travels to satisfy my adventurous side. I enjoyed beautiful beaches, pretty scenery and delicious traditional Greek food… but there is only one restaurant that is deserving of a detailed entry here, and it’s also one of my top 5 favourite restaurants in the world: Candouni.
Candouni is located away from the busier main routes in Santorini’s prettiest little town, Oia. Most people are familiar with Oia because it’s repeatedly listed as one of the world’s most beautiful sunset destinations, but Candouni doesn’t have a sunset view. This is one of the many reasons why I like it: tucked away from the main tourist attractions, it attracts a different, more discerning type of traveller who is looking for a more meaningful experience than just snapping their next Instagram photo. That’s not to say that it isn’t stunning, however: Candouni is magical, with the glow of its candles all around, many of its tables under a starlit sky with bougainvillea hanging over you. Often you’ll find that musicians are playing live Greek traditional music on guitar and ukelele in the corner. I find that it feels like I’ve walked into a dream; so much so that I think it’s the restaurant in which – if I marry one day – I think I’d most like to be proposed.
I also love that even though I may not have been there for a year or so, when I return Spyros remembers me and – unlike so many other establishments in Santorini or Greece in general – he never makes me feel like an unwanted guest simply because I’m there solo. Nonetheless, experience has taught me that whenever I book my flight to Santorini, the next thing I do is book my table at Candouni, and so it was already there waiting for me when I arrived in the evening for dinner.
Upon arrival, I took in the atmosphere of the place I had long been looking forward to see (it was only at the end of my trip that I enjoyed Santorini): the musicians were there as I remembered, the candles on all the tables were glowing as brightly as ever, and all was calm. The tablecloths, bougainvillea flowers, and all the details were just as I recalled, and that made it feel a little like coming home. In fact, it’s really not surprising that Candouni is a family restaurant.
Before I knew it, there was a glass of refreshing Santorini white wine in front of me, and a basket of soft, tasty, fresh bread in both white and brown varieties. I enjoyed it with two different types of homemade dip: fava, and auberine puree’. This was so delicious that in all my gastronomic pleasure I had forgotten to take a photo; you’ll have to take my word on it.
The next dish I ordered is a favourite of mine that I order on every visit: beetroot, feta and walnuts, dressed in olive oil and seasoning. This is absolutely delicious: a classic example of how a few great quality ingredients can make for a beautiful tasting experience. Served with rustic flair, it’s tempting, delicious and light – and still a favourite of mine.
The main dish was hard to choose: I have my favourites here (lamb chops here are amazing!), but it’s so hard not to be tempted by a special, or a ‘dish of the day’ which won’t be found again next time. And so, upon Spyros’ suggestion I decided to seize the opportunity to try a special dish and his family’s recipe: handmade sausage made with half pork and half lamb meat, stuffed in the membrane or lining of the animal, and served with vegetables and sauteed’ potatoes. It’s a dish that I’d have been unlikely to find again made this way, unless I voyaged to an old village on a distant mountain top, so I took advantage and it did not disappoint. Again, it was the quality of the ingredients that really came to the fore and made for a wonderful dining experience. Mind you, this goes as much for the perfectly cooked vegetables and potatoes as much as the sausage.
Before I knew it, I had been in the restaurant for over two hours, talking throughout the evening to the lady sat next to me and enjoying the art of slow food (as food and dining should really always be, if life permitted). A lovely evening had already been had… but it was about to get better.
Throughout my travels, I had been on the search for the best baklava I could find. Unfortunately far too many calories were wasted on less-than-worthy desserts, all in a futile effort to find baklava that could possibly compare with what I’d had here. But, could the dish compare with my memory of a perfect baklava that I had here last time?
Absolutely. This heavenly baklava arrived warm, served with some lovely vanilla ice cream on the side, and it was all I had remembered and more. The perfect proportion of honey and pistachio, the warm and cold sensations dancing on my tongue… quite frankly, words cannot do it justice. No one does baklava like Candouni, and it remains wonderful even as the years pass.
When I finished my dessert, the musicians had packed up and the restaurant was nearly empty, it was time for me to leave as well, as difficult as it was to part from this idyllic corner of Oia and the world. I softened the blow of having to depart by arranging to return again the next day, where – with the exception of a quiet couple in the corner – I had the restaurant all to myself for lunch and enjoyed the most delicious grilled fish, prepared in the style of an old family recipe using herbs and lemon. Oh, and it was even de-boned for me as well. Delicious, of course, like every meal I’ve ever had here. Leaving was so difficult that I was late to my airport transfer.
I had a wonderful experience at Candouni as I always do; so much so, that I’ve realised it’s probably the top reason I return to Santorini (it is certainly not the crowds of cruise-shippers that fill the paths in Oia so that you travel like herded cattle, but I digress). This special place will keep me coming back to the island for years to come, and I’m grateful that they will always find a table for me.
*Calories: I was on vacation… yes, I tracked my calories, but I doubt to any real accuracy. Between the starter, main, dessert, bread, dips and wine, I counted a total of 1302 calories. I suspect this is underestimated by at least 15% – but it was worth it!
Food taste: 4.7 / 5 (The main was a little saltier than I expected, but still delicious – as was absolutely everything else. Oh, that baklava!)
Food/table presentation: 4.5 / 5 (Tablecloths, candles, cloth napkins… every place setting felt special. I only wish the table for one was as roomy as the table for two. The food was served in a simple yet inviting manner and every dish was tempting.)
Service: 4.7 / 5 (Friendly and attentive. The team was busy, but when they came to the table, it felt very much like they care about your experience and offer you such warm hospitality. The dining experience took longer than you’d expect it to in London, but I loved this; I appreciated that I wasn’t rushed out and could enjoy dinner here as the main event of my evening.)
Atmosphere/decor: 5/ 5 (This is the first time I’ve awarded a rating of 5 out of 5 – in this, or any category – and Candouni deserves it. It was a heavenly experience for all the senses, and thanks to its atmosphere and decor, you leave more than with a satisfied appetite: you leave with your soul having been nourished as well.)
Value for money: 4.7 / 5 (For the best evening I had in all of my Greek adventures on my trip, in which I enjoyed wonderful food prepared with love in a setting that made me feel like I was in a secret garden on a film set, I paid less than the average dinner in London in which I am typically squashed next to another table and in a dining room which is so loud that I come out more stressed than how I walked in. Yes, Candouni is absolutely good value for money.)
Overall rating: 4.7/5