One of your absolute best culinary experiences in the Mediterranean, you will get at Kybele Restaurant in Bellapais. With Bellapais Abbey and its gardens with its over 800-year-old history as a backdrop, a spectacular journey into the enchanted world of gastronomy awaits, with Master Chef Ali Haydar Gül as Cicerone.
Kybele Restaurant is owned and run by father Ilhan Kaki and son Serhan Kaki, which in the center of the picturesque and unique village Bellapais created a trendy oasis for both tourists and locals. To drive the winding road up the mountain that leads in between the old stone houses in the village is an experience in itself. Around the clock, all year round, the streets are filled with people strolling around and enjoying the atmosphere, often accompanied by tones of classical music from inside Bellapais Abbey.
What is the origin of Kybele? And where did you get the name from?
– Actually Kybele is the historical name of the monastary. The restaurant, located in the historic garden from the 17th century with old orange and lemon groves, lots of fragrant Bergamot, Jasmine, and Bougainvillea surrounded by well-groomed green lawns, opened in 1985. Those days they had four tables, all inside the monastery walls. Today, Kybele has a capacity of 2,000 seated guests, outdoors and indoors, says Serhan.
Tell us about the restaurant’s concept and what makes you unique.
– We wanted to introduce something new, something that would add that little extra for our guests. Something more than good food served with well-chosen drinks, which we have done since the start. We wanted to make it an experience to come here. We have accomplished that by creative food design, exciting combinations, and everything topped up with a famous master chef who puts up a show every time he enters the restaurant. In our concept, we have taken inspiration from the historical place we are located in and mixed it with influences from our travels exploring all the world’s kitchens. The best inspiration we got was from French Cuisine but also from Eastern cooking. We have created a mix that is Cypriot but with an exotic twist and a touch of the Mediterranean in an exciting way, says Ilhan with pride in his voice.
Ali Haydar Gül is one of Turkey’s most outstanding chefs who, with his genuine interest in cooking, but above all, flambéing, has now taken his culinary skills to Kyrenia. Eating dinner here is so much more than a meal – it’s a show. A tip if you fancy a big tasty piece of meat is to choose the T-Bone Steak; Tomahawk. The way Ali serves it at the table is an experience in itself, but no matter what you choose from the extensive menu, you get a world-class experience just getting it served. Ali offers a show with squirting fire and sharp knives. His culinary techniques make the most discerning taste buds dance with joy.
Even the most culinary meal needs good, well-chosen drinks to be complete. The drink list at Kybele Restaurant is as extensive and varied as the menu, and in the magnificent wine cellar, you will find the most exquisite wines, carefully selected to be in total harmony with the flavours beautifully served on the elegant plates. The advantage, if you are not a wine connoisseur, is that when you have chosen a dish, this professional staff make sure that you get a perfectly matched wine so you can happy leave the choice to them. They take pride in making sure all their meals get served as a culinary highlight whether you choose meat, fish or vegetarian option.
Ilhan, tell us about how you ended up in Cyprus.
– I was born and raised in Bitlis, in Turkey and came to Cyprus in 1984. For a long time, I nursed a dream of living in the Mediterranean so Cyprus felt like an obvious choice after being here and meeting up with Turkish friends who had chosen to live their lives here. I love the sea, the culture, and above all, the Mediterranean food. I was struck by the beauty of this island and the quality of life here. Now, I have lived here for 36 years, my son Serhan was born here and I wake up every morning and feel grateful for the life choices I have made so far.
36 years is a pretty long time, and a lot has happened since then. How do you feel Cyprus has changed?
– As you say, a lot has changed, but from my point of view, it is a positive development. Cypriots are very friendly and open-minded. The relaxed lifestyle here makes it easy for people from abroad to enter the community. I have felt welcome from the moment I came here. In recent years, I have seen how we have had an increased influx of international visitors and then not only Europeans but people from all over the world. Cyprus has become a destination for jet setters as well as students and backpackers. Many people come to spend a few weeks here, but more and more people choose to settle here in whole or in part, which of course, does not surprise me in any way. I made the same choice myself once. With its nature, beaches and historical sights, as well as casinos and a wide range of nightlife with bars and nightclubs, the island has so much to offer everyone, no matter who you are and where you come from. I love the international arena that Cyprus has developed over the past years. And I think we have only seen the beginning of it. It is exciting and edifying for everyone. We have a lot to learn from each other, and mixing cultures usually leads to new experiences, says Ilhan.
Cocktails are what give life a pink shimmer
Whether you choose to start your evening with an aperitif, end the meal with an after dinner drink or just sit down with good friends and enjoy the atmosphere, you preferably do it in Kybele’s garden bar. Here you will meet Cocktail Master and Chief Bartender Haluk Togar who, like a juggler, conjures up cocktails in all the rainbow’s colors or, if you prefer a plain glass of tasty cognac.
Haluk is very experienced behind the bar and amongst other things he has been a bartender at Madonna’s famous Miami Hotel in Florida, where he served cocktails in the hotel’s celebrity bar. In addition to the US, he has worked in countries such as Spain, Italy, Dubai, Singapore, and Indonesia. Haluk is an artist when it comes to creating drinks that delight both eyes and mouth. Order a Frozen Margarita, and you will understand exactly what we mean.
– Having the creative freedom to create and serve colorful drinks for our guests is a dream for a bartender. “Nothing but the best” is my motto every night. I love to see the sparkle in my guests eyes when I serve them a cocktail that is as beautiful to look at, as it is to drink, says Haluk.
Enjoying how the darkness of the evening descends over the lush garden is a perfect end to a balmy evening, with good friends or with the love of your life. With the view of Kyrenia in front of you, you can propose a toast for life, and enjoy watching the sunset over the Mediterranean in the distance.
Kybele Restaurant often hosts parties of various types and sizes. In fact, this restaurant was one of the pioneers in wedding tourism, an industry that in recent years has grown substantially. Year round, many brides and grooms have started their married lives right here in Kybele’s beautiful and panoramic garden.
Mornings in the restaurant start by serving a delicious breakfast/brunch menu, followed by lunch, moving on to the dinner menu in the evening, all accompanied by a magnificent vista. If, for some reason, you prefer to have your dinner or party at home and still want to serve your guests a nice meal without spending hours in the kitchen, Kybele caters to every occasion.
Kybele Restaurant is open all year round. During winter, when the evenings are cooler, a warming fire is lit at the ventrally located fireplace by the bar. The large stone walls of the Monastery provide the perfect backdrop of the dancing light and glowing heat of the crackling fire. Have your meal in the warm glazed restaurant and enjoy the city lights far below, but take the chance as many do and enjoy the mild winter climate with a hot coffee drink by the fire before returning home at night.
When we leave the restaurant, the darkness has slowly begun to envelop the surroundings in the balmy summer evening. We can hear laughter and softly spoken conversations, together with the soft tones of gentle classical music in the background. One thing is certain. We will definitely be back very soon!
Louise D’Kristensson Camille