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Leros: Still Waiting to be Discovered

Leros is very close to Turkey but is protected from the tourist crowds as there is no direct access to the island. Yachtsmen and yacht owners alike know this place well. The second restaurant I visited on the island was Mylos and to my surprise, almost all tables were taken by us Turks that night. Even so, this island is still waiting to be discovered…

-Ufuk Kaan Altin

Leros has managed to protect itself from the tourist crowds. This of course makes me happy personally, but I don’t know what the islanders think. This place is virgin and I might even say it is remote. There is no direct access from Turkey; you have to go from Bodrum to Kos and then to Leros. However yachtsmen know this charming island well and they have clearly included the island in their routes for a long time. Seeing the customer profile of the island’s restaurants and hotels is enough to come to this conclusion.

A well-known name

In short, the island is still waiting to be discovered – so let’s start to discover it! It’s best to begin with the restaurants. My first stop is Bourtzi, which means “bastion”. You can see the remains of the bastion right above it. Its owner Mihalis is a well-known name in the islands. He is the younger sibling of Manos Magkos, who owns the famous Manos restaurant on the island of Symi. After working with Manos for many years, Mihalis decided to go his own way. He opened his restaurant less than a month ago. He had visited the island many times beforehand, falling in love with the place.

One must stop and settle when the time comes

This classic Greek restaurant is situated in a building dating from the 1800s, and rests against the rocks behind. Mihalis demonstrates all the cooking skills he has obtained in the last 17 years. We are of the same age, both 41 years old. He is a charming, well-built guy who smiles with his eyes if you visit his restaurant. When I ask him, “Why here? Why Leros?” he answers, “I travelled a lot. Now it’s time for me to settle down.” He and his girlfriend work together. The kitchen is Mihalis’ responsibility, of course. Just like his brother, he is keen on appetizers. He sets the table in a heartbeat. And of course the first thing he brings is the Raki.

Fresh and delicious

He made everything he brings for me to taste by himself. I start by tasting the saffron roe. It has an intense, sharp taste. The pickled anchovies are superior to the ones served in our restaurants and are obviously fresh. The fan mussels, the largest kind of sea mussel, were left to cook in their own juices. Their aroma is enriched by olive oil and lemon juice. It is like drinking or eating the sea. The seaweed is finely shredded and produces the same effect on the palate, although I have to admit it is an acquired taste. Pickled capers and rose root balance out the food Mihalis has brought to the table so far.

The octopus cooked in red wine has a rich flavour, as does the pickled mullet, which is just my cup of tea. At Bourtzi, you can find all kinds of seafood that go well with Raki. I of course did not miss out on this opportunity and washed down these unique flavours with 20 cl of Raki.

“I am a fisherman. I don’t offer anything to my customers that I wouldn’t eat myself,” says Mihalis. And a good thing, too! I really appreciated it.   

If only I had more time!

Bourtzi, which also serves Mey İçki beverages, is a cosy, friendly fisherman’s tavern. The wooden chairs, popular at open-air cinemas and coffee houses back in the day, and marble tables right by the sea are beautifully integrated with the blue and white décor. I wish I could watch the sun set here but unfortunately I don’t have time. My next stop is Mylos, which is across the bay.

Mihalis didn’t want me to pay the bill so I’d be lying if I told you what you would have to pay. However I think you need to be willing to pay at least €40-50 for a dinner such as this with lots of appetizers and Raki.

I hug Mihalis goodbye and leave this fresh restaurant. It feels good to know that I will be back some day…

Meet Taki Baba

Now I’m at my second stop, Mylos. There is not much time to see the sun set, but little did I know that there would be a beautiful full moon later that night.

A few tables are occupied in the restaurant, while others have reserved signs on them. A tall man with white hair and a white beard sits at a table right next to the kitchen door. I approach him and ask if I can sit down. He stands up and shows me the way. It turns out that he is the owner of Mylos, Takis Koutsounaris. He says “Turks call me Taki Baba,” laughing. When I explain him why I am visiting his restaurant, Taki Baba agrees to accompany me. But first, he takes me to the kitchen and describes the types of fish and other seafood like a teacher. Dentex, grouper, sea bream… there is everything you could want. But I have my eyes on the red mullet. Anyway, there is plenty of time left, we will come back to the fish later.

Kadayif with cheese?

Let’s start by talking about the fish soup. It is made from five or six kinds of fish including scorpion fish and grey mullet. It is consistent and nicely marinated. I loved the soup so much that I forgot to take a picture of it with my phone. I did however photograph it with my other camera.

I ask for a 20 cl Raki and leave the appetizer selection to Taki Baba. He brings out swordfish pastrami, octopus carpaccio and pickled anchovies. “Try the kadayif with cheese, too,” he says. When I look at him as if to say, “Wait a minute, it’s not time for dessert yet,” he smiles. It turns out that kadayif with cheese is not a dessert – it’s a kind of hot cheese pie wrapped in kadayif. The flavour is interesting…

The secret lies within the heart

The restaurant starts to fill up slowly. Almost everyone is from Turkey. And Taki Baba knows almost everyone. I ask him “What is your secret?” His answer is “There are no secrets. You just have to do your job with all your heart.”

The red mullet I picked before waits for me on the table. The fried mullet is big and crunchy and did not absorb all the oil. The presentation is very good as well.

At that moment, Taki Baba pointed at the sky. At first I didn’t understand what he was trying to do. It turned out that he was pointing at the full moon. A perfect finale for such a beautiful night.

The bill comes to €45, including Raki. Taki Baba says, “Just give me 20 euros, no more.” I try to pay the full bill by giving tips, but to no avail. He accepts a €5 tip and that’s all. He says, “It’s enough for the kids.”

It’s not all talk when he speaks about the heart, as you can see…

A restaurant next to a windmill

“Mylos” means “windmill”. And sure enough, the customers are greeted by a majestic historical windmill right next to the restaurant. Taki Baba and his family started out 16 years ago and his son works in the kitchen. Everything that comes from the kitchen is fresh and delicious. It is a real bonus that Taki Baba truly enjoys his work. I really liked this charming man so make sure to drop by Mylos – I’m sure you will love Taki Baba, too.

Bourtzi
Address: Agia Marina
Tel: 00 30 22470 24665
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Mylos
Address: Agia Marina
Tel: 00 30 22470 24894
www.mylostavern.gr

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