A rollicking time at Big Time Taverna

Peri is the perfect host. PHOTO: John Young.

There’s really no way of getting consolation for missing out on a game of golf on one of South Africa’s finest courses. Even when no-one else on the sub-continent is playing.

I was in St Francis Bay hoping to play St Francis Links on the weekend that snow was seen on Table Mountain and coastal towns everywhere were assaulted by gale force winds.

            So maybe I could expect some consolation at the highly recommended Big Time Taverna, the Greek restaurant famous for its great connection to the canals of St Francis and sparkling views. By the time I turned up for supper, there was no view to be had—only darkness and wind of the kind that had Heathcliff howling like a wolf on the moor—but there were compensations aplenty.

            Two large fires, a welcome that was personal, friendly and interesting all at once, and first-class cooking. Warm, cosy, inviting, delicious, the Big Time Taverna lived up to every expectation.  

There must be something about the air in St Francis. If there are more attentive hosts in the country than St Francis Links golf director Jeff Clause and Peri Tsiotsiopoulos, the proprietor of the Big Time Taverna, then I’d love to meet them. On second thoughts, maybe not, it might be too exhausting.   Jeff, who presides over a restaurant and a bar up at the Links when he’s not fine-tuning the golf course, recommended the Big Time Taverna, and told me to go with the chicken if it was still on the Specials’ list. His poultry picking proved perfect: the Chicken Boureki was a memorable dish. Mushrooms, onions, feta and spinach were stuffed into the tender bird like they belonged there.

The three-Greek-cheeses-in-phyllo pastry starter, the Tiropita, is definitely on my have-again list. The Baklava was everything a sticky Greek dessert should be, and then some. The Taverna also does real gelati.

Word in the village (OK, at the table next to mine) is that a quantitative easing in prices on the latest menu has helped make the Big Time Taverna a big hit with the locals. It certainly looked it when I was there and I was lucky to get a table, quite a thing in itself at the height of winter in a coastal resort town! My main course cost R140, and the starter and dessert were both R60.  The large starter selection ranged from the traditional Taramosalata and Houmous (both R49) to Kalamarakia (R59) and Grilled Octopus (R69). Three types of lamb dishes can be had, from Moussaka (R110) to a young lamb on the bone (Arni Kleftiko) for R140. Steaks and fish are also offered.

The Big Time Taverna in summer.

Peri is an old-fashioned host and the story of how he and his family came to be running a Greek restaurant on the canals at the eastern edge of the Garden Route could be the script for a movie. I wouldn’t dream of disappointing future diners’ enjoyment of the full narrative but here are a few key words and phrases to whet the appetite: Egypt, a test pilot, the Johannesburg suburb of Melville, an SABC drama.

Not even Peri has an explanation for how or why his restaurant is still standing after floods and fires engulfed pretty much everything else in the area. In October he’s opening another venue upstairs. It is to be called the Caffé Bijoux.

            On Monday I took breakfast overlooking the final hole of St Francis Links in Jack’s Bar (Jack Nicklaus designed the course). I again followed Jeff Clauses’ recommendation, this time for Eggs St Francis, a jalepeno-infused and cheesier interpretation of the Benedictine version.

The view over the Links was great and there wasn’t a breath of wind between the glassy sea and the Kouga mountain range. Everything was perfect for golf on a matchless course, but I was due for an appointment in Uitenhage.

At least I had had my good time at the Big Time.

Big Time Taverna

(042) 294-1309

10 Mayotte Circle, St Francis Bay.

St Francis Links: golf course and estate

St Francis Links

(042) 200 4500