Take a seat at Yiayia’s Table in Mowbray and be fed with love

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THE first thing you have to come to terms with when you visit YIAYIA’s Table is that you can’t have everything all at once on the same day. Okay, well maybe you can but that would be a whole lot of pastries and biscuits and you might just pop. What a way to go, though.

Yiayia is the Greek word for Granny and in this case, a specific granny: Elli Parolis. You can read her story on the wall in the bakery/coffee shop, like how she came from the island of Lesvos in Greece in 1937 as a mail order bride. I’ll leave you with that tantalising titbit to tempt you to visit, not only for more about Elli but also for the fabulous traditional Greek food.

To be clear, this is a bakery so no moussaka or anything like that. What you will get are wonderful phyllo pastry spiral pies with the option of side salads, koulouria – a ring-shaped bread enjoyed either savoury or sweet, kourabiedes (crescent-shaped shortbread liberally dusted with icing sugar), bougatsa (custard pies), pretzels and other delicious treats. These are lovingly recreated from Elli’s recipes and served with excellent coffee. Elli’s descendants are right there behind the counter, ensuring a genuine family experience.

Remarkably, YIAYIA’s Table has only been open for two months; some would say that’s nuts during a pandemic which has seen the local restaurant industry shattered. Elli’s grandson Dimitri Parolis says because the plan took shape during lockdown, they were able to learn from what others went though. “We could see where restaurants were struggling, so what we tried to do was take those aspects and elements and avoid them.”

The premises are in Durban Road, Mowbray, closer to the Liesbeek Parkway end than Rondebosch Common. Once upon a time it was Grandpa Parolis’s butchery and later it became warehouse space for the family’s lingerie business, Inner Secrets. “With Covid we re-looked at our business model and the harsh reality was stock in a warehouse from overseas doesn’t work; there was way too much cash flow tied up,” says Dimitri. “So we decided to change. Food has always been my passion, and I decided you know what, I didn’t want to give up the space…I felt a sentimental attachment to it. Elli was our matriarch and our inspiration to replicate her extremely amazing recipes. She was an incredibly dynamic and strong woman. Food was important to her and how it unites families, how it brings love and togetherness.

“Our business was started here in this building and has been here all my life. M y gran lived upstairs, and she fed us every single day for lunch. She showed me how she baked, and how she cooked as well. All I had to do was follow my passion and my love for good food, but commercialising the recipes was the hardest part. They went from homespun recipes with secrets to this environment where we replicate them over and over again. That’s been my biggest challenge. I don’t have a baking background,” he adds.

While the idea germinated in April 2020, and the business plan was in place by mid-year, working on those recipes, written in Elli’s Gringlish, took months. Dimitri did a lot of research while teaching himself to bake along the way. Oh and also designing the shop himself too. There was a lot of testing and tasting. Plus, staff who had previously been retrenched from other restaurants during lockdown, had to throw out everything they ever knew and begin from scratch. “I’m not going to make it sound easy,” says Dimitri. “We told them they’d be going on a whole new journey with us to become niche market bakers in the Greek delicacies industry.”

YIAYIA’s Table is self service – you peruse and drool over the goodies in the glass cases, then place your order to eat there or take away. This part can take a while. We eventually decided on spiral pies, one with chicken and mushroom (kotopita) and spinach and feta (spanakopita). There was also a three-cheese option (tiropita) and a sweet one filled with custard. We added a proper Greek salad (which doesn’t have lettuce) and a rocket salad with cranberries and goat’s cheese. The flaky phyllo pastry flies everywhere, so it’s not a neat and tidy meal. In true good host fashion, Dimitri assured us this is how it’s done.

On the sweet side of things, I had vanilla shortbread and a slice of pound cake, and my friend had a limoncello ricotta almond muffin. Then came the time for takeaways. There’s a small deli shelf where you can buy coffee and koulouria “rusks”, as well as two different sized biscuit tins which you can fill with your favourites for yourself or as a gift for someone special.

Koulouria are bread rings, traditionally covered with sesame seeds (which are messier than the phyllo pastry as it turns out). They are not to be confused with kourabiedes, which are the vanilla shortbreads. There are seven types of savoury koulouria, including three that are stuffed with fillings like feta, cream cheese and olive or sun-dried tomatoes. There are two sweet varieties – apple and raisin, and chocolate, which is a massive winner, especially when you heat it up a little bit and all that generous chocolate melts all over your fingers…

Two savoury pretzels and one sweet; orange cake; lemon cake; brownies; muffins; syrupy baklava, and all the biscuits…amigthalota, aka Greek macaroon (no, not macaron), kourabiedes that crumble in your mouth and spill icing sugar down your front, melamakarona (honey biscuits), and cinnamon and orange biscuits. I don’t know why they don’t have a Greek name on the menu. Tiny ones are served with the coffees, and larger ones can go into your biscuit tin. I’m a big fan.

Despite the Parolis family members urging me to try a bougatsa, that’s just going to have to wait until next time. It’s a good practice to always leave something to go back for.

Find YIAYIA’S Table at 41 Durban Road, Mowbray, Cape Town. It’s is open from 7.30am until 4.30pm Mondays to Fridays and 8.30am until 2pm on Saturdays for sit down and takeaways of all its Greek delicacies and drinks, including its Heat & Eat at Home options – pretzels and frozen spiral pies. Complimentary delivery within 90 minutes is offered for those ordering within a 5km radius of the bakery. For more information, call 021 689 8837, click here, or email [email protected]

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