Val Allen visits the Cheshire Life Food & Drink Awards restaurant of the year, a place she says serves ‘real food, cooked from the heart, not a tweezered assemblage of odd ingredients on the whim of a trendy chef’.

A long one of the delightfully quaint streets of Nantwich lies an attractive and atmospheric Greek taverna that could have been teleported from its native country and deposited in the heart of Cheshire. St Martha is a completely authentic family-run business set firmly in the community it serves.

There is history already. During the last few very difficult years Vasileios Kourtidis and Kelly Woodnutt have worked with and given great support to local charities and are very much respected for the work they do.

A chance meeting on the other side of the world resulted in St Martha coming into existence four years ago, at the worst time any business could possibly start up, and it is testament to perseverance and sheer talent that the couple in both life and in business have a thriving, award-winning restaurant that is going from strength to strength.

Great British Life: A little bit of Greece in the heart of Nantwich – the St Martha courtyardA little bit of Greece in the heart of Nantwich – the St Martha courtyard (Image: John Allen Photography)

We had heard great things about St Martha from a number of different sources, so it was with some anticipation that we arrived on a perfect summer’s evening and were shown to our romantic courtyard table. I felt I had crossed the Aegean already – the blue and white walls, the hand-painted murals, the fresh flowers and the twinkling fairy lights under the stars all set up the ambience for the Grecian pleasures to come. Word has clearly got around that this is the place to come for fun and fabulous food.

I remember from holidays that the Greeks love their cocktails. I sipped the most delicious Mt Olympus, a heady mixture of gin and an infusion of Greek mountain tea, while we studied the menu. At first deceptively simple, the attention to detail shone through as we talked to Kelly and Vasileios about the dishes. They, and I, would urge you to sample as many meze as you feel comfortable with. This is a meal where dishes arrive to be shared, celebrated, admired and, above all, to be enjoyed together. Choose for contrast, for delicacy, for robustness and flavour. This is real food, cooked from the heart.

Great British Life: Nectar of the gods, a St Martha Mt Olympus cocktailNectar of the gods, a St Martha Mt Olympus cocktail (Image: John Allen Photography)

We took our time, starting with the best taramosalata you will experience. Made with the proper smoked cod’s roe, this was sublime, nottoo salty and silky on the tongue. Our selection included glistening olives, warm fluffy pita bread, a rich and earthy beetroot dip and the most delicious tzatziki, fragrant with mint and a touch of dill. Had we not been researching the depth and scope of this menu, it would have been a perfect sufficiency. But I digress...

The very best sausage I have tasted for years arrived. Vasileios has worked with a local butcher to produce the most deliciously fat Greek sausage, which he then lightly smokes before char-grilling and serving with a honeyed Dijon mustard.

Great British Life: Baklava pork belly, walnut and pistachio crumb with honeyBaklava pork belly, walnut and pistachio crumb with honey (Image: John Allen Photography)

The baklava pork belly, with a walnut and pistachio crumb, drizzled with fragrant honey over a topping of baklava was a beautiful savoury variation on a well-known theme. Breaking through the sweet and savoury crust to the tender and flavourful pork, still succulent and juicy was as much of a treat as later on in the meal with the giouvetsi, a main course of marinated and chargrilled pork belly, served on a very subtle, sweet and savoury herby kritharaki, a Greek version of Italian orzo, the tiny pasta shape similar to a grain of rice. The skill of this kitchen with any pork product is outstanding, yet the next few courses proved it can produce magical results with all ingredients, which it takes so much care to source.

Still on the cold meze, we enjoyed a plate of beetroot, with spiced walnuts, yoghurt and honey as we anticipated the sizzling and bubbling halloumi cheese, served with a deliciously sweet-sour topping of grapes in a shallot dressing. This was outstanding, and in my view, far outstrips a similar dish served in many Middle Eastern restaurants. We also sampled feta cheese, baked with chilli, peppers, tomato and garlic served hot, which will be a revelation to those who have only eaten feta in Greek salads.

Great British Life: St Martha beetroot, spiced walnuts, yoghurt, honey, taramosalata and beetroot dips with pitaSt Martha beetroot, spiced walnuts, yoghurt, honey, taramosalata and beetroot dips with pita (Image: John Allen Photography)

The Imam is a slow-baked aubergine dish, which is an alchemist’s joy. The slow cooking of this amazing fruit combined with peppers and a clever addition of the more subtle leek baked in a tomato sauce and finished with yoghurt is transformational. I have had versions of this over many years but it is rare to encounter it in a restaurant environment and I go back to an earlier comment that St Martha is about real food, cooked from the heart, not a tweezered assemblage of odd ingredients on the whim of a trendy chef.

This prefaced a delicious plaki – cod loin baked in a shallot, olive and tomato sauce, topped with a tangle of deliciously soft and caramelised fennel. We sampled kleftiko, the slow-baked, well-known Greek dish consisting of lamb shoulder with delectable baby vegetables served in a casserole, which when the lid was lifted gave off the most fabulous aromas, the best bit for me being the savoury, herb-scattered and caramelised exterior with meltingly tender lamb underneath.

Great British Life: St Martha open chicken souvlaki with pita, tomato, red onion and tzatzikiSt Martha open chicken souvlaki with pita, tomato, red onion and tzatziki (Image: John Allen Photography)

At this point, there was a stirring under the table. St Martha welcomes well-behaved dogs in the courtyard and ours were overcome by the gorgeous smells. We promised them a doggy bag and they subsided, but they were right to be suspicious... there was nothing left. How mean are we? At this point, I must mention the wines: all Greek, carefully sourced and absolutely stunning. My acquaintance with Greek wine goes back a good 50 years and my early experiences were less than outstanding with the likes of demestica and, of course, retsina. I must confess to a liking for retsina, redolent of baking hot days on rocky beaches on remote islands. It’s best served icy cold with a dish of olives and a mixture of meze and in the hands of St Martha is now a very different experience. High-quality retsina still carries the characteristic balsamic aroma of pine but no longer masks an inferior wine. I felt as if I was drinking history as it is a wine that has been produced for thousands of years and complements the cuisine perfectly. We also sampled a delicious bottle of red, a Thymiopoulos ‘young vines’ xinomavro from Macedonia, deceptively light and recommended to us as being similar to an Italian nebbiolo or classic pinot noir. The day has long since come when we need to appreciate Greek wine in its own right and this bottle was a delight.

The last main dish was a joy to behold. Souvlaki comes in all shapes and sizes; this plateful looked incredibly appetising and so it proved. Skewered, juicy, tender, chargrilled marinated chicken served simply with delicious homemade tzatziki, topped with pita and sliced onions was an absolute feast, accompanied by an authentic seasonal Greek salad, and chips sprinkled with feta ticking every box.

Great British Life: St Martha Risogalo: Chilled Rice Pudding, Sour Cherry Glyko, Honeycomb and Mint St Martha Risogalo: Chilled Rice Pudding, Sour Cherry Glyko, Honeycomb and Mint (Image: John Allen Photography)

So to the desserts. Do leave space or at least have one to take away. The risogalo is a eulogy to a rice pudding. Cool, creamy vanilla rice with a sour cherry sauce poured over honeycomb chunks and fresh mint was deliciously textured and a wonderfully soothing end to a meal, but so was the bougaza, a filo-wrapped warm pie filled with creamy vanilla custard and dusted with icing sugar and a little cinnamon. Both were utterly delicious and rounded off by the ritual preparation of a Greek coffee for my husband and a delicious Greek mountain tea for me, making a perfect end to a perfect evening. Who needs a holiday in Greece when you can have St Martha, Nantwich, Cheshire? .


Meze from £4.50 to £9

Main courses: £12 to £22

Desserts: £6 to £8

Cocktails: £8

Wines: £19.95 to £42

Beers and wines by the glass

St Martha Greek Taverna, Nantwich, Cheshire.

01270 620036;