Authenticity is the order of the day at Yia Yia’s (pronounced Yar-Yars), Reigate’s latest independent restaurant from Anthony Panayi and his close-knit team. Based on Lesbourne Road, you can find Yia Yia's a stone's throw from our office.
Named after his beloved Grandmother, ‘Yia Yia’s’ (meaning Grandma in Cypriot) has been thoughtfully designed to capture the essence of a traditional Mediterranean taverna, where community and family are central to the experience.
We caught up with Anthony to find out more about his vision for Yia Yia’s and plans for the season ahead.
Anthony, when did you decide you wanted to open Yia Yia’s?
It’s always been a dream of mine, but for the last two or three years, where my Yia Yia’s not been very well and I’ve been out of the industry, it’s made me realise just how much I really wanted to do.
Now felt like the right time. I have the right people around me to make it happen - I genuinely wouldn’t have done it without my team. We’re a very small, very passionate team where everyone has the drive to want to make this work.
Tell us about the menu at Yia Yia’s
The menu is based on food I would eat in Cyprus. Dishes my Yia Yia would cook for me alongside some family holiday favourites, like the calamari rings.
Then we have our oven-cooked dishes which are all based on my Yia Yia’s recipes; typical dishes like souvlaki, (which is something I have every day when I’m in Cyprus).
We make everything fresh on site, so with the challenge of a small kitchen we’ve created a small menu based on authentic classics - the type of dishes you’d find in the traditional tavernas off the main tourist drag.
Where do you source your produce from?
Our feta, haloumis, Greek sausages, Lunzo (which is a smoked pork loin), olives and our pitta bread all come from Cyprus.
We’re trying to use as many local people as we can. We’ve just taken on an independent baker who will be creating cakes for us using authentic flavours like lemon and pistachio.
As the menu evolves, we’d like to continue to source local artisan producers for our supply chain. For example, we’re looking for someone who can develop Greek inspired jams like my Yia Yia would make with a focus on the traditional fruits like plum and fig.
What’s the plan for the autumn/winter menu?
From September, we’ll move to our winter menu with a focus on Greek Soups, oven-based Stifados (stews), Kleftikos (lamb slow roasted in parchment) and we’ll lose the colder salad dishes. Our signature Souvlaki will stay all year round.
In the early part of 2024, we’ll introduce some more classics.
It’s my ambition to take the team to Cyprus at some point, to try some dishes, meet my Yia Yia and come back with some inspiration for future menus. Going forward I’d like a family approach, with the full team to be more involved in planning the menu.
What does your Yia Yia think of your venture?
She’s 94 and has been poorly for the past couple of years, but we FaceTimed before we opened. It was very emotional. I don’t think she’ll make it over here, but hopefully she’ll meet the team when we go out. That would be the icing on the cake.
What can we expect when visiting Yia Yia’s?
It’s exactly what we wanted in terms of my Yia Yia’s home, so during the daytime on Fridays and Saturdays, during the breakfast and lunch trade, there is quite a hustle and bustle. It’s friendly, with a nice, busy atmosphere.
This is very similar to the experience I had at my Yia Yia’s home during the summer holidays. In the mornings we’d get up, go to the kitchen, my auntie would be passing, my uncle would be passing, people from the village will passing and they all come in for a coffee. They might be dropping some grapes off - it’s buzzy from the moment you wake up.
But in the evenings, it’s all about family and relaxation and this is something we’ve created here at Yia Yia's. We dim the lights and naturally it becomes a more intimate environment where we can play host to couples or family and friends who are enjoying catching up and connecting with each other.
Yia Yia’s is all about the experience you have with your friends and family. We’re simply here to play host and enhance your evening with great food and drink.
Thank you, Anthony, or 'ευχαριστώ to you and your team for hosting our interview and a delicious cup of coffee. Wishing you all the best with your venture. We’ll be in soon to enjoy some Kleftikos!
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