Modernised Greek Food
I really like restaurant Cookoovaya. I have a meal there at least once a year. It’s traditional Greek food – the food that we grew up with – but modernised. They take classic dishes and cook them in a very different way. But they’re careful not to change them so much to the point that they’re unrecognisable or unrelatable. You always see where you came from through their food.
“The Restaurant That I Recommend More Than Any Other”
Alficon is the restaurant that I recommend more than any other. Most people don’t know about it, which is sweet because it feels like a private thing. My girlfriend and I actually found it by accident on our way to an art gallery that’s closeby. The restaurant is in an old building down a small, pedestrian alleyway that’s secluded. It does modern Greek cuisine, and it’s really good food. The restaurant is closed for renovations at the moment – watch this space.
Vezene is another restaurant I always recommend, even before I started working here. It does a really good job in giving a modern twist to traditional dishes. For example, Greece has a dish called “pastitsio”, which is basically a meat and pasta bake with béchamel on top. What they did at Vezené is serve the meat element in its raw state as a tartare and the pasta on its own, and they’ve added a potato foam to it. I know it sounds poncey, but it’s actually really, really good. Pastitsio is known to be a heavy dish, but this one is actually light and the flavour of the high-quality ingredients come through well.
Exploring the Potential of Fish and Cooking Techniques
When I first moved to Athens, every chef I knew told me that I had to go and eat at Travolta. It’s a fish tavern in a very random area that serves high-quality fish and shows you that it’s not only the most expensive types of fish that can taste amazing when cooked well. They use the whole spectrum of cooking techniques: fresh and raw, grilled, baked and fried. It’s outstanding.
A Benchmark Seafood Tavern
Kanaria is maybe the best seafood tavern in Athens. It’s small, always busy with locals and only has six things on the menu with two or three daily specials. And it’s all fish. Only fish and nothing else. You have to have the prawns and red mullet. The fish is cooked very, very well. It’s all cooked by the owner’s mum. She’s frying all of the fish herself in a frying pan – not a deep-fryer – and everything is crispy as it should be, and completely greaseless. And you must have the bread. The last time I went, I asked to buy a loaf when I was leaving. It was just too good! Even the tomato salad, which is just tomatoes, onions, olive oil and a few olives – you think; “Everybody has a tomato salad like this.” But then you taste it, and realise that no, not everyone has a tomato salad like this at all. It’s perfect.
“Using What is Available Around You and Trying Not To Mess Too Much With It”
Phita has an ever-changing menu that is doing justice to Greek cuisine. I think that it’s essentially all about using what is available around you and trying not to mess too much with it. It’s predominantly ingredients from the sea and the result at Phita is outstanding. There is a reason that it’s always busy.
A Wine Shop That Makes and Sells Its Own Cheese
There is a small deli in Kolonaki called Kostarelos that sells wine and cheese. It’s owned by a dairy farmer and so they make and sell their own cheese too. They produce some of the finest cheeses you can find commercially! It’s an amazing lunch spot to grab a sandwich from. My girlfriend and I also go in the afternoon for a glass of wine and some cheese.
Souvlaki is tasty but a bit stale: it hasn’t changed much over the time. Souvlaki restaurant Hoocut in the centre of Athens was opened by the people behind Cookoovaya who are trying to move souvlaki matters forward. The pita is handmade and the meat is not cooked hours before it is served like in most other places. I’m not going to lie, the portions are smaller, but it’s souvlaki that is very tasty. O Thanasis in the Monastiraki neighbourhood – also is in the centre of Athens – is always busy. Their classic kebab is the way to go: the kebab meat is bouncy, kind of springy and very juicy. I think they use a Turkish recipe. It’s the only meat they once had on offer and used to top it with tomatoes and onions. But they’ve started adding tzatziki and making different meats.
A Kind-Of Pizza Worth Queuing For
When a place always has a queue, you know something is up. This is how I discovered Peinirli Ionias, a bakery that makes peinirli near my house. Peinirli is similar to Turkish pide, but with a thicker dough. It’s kind of like a pizza boat that’s cooked in a woodfired oven. It can be topped with vegetables, cheese or an egg. They make everything from scratch and the produce they use is so good.
Good Eats Near Syntagma Square
When near Syntagma Square in the heart of the city, make sure to grab a pastry from Fillo. It makes regional pastries traditionally prepared around Greece. It’s refreshing to have options other than the usual spinach and cheese pies. Sushimou is nearby. Chef-owner Antonis has spent a lot of time in Japan, learning how to make sushi. He goes to the fish market every morning and picks the fish that he serves later that evening. It’s a really amazing experience. You must book ahead as it gets really busy. Just a few doors down is Birdman, a Japanese izakaya brought to you by the team behind Vezene. It follows the same ethos as its sister restaurant and pairs Japanese pub food with an exciting drink offering and great music.
Thai Food in Athens
In the Koukaki neighbourhood, right next to the Parthenon is a Thai street food spot called Tuk Tuk. When I first heard about it I had my doubts. My experience with the food in such places in culturally irrelevant cities is that it always ends up being adapted to the palate of the market it caters to. But Tuk Tuk’s very friendly owner has gone the extra mile in doing the proper thing. He has spent hours talking to me about the food of specific regions in Thailand and which of it he thinks could work in Athens. He really wants to do things properly, although it is hard to achieve produce-led Thai cuisine from Greece.
“A Very Interesting Take on Greek Gastronomy”
Not too far from Tuk Tuk is Sense, a modern restaurant that sources Greek produce and presents it in a way that is a bit unorthodox, but it really works. It doesn’t go down that slippery slope of taking a Greek dish, putting something Japanese on it and calling it modern. It rather has an interesting take on Greek gastronomy.
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