Nick Molyviatis

In 2018, Kiln, a northern Thai grill in Soho, was voted Britain’s Best Restaurant in Restaurant Magazine’s 2018 National Restaurant Awards. Nick Molyviatis, head chef at the time, celebrated the accolade by announcing he was moving back home to Athens and calling time on his 11-year career cooking in London. Since arriving back in Greece, he’s fast made friends and learned that, despite what others would try to tell you, the food in the Greek capital needs to be eaten to be believed. Kali orexi, indeed.

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Modernised Greek Food

I really like restaurant Cookoovaya. I have a meal here 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 can 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. I actually found it by accident one day when I went to an art gallery that’s close by the restaurant with my girlfriend. It’s in an old building, down a small alleyway that’s only for pedestrians and secluded from traffic. They’re serving modern Greek cuisine, and it’s good. Like, really good food. 

Updating Tradition

Vezene is always a restaurant I recommend, even before I started working here. The restaurant does a really good job of giving a modern twist to traditional dishes. For example, in Greece we have a dish called pastitsio, which is basically a meat and pasta bake with béchamel on top. At Vezené, what they did is serve the meat element in its raw state as a tartare, have the pasta on its own, and add a potato foam – which I know sounds poncey, but it’s actually really, really good. Instead of being a heavy dish, it becomes 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 I had to go and eat at Travolta. It’s a fish tavern in a very random area. They serve high-quality fish, but also show that it’s not only the most expensive types of fish can taste amazing when cooked well. They use the whole spectrum of cooking techniques: fresh and raw, grilled, baked and fried. It’s outstanding.

“It’s Basically Etxebarri, But Less Fancy”

If Kritikos Taverna was in Spain, it would have a Michelin star. It’s basically Etxebarri, but less fancy. This is the big favourite of all the chefs in Athens. The cooking, which focuses on grilling meat over wood fire, is outstanding. One dish that always sticks in my mind is the lamb kidneys. They keep the fat around them, grill them whole, then simply slice them in half. And because of how they cook them (over the woodfire) the fat becomes really, really crispy, and it just melts in your mouth. It’s crazy juicy. I don’t really like kidneys, it’s probably my least favourite offal part, but this was just amazing. It’s also one of the few places in Athens where they cook fries in a pan – not in a deep-fryer – which taste incredible. I don’t think this restaurant is known outside of Greece at all, and everybody in Athens still talks about it like it’s a secret. It’s family-owned and run, and the mother, who would be around 80 years old, still turns up every day to make sure that everything is in order. It’s about 30 minutes outside of Athens, so you need a car or taxi, but it’s definitely worth it.

A Benchmark Seafood Tavern

Kanaria is maybe the best seafood tavern in Athens. It’s small, always busy with locals, and they only have six things on the menu, and then two or three specials. And it’s all fish. Only fish and nothing else. You have to have their prawns and the red mullet. And you must have the bread. The last time I went I had to ask 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. And 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 in a deep-fryer, and everything is crispy as it should be, and completely greaseless. It’s perfect.

A Wine Shop That Makes And Sells Its Own Cheese

There is a small deli, a wine and cheese shop, in Kolonaki called Kostarelos that’s really, really good. It’s owned by a dairy farmer and so they make and sell their own cheese too. It’s an amazing spot to go for lunch and have a sandwich, or in the afternoon for a glass of wine and some cheese which is what my girlfriend and I do. Both Kostarelos and Kanaria are in the centre of Athens, actually quite close to each other, so I would definitely recommend eating and experiencing both. One is traditional, while the other is a little more forward, so you can hit both sides of the same coin so to speak.

Reimaginging Souvlaki

Souvlaki is a bit stale. It’s tasty, but it hasn’t changed at all. Souvlaki restaurant Hoocut, in the centre of Athens and from the same people of Cookoovaya, are trying to move it forward. They have hand-made pita, and the meat is not cooked hours before like most places do. I’m not going to lie, the portions are smaller, but it’s very, very tasty. O Thanasis is in the centre of Athens in Monastiraki, and it’s always busy. They’re very particular on how they do their kebabs, and their classic kebab is the way to go. I think they might use a Turkish recipe; the kebab meat is bouncy, you know, it’s kind of springy, and it’s very juicy. They only used to offer tomato and onion on their kebabs, but now they’ve started putting tzatziki inside and having different meats on offer.

A Bakery (And Kind-Of Pizza) Worth Queuing For

When you find a place where there’s always a queue, you know something is up. This is how I found Peinirli Ionias, a bakery near my house that make peinirli. A peinirli is kind of like a pizza boat that’s cooked in a woodfired oven. It’s similar to a Turkish pide, but it has thicker dough. They fill them with vegetables, cheese, maybe some eggs. It sounds simple but there’s a reason people are willing to wait. The produce is so good, and they make everything themselves from scratch.

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Nick Molyviatis - Athens - The Local Tongue

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