Fotis Vallatos

If the Instagram stories of Fotis Vallatos are anything to go by, the food and travel journalist’s life is all about salty skin, ouzo and sunshine. When he’s not island-hopping around Greece, Vallatos is writing articles for guidebooks and magazines including Aegean Airlines’ Blue Magazine of which he is the travel editor of. He calls Athens home and is a key figure when it comes to reporting on - and sometimes shaping - the Greek capital’s eating and drinking scene.

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The New Greek Food Philosophy

I think Annie, in the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Neos Kosmos, is the most interesting casual restaurant to open in Athens recently. Chef Stefanos Michalis is very honest about everything he uses and makes. Everyday, he goes to the organic farmers market, hand-picks fantastic ingredients from small producers and creates a bistronomy-inspired menu focused on goat meat, greens and fish. He is also a winemaker and produces great natural wines in Anafi, a small island in the Cyclades archipelago. Another recent opening in the same category is Linou Soumpasis & Sia where Lukas Mailer, who’s one of my favourite chefs in Greece, presents a personal and modern style of cooking, expressed through vibrant seasonal ingredients. The menu changes based on what’s available in the market. Greek products like black pig sausage and smoked swordfish are made in-house. Menu highlights include the bonito wrapped in lamb caul fat and the wild mushroom stifado (stew). The wine list features only Greek natural wines. Phita, also in Neos Kosmos, represents the gastro-taverna trend of Athens which first appeared in Thessaloniki some years ago. In a casual industrial room with a terrace, Phita offers a daily menu mostly based on fish and seafood. It features dishes like fava with smoked tuna and capers; and grilled semi-cured mackerel with aubergine. The pioneer in the gastro-taverna category in Athens is Fabrika tou Efrosinou in Koukaki. Everything is super high quality, from the cheese and bread, to the meat and vegetables. Some of the memorable dishes I recently had there include a spinach pie, goat and beef meatballs, and aubergine with sweet potato purée. Its cheese selection features small producers you can’t access easily, and the superb wine list has a lot of Greek natural wines.

A More Polished Expressions of Greek Bistronomy

Vezene is a place I’ve enjoyed returning to. Its cuisine follows in the path of Greek bistronomy, with hints from Asian to Latin American cuisines. I always go for the signatures, like the handmade fettucce with sea urchin, red pepper and speck, and the flatbread with Metsovone cheese and caramelised onions. Only a few metres away is another restaurant on the same path: Cookoovaya, run by four very talented chefs. The restaurant is a beautiful representation of the modern version of classic Athenian restaurants. I usually order the popular open pie with truffle-creamed mushrooms, the grilled beef off-cuts and the slow-braised beef cheek with smoked eggplant purée. Sometimes I go wild on their selection of less-popular fish dishes served raw with extremely good marinades and sauces.

Gastronomy Without Borders

I’ve been to Kobra a lot recently. Chef Adam Kodovas is very talented and I really like his vision of gastronomy as it has no boundaries: in one dish he can be simultaneously influenced by a street food place in Tokyo and a fine-diner in Paris or Copenhagen. I think he’s going to do a lot of great things in the future. His idea for Kobra was to create an avant-garde street food meets fine-dining restaurant. He does a lot of fermentation and crazy marinations. The restaurant serves seven or eight dishes, has a bar and plays loud, eclectic music from underground dance music to synthwave. It feels a bit ’90s in a way. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.

A Street Food Game-Changer

Feyrouz is the best street food in Athens by far. I think it’s one of the most important restaurants in Greece and not only in the street food category. It has what has become rare in the restaurant scene: to be passionate. To be honest in the ingredients. To really dig into the culture, traditions and philosophy of food. To be creative. And to care about every person you’re serving. If more people had the same mindset, things would be better in Greece’s gastronomic scene. The family that owns and runs Feyrouz comes from Antakya and Istanbul. Seven years ago, they started with a short menu of lahmacun, zaatar pastries and makhlouta (pulse soup), but have become more experimental and now serve amazing things like their own peinirli (open pies) creations including ones with coq au vin, mozzarella and sauerkraut. A visit to Feyrouz’s pastry shop on the opposite corner of the original place is a must. It serves amazing kunefe and one of the best baklavas you can find with handmade buckwheat phyllo and roasted pistachios.

Kafeneios: The Historic Love of My Life

A kafeneio was an iconic mainstay of the Greek social order and could be found in any part of the country, even in the most remote villages on the mountains. The word means “coffee place” but it is much more than that. It is a meeting place, usually for men, to play cards or backgammon, to watch a football game, to debate about politics, sports or what’s going on in the village, all while drinking ouzo, tsipouro or coffee which is usually Greek ibrik coffee. Most kafeneios don’t serve main dishes, but snacks such as omelete, tomato salad or sausage to accompany the drinks. Some go a step further in their cooking and do a better job than full-on restaurants. The majority of kafeneios on the island of Crete, for example, offer a short menu of proper cooking. If you’re in Athens and want to experience the vibe of a proper Cretan kafeneio, you should go to Mitos in Kalithea. It looks, feels and tastes like it could be in Crete. People eating there are mostly from Crete and are seeking the traditional dishes of their island: expect a lot of raki, lamb and snails with rosemary. There’s also a fantastic 50-year old kafeneio in Galatsi [a northern suburb of Athens] called Lesvion, because the owners are from the island of Lesvos. It’s the best kafeneio for seafood in the city. It’s authentic, cheap and the fish is always super fresh. It perfectly fries small fish – anchovies, sardines and red mullets – and makes a phenomenal stew with cuttlefish, aubergine and tomato sauce. It has a huge selection of ouzo with more than 20 labels from Lesvos. Riris in Piraeus is a well-kept secret. It has the no-frills atmosphere of a classic Greek kafeneio, made complete with older residents watching the news or sports on TV. The refrigerator is full of wonderful seafood, from popular large catches to lesser-known varieties. The grilling tends to be a little heavy-handed, so request for your fish to be grilled for a slightly lesser duration.

The Best Cocktails in Athens 

The Clumsies often makes The World’s 50 Best Bars list as it serves the most innovative drinks in a high volume place and is far from being calm or boring. I go a lot to Baba Au Rum, which also made the list. I like its more classic approach to cocktail-making, the exotic decoration and the eclectic music. It probably makes the best Daiquiri in town. When I crave a Paloma or a perfectly-served Margarita, I run to Barro Negro, a tequila and mezcal bar in the historical centre. Line Athens is the moment’s talk of the town. It’s an all-day, bar-slash-restaurant created by The Clumsies duo, Nikos Bakoulis and Vasilis Kyritsis, together with Dimitris Dafopoulos, co-producer of Three Cents artisanal beverages. It occupies a large, high-ceilinged industrial space in the Kato Petralona neighbourhood. The bar and kitchen adhere to sustainable and zero-waste practices, and there’s a full in-house fruit wine (made with fermented fruits, such as figs and pomegranates) production on site. They also produce two beers, a lager and an IPA. The kitchen makes its own sourdough bread and offers a bar food menu with dishes such as dolma and beef tartare. Rumble in the Jungle is another new player on the cocktails scene. As the name suggests, it’s a hidden jungle in the heart of the city, owned by three guys who used to work in very esteemed cocktail bars in London. The cocktail list changes every day and is always fantastic. Right outside the bar, they operate a street bar they names The Bar in Front of the Bar, which is ideal for a drink in the Athens centre in the summertime. I also like Eprepe a lot, a new central spot in the up-and-coming district of Kypseli. It’s a small, attractive space with a mosaic floor, stripped concrete walls and tables laid out on the sidewalk to create the mix-and-match ambience of a neighbourhood watering hole, a Greek gastro-kafeneio and a natural wine bar. The bar snacks have bistronomic persuasion, the cocktails are classic, and the wines are exclusively natural with a comprehensive choice of spirits which includes many lesser-known labels. The music is excellent, ranging from electro to hip-hop and indie.

Drinks With Music on the Side

Santarosa is an absolute favourite even though it’s only four years old. It’s the only place in the city that is a dive bar, a cocktail bar and a classic local hangout all at the same time. The music selection, usually played from vinyl, is insane. It can go from avant-garde electronica to dark wave and classical music. For whiskey and good music (mostly jazz, blues and a lot of Tom Waits) I always go to Low Profile. It has a fantastic vibe and a great list of malt whiskeys. Jazz In Jazz, on the way up to Lycabettus hill, is a classic and another all-time favourite. It’s a beautiful atmospheric bar created with love for jazz culture and whiskey. Don’t leave the city before experiencing a drink at 4am in Syntagma’s The 7 Jokers. No spoilers for that one.

The Oldest Bars in Town

My favourite bar in Athens, and maybe in the world, is Galaxy. It has just celebrated its 50th birthday and the decoration feels like nothing has changed since day one. It’s a hangout for journalists, artists, actors, writers and lawyers. The hospitality is out of this world and whisky is the most typical drink there. Another all time classic is Au Revoir. The bar has been operating since 1958 and was designed by Aristomenis Proveleggios, a master of the Greek modernist movement. 

Specialty Coffee and Roasters in Athens

Anana is my favourite specialty coffee shop in the city. It sources beans from some of the best farms in the world and perfectly roasts them. It serves a great vegetarian and vegan brunch, plus homemade vegan sweets. I like to grab my coffee and sit on a stool by the large window and feel the energy of the historical city centre: a neighbourhood that I love so much. Kaya is a super tiny place hidden inside a stoa (inner-building courtyard), an architectural element that is distinctively Athenian. Since it doesn’t have any tables or stools, I have my coffee standing out in the stoa. It serves what is probably the best espresso in the city. The beans come from various Greek micro-roasters. Foyer is also a favourite. It hosts coffees by various European roasters, so it’s a different experience every week and I always discover something new. Foyer also sells coffee equipment, magazines and natural wines. Dio Goulies Kai Dio Boukies (Greek for “two sips and two bites”) is another coffee place I go to very often. It’s run by a really nice couple: a crazy Cretan guy called Nikos and his wife Tania, who’s was the Greek Barista Champion a few years ago. They serve coffee roasted by Roller Roasters, a new Athenian micro-roastery by two mechanics who specialise in Mini Coopers. They’re nerdy perfectionists that somehow fell in love with coffee, so they decided to buy their own roaster and to roast some high quality beans. Underdog in Thiseio is one of Greece’s specialty coffee pioneers and is home to three World Barista Champions. Whatever you get there is always made to perfection. Dope roasts its coffee in a 19th-century building that’s been given a makeover. It now boasts a cement floor, industrial lighting and a wooden roof with a large skylight. It also serves fantastic bagels. I’ve recently started going to In Love Again, a new venture by Thanos Prunarus, the guy behind Baba Au Rum. It makes pastries inspired by classic cocktails such as Mai Tai and Zombie and serves coffee as well as coffee cocktails using an exclusive blend by Taf.

Best Craft Beer in Athens

Blame the Sun is a brewery with a small taproom in the Koukaki neighbourhood. It plays really nice music: skate punk, stoner rock and surf music. It has eight of its own brews on tap and also serves Paloma on tap. Strange Brew is another small taproom in Koukaki that brews its own beers. In addition to serving those, it offers a beer selection by other Greek micro-breweries. 

A New Generation of Wine Bars

Heteroclito is the wine bar that introduced biodynamic and natural wines to Athens. It was the first in giving small Greek producers the chance to be featured on the list of a popular wine bar. The indoor space at Heteroclito is small, and looks and feels like a Parisian bistro. It has an upper floor that could be used for private bookings. But I like to grab a seat on the pedestrian road outside, since it’s in a part of the centre that’s always buzzing. Not far, there’s another wine bar called Oinoscent, co-owned by Aris Sklavenitis, one of Greece’s best sommeliers. The basement cellar has more than 1000 labels from all over the world. Materia Prima has two locations, one in Koukaki and another in the Pagrati neighbourhood. It has many natural wine choices and serves the best food out of all of the wine bars in Athens. The Pagrati branch has a small indoor space, but a huge terrace outside since it happens to be on a square. When I’m in the Exarcheia neighbourhood, I go to Tanini Agapi Mou. I love that it has everything by the glass. It’s also very different from the other wine bar I’ve mentioned in that it only serves Greek wines and has a Scandinavia-meets-Berlin style of decoration. I really like the atmosphere and the quirky owner.

The Workers’ Canteen (Plus a Little-Known Hack)

Twenty years ago, the historical centre had practically no dining scene to speak of. The Varvakios Central Market was there, and so any small tavern that opened around it was catering to the people of the market. Diporto was one of them and is actually one of the oldest taverns in the whole country, operating since 1890. It’s in a basement close to the central market, filled with wine barrels and frequented by musicians who sometimes come in with their instruments and start playing to guests. I like how small the place is and that you’ll often be forced to share a small table with strangers, which is unusual in Greece. The owner, Mr Mitsos, is lovely. He has become like an Athenian icon. When I visit, I always order the revithosoupa (chickpeas soup) and grilled sardines. It’s not known to everyone, but you can go to the market, buy yourself some fish or seafood, and give it to Mr Mitsos to grill for a small charge.

Tavernas With Good Food

The taverna was traditionally where people went to have cheap local food, whether it was a quick lunch or a late-night meal. They’re especially associated with Greek summers and the very cheesy triptych of sun, tzatziki and moussaka. Most of the good tavernas in Athens shut down in the aftermath of the economic crisis or when their owners died or retired. Among the few that are still very good is Oikonomou, one of the few places in Athens that serves good authentic Greek food in a laidback environment. It is something of an Athenian institution. Mavros Gatos is another one. It’s a family-owned taverna in the Pangrati neighbourhood. Its lamb chops are amazing, and the homemade savoury pies and the imam bayildi (Ottomman dish of stuffed eggplants) are noteworthy. There are two no-frilled fish tavernas to check out: Kanaria, located near the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, and Margaro, in Piraeus (the port area), an institution established in 1944, where there’s no menu – it only serves Greek salad, fried fish, crawfish and shrimps.

Great Old-School Souvlaki 

99 percent of souvlaki joints sell frozen or low-quality gyro and souvlaki, because they’re often tourist-traps located in high-traffic areas and selling to one-time customers. But there are two souvlaki shops by the name of Kostas that locals trust. They have nothing to do with one another. In fact people often confuse them. But they’re both good and they’ve both been around for a while. If I had to choose one, it would be the Kostas on Pentelis Street in Syntagma. I find the meat leaner there than in the other one. It’s possibly the best souvlaki in the centre. This spot has been around since the 50s, but the young guy who runs it now inherited it from his grandfather. He now wakes up every morning, estimates how many souvlakis he’d sell that day and prepares just enough for that. He does it all by himself on a tiny grill. He has a sign up that says “no stress” because the wait can sometimes be 45-minutes long, not only because he’s all by himself, but also because he’s a very relaxed guy and takes his sweet time, which is the total opposite of what souvlaki places stand for. Lefteris O Politis is another good grill shop that’s near Omonia Square. It has been in business since 1951 and makes fantastic beef kebab and serves it with tomatoes, thinly sliced onions and parsley on grilled pita. The portion is pretty small so I usually need two or three to be full. There’s a superb souvlaki place in Neos Kosmos called Achilleas. It’s tiny and makes a completely homemade gyro, which is super rare to find nowadays. Not too far is Tomas Kebab run by an Armenian guy. He makes delicious homemade lamb and beef kebabs without adding any spice.

Great New-Wave Souvlaki

Hoocut on Agias Irinis square makes a fantastic modern-style souvlaki. It uses high-quality meat and thinly carves it like a gyro with a specially designed knife called mezzaluna. I recommend the ewe with tzatziki, spicy sauce, tomato, red onions and paprika.

Natural Ice Cream Born in Syros

I was very happy when Django opened in Athens last year. It’s an ice cream shop from the island of Syros. Gelato grandmaster Konstantinos Karakatsanis uses organic milk from Kozani [city in northern Greece] fruits grown organically in Argolida [eastern Peloponnese region], and no processed ingredients, additives or stabilisers. He produces 16 flavours every day in limited quantities, eight of which are sorbets. The Aegina pistachio is a standout. 

Contemporary Japanese

Sushimou is on the same level as any sushi bar I’ve visited in Japan, in quality, service and aesthetic. It has a dozen counter seats inside and some seating outside. I prefer the counter where I can watch the master, chef-owner Antonis Drakoularakos, work. I always go for omakase. Drakoularakos uses super fresh fish from Greece, crafting his creations right in front of you and handing it to you over the counter.

Weekly Shopping with a Side of Anarchy

Katalahou is my favourite grocery store in Athens. The soundtrack there ranges from Greek indie rock to metal. It’s in Exarcheia and is true to the vibe of the area, known for its strong Anarchists’ presence. You would usually pay a lot more for matching quality, but since Katalahou is a social cooperative that wants to help the community, the markup is kept low. The shop is small and looks like a corridor that’s loaded with products: organic vegetables, fruits, eggs, cheese, cold-cuts, honey, tahini, legumes, pasta, and other artisanal products from small Greek producers.

Game-Changing Bakeries

Greece is a bread nation. We love bread. We eat bread with everything. We eat bread with bread. But what’s crazy is that 99.9 percent of the bread that existed in Greece pre-Kora era was awful. Kora is a new-age Athens bakery that contributed to changing the baking landscape in the city. It was the first to introduce good sourdough bread and viennoiseries. All doughs are fermented for at least 20 hours and the viennoiseries are made using high-quality French butter. My favourites things there include the oat sourdough bread; the focaccia with rosemary, olive oil and sea salt; and the ham and cheese croissant with Apaki ham, Kasseri cheese, mustard and Béchamel. They often have weekend specials, like an amazing chocolate bread. Very close to where I live is Athens’ first proper croissanterie called Overoll. It produces 12 types of croissants every day made with excellent French butter. The plain one is king. The cruffin (a croissant-muffin hybrid) with caramel butter and crème patissière is also delicious. So is the savoury spinach and feta pie, made with croissant pastry. Black Salami in Exarcheia is also a standout. They use flour produced by the Bongiovanni family in Turin in Italy, to make slow-fermentation sourdough products. The amazingly crunchy buns are great for sandwiches. Try the one with pastrami, pecorino, mustard sauce and pickles, or the one with Tzoumagia sausage and coleslaw). Focaccia comes with all sorts of yummy toppings. Sweet Nolan, by the Nolan gastro-bistro team, is a new-age pastry shop where you can get an amazing basque cheesecake, slow-baked lemon tart, their signature pasteis de nata (Portuguese egg custard tart) and an exceptional sourdough bread with espresso, cocoa, dark chocolate chips and dried cherries.

Athens’ Fine-Diners

Botrini’s is also one of the most interesting fine-diners in Athens. Chef Ettore Botrini has a very recognisable style of cooking: high-end techniques with a soulful result. He’s half-Italian and his other half is from Corfu (where he also has a restaurant called Etrusco) and manages to show the heritage of both cultures in a very creative way in his dishes. Spondi does French fine-dining and is probably one of the most affordable two-Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe. The quality is really up there, the service is exceptional and the value for money is on point. Michelin-starred restaurant Varoulko is legendary in Greece. Chef Lefteris Lazarou presents a sophisticated version of traditional seafood dishes on the seafront. In Aleria, one of Greece’s leading chefs, Gikas Xenakis, creates modern Greek dishes drawn from his extensive knowledge of ingredients. He has one of the city’s most interesting vegetarian degustation menus. If that’s not your thing, not far is CTC, a restaurant located in one of the most charming, old courtyard houses in Kerameikos. Chef Alexandros Tsiotinis radically reworks Greek cuisine and has just earned his first Michelin star for it.

Fine-Dining on a Counter

Hervé in Petralona was the first fine-diner in Athens with a counter setup. Chef Hervé Pronzato was born and raised in Paris and used to work in Athens 20 years ago. He was definitely one of the most innovative chefs of that period in Greece, and probably the first to do what we now call “bistronomy” cuisine. He left for a few years and came back to open Hervé in the summer of 2020. The restaurant is like a speakeasy: no signs outside and you have to ring a bell to get in. There’s some seating on the small outdoor terrace, but opting for the counter will give you a totally different dining experience. The dining room inside is quite dark and the music is loud, but you feel relaxed immediately. It’s exactly the type of fine-dining restaurant I enjoy going to regularly. It’s always a tasting menu of 17 courses, all of which are full of unique ideas and complex flavours. The restaurant definitely deserves a Michelin star.

The Most Anticipated Openings in Athens

A meal at Delta is a world-class culinary experience. The restaurant opened recently in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, right above the National Opera Hall, and is the most important fine-diner to open in Athens in recent years. They brought in two of the most talented Greek chefs with exceptional experience working abroad. Thanos Feskos was assistant head chef at Geranium in Copenhagen, and George Papazacharias was the R&D chef at Under and Maaemo in Norway. There are clear Nordic and Japanese influences at Delta and they do a lot of fermentation, but most of the ingredients they use come from their own farm outside of Athens (they do a lot of foraging as well) and dishes will have things like smoked fava with mastic gum, homemade bottarga and aged ewe fat. Soil is a new project by celebrated chef Tasos Mantis (whose work at restaurant Hytra successively earned him a Michelin star). It’s in a gorgeous 1925 townhouse with an inner courtyard, in the Pagrati neighbourhood. The restaurant has two menus (I recommend the more extensive of the two) both of which are an expression of Mantis’ culinary philosophy, pulsating with fresh ideas, loaded with intensity yet beautifully balanced. Dishes are adorned with herbs, edible flowers and fruits and vegetables grown on the family farm on the outskirts of Athens or sourced from small-scale farmers and foragers. They include an amazing mini-burger with eel pâté, guanciale and Bermuda buttercup leaves, and kombu-marinated amberjack with fennel, an oyster-pine nut cream and pearls of finger lime grown in Greece.

New Ideas in Greek Seafood

Travolta in the Peristeri suburb of Athens caused quite a stir when it first opened. Part of it was due to its beautifully executed raw fish dishes (the red mullet tartare is exquisite). It’s also due to their commitment to sourcing the best ingredients and to following a fine-dining approach in a casual setting. My top picks include the squid kontosouvli (spit-roasting technique) and the moussaka with minced calamari and octopus. Argoura is also a must . Chef-owner Nikos Michail works with a rare selection of fish and seafood, such as sea squirts and sea anemones, and uses sophisticated marinades and cooking techniques. Try the smoked eel with eggplant and the seafood giouvetsi (casserole). Don’t miss Ouzeri tou Laki, which has been operating in Victoria Square for nearly 40 years. It looks like a simple neighbourhood ouzeri (a traditional place to drink ouzo and eat fish mezes), but beyond the classics (like the cuttlefish with spinach), they get experimental and serve dishes like lasagna with herring and almonds.

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