Dine like a god

Maryalicia Post

Posted: Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Acropolis is a sight to behold, especially from the dinner table

A fine-dining enthusiast with only a few nights in Athens has to make some hard choices. A city once better known for street food has become a firm favourite with gourmets. High on any connoisseur’s list is a meal at Spondi’s; this long-established restaurant with two Michelin stars is indeed considered ‘worth a detour’. For 12 years it has been listed as the top restaurant in Athens. Its signature dishes include langoustine and lamb. Open for dinner every day.
Ettore Botrini, the innovative Italian chef at the one-star Botrini’s, has his own faithful following. His attention to detail extends to sourcing many of the oils, salamis and wines used at Botrini’s from the family farm. The restaurant, in a converted suburban school, serves dinner only. Closed Monday. For a night on the glamorous side, try the one-star Hytra in the Onassis Cultural Centre. Two menus are offered; one catering to sophisticated tastes, the other based on simpler ingredients. Dinner served daily.
For many, however, an evening at Funky Gourmet would be the priority. From its hard-to-find location to its hard-to-describe tasting menus, the theme here is ‘surprise’. FG’s two young chefs were awarded their first star in 2012 and their second in 2014. They are of the molecular school of cooking so expect smoke and mirrors with your meal. What looks like a hard-cooked egg is one of the desserts, A round of Greek caviar is coated with chocolate. One of the courses on the 13-course tasting menu is a picnic – the ingredients come to you in a basket; a chequered tablecloth is included along with stones with which to hold the cloth down against an imaginary breeze. There are three menus, with and without wine pairing. Bookings open a month in advance of your proposed date. Dinner only, closed Monday
All of these restaurants are ‘vegetarian friendly’.
The Varoulko Seaside, one of Athens’ best known and best loved restaurants, is actually in the port town of Piraeus, a 25-minute taxi ride from town. Chef Lefteris Lazarou opened his doors in 1987. At the time, creative cooking and seafood were a novelty in Athens, where meat was the star on every menu. His crayfish moussaka and basil pesto squid on a potato nest made the restaurant an overnight success. A Michelin star followed in 2002. The setting on the Mikrolimano marina is particularly enchanting at night as the maritime-themed dining room opens on to the water. The menu features Greek and Mediterranean dishes, with squid and octopus figuring strongly. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner daily.

An intimate experience in the 
comfort of someone else’s home
Attending a dinner party in a private home is a relatively new concept taking hold in cities around the world. One of the most popular experiences in the Greek capital is dinner with Dimitris and Savvas in their Monastiraki Square apartment, which features a rooftop terrace and a breathtaking view of the Acropolis. The menu usually includes seven or eight courses, with substitute courses provided for vegetarians. Wine, chat and a traditional Greek welcome assured. If you would prefer lunch, a similar meal is offered by Michail in his apartment, also ‘with a view’. Sometimes Michail is available to pick you up and return you to your hotel. Private dining booking:
Clearing the air on a smoking ban 
that is in force but not enforced
Smoking in Athens restaurants was officially banned in 2009. It’s a regulation widely ignored. In fact, it has been described as a ‘ban on ashtrays’; small plates or other makeshift receptacles are pressed into service and smokers continue to light up. If a non-smoking restaurant is an absolute requirement for you, consider Makalo, which offers fine cuisine at affordable prices. Smoke-free, they initially met with a lot of opposition from smokers but held their nerve and now have regular clients who prefer taste over smoke. Open 12:00 to 23:00. On Facebook but no website. Nikis 23, Athina 105 57. Phone: +30 21 1406 7032
Be prepared to pay extra for bread 
and water – even if you don’t eat it
Check your bill before tipping in a Greek restaurant to see if it has already been rounded up. If not, give between 5 and 10% directly to the waiter (don’t leave it on the table). In a small local restaurant, a tip of 20% is not unusual. You may note that a ‘cover charge’ of a Euro or two has been added. This is for the bread and water – and it’s a standard charge even if you didn’t want them. In any restaurant you may have to ask for the bill – it won’t be presented until you signal you’re ready. Years ago, Greek taxi drivers didn’t expect a tip but nowadays a tip of 5 to 10% or rounding up the bill is appreciated.