Not many people know I have a past with Greece. After studying Ancient Greek in college, I opted to study interpreting English and Modern Greek. Greece joined the European Union in 1981, so working for the European Parliament seemed like a good career path. It turned out differently, and media became my true passion. Having been in this beautiful country often at the time, I didn’t come back for more than twenty years. Last November, I visited the public broadcaster ERT, fell in love again with Athens and decided to come back with Filip. This Easter was good timing. I have a good marriage: we are foodies and fond of a nice hotel. Restaurants are booked well in advance and doing so is part of the pleasure. Take this as advice: word of mouth makes that the better dining tables are rarely available for last-minute bookings.
The old taverna of Psarras
Tourists are back in numbers, but the Greek mentality of honestly being kind to people doesn’t make you feel trapped as a tourist. Even in the Plaka neighbourhood, most restaurants serve you decent food. One restaurant there stands out. Last November, my colleague Beatriz took me there, and I wanted to return. For traditional Greek food, The Old Taverna of Psarras is the place to be. Mezedes, lamb, grilled fish, moussaka, … it’s on the menu and delicious. The restaurant is split between four tiny houses, but the outside terrace connects it.
A good app for selecting the better restaurants in town is Guide Michelin. It’s the online version of the red books we used to carry with us. So far, none of the ones we picked from the app disappointed us. Styles and tastes may differ, but quality prevails everywhere. Spondi is rated two stars and is situated in Pangrati, one of the more authentic districts. If you want to meet the local crowd, the bars at the Varnava square are the place to be. Most guests in the restaurant were tourists going for a culinary adventure. The Foie Gras, Elderberry Mandarin Pepper & Flowers and the Canelé, Rum & Smoked Vanilla were a fantastic combination of flavours. My opinion is that two-star restaurants are lost compared to a one-star Michelin (talented) and a three-star (a chef who masters food innovation). The stress of losing a second star or not reaching a third is higher than when you lose your one star. It was great to have a printed menu to consult what we were eating. It’s sometimes hard to hear a non-native English speaker explain the dish.
CTC urban gastronomy
We like it when the staff is relaxed and spontaneous when you visit. For me, it’s a reflection of how the chef manages the house. CTC was a discovery in Athens. The restaurant recently moved to a new location, and the interior design is simple yet perfect. We need to come back for the food and dine at the terrace, which is just stunning—no views of the Acropolis but a private garden in the city centre. CTC Voyage is an 11-course tasting menu at a reasonable price. Local, fresh food but reinvented, staff carefully explaining what you eat. If you must pick just one restaurant from this blog post, this is the one!
A 15-minute taxi drive from Athens is the port of Piraeus, which hosts several seafood restaurants. As we love fish, this slight detour was planned. Chef Lefteris Lazarou used to work with his father in ship kitchens. Now, he has this fancy restaurant Varoulko with a view of the harbour. Currently, the food he serves is probably no longer the simple food he used to serve to the sailors. Although some of the dishes were great, it was too much of the same. The excellent veggie cremes he created come back to accompany all of the fresh fish catch course they had recommended. Not sure if this was not our taste or just one many restaurants too much …
Lunch is often undervalued when travelling. You go to the gym, eat a late breakfast, read the newspapers, and then rush to the museums or galleries before checking the local shops. Then, lunch is something that happens along the road. Wrongly so, and that’s why Filip and I are trying to change our habits. Why is gastronomy associated with the evening and not noon? We still have a way to go, but we are making progress.
The Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation is a marvellous small museum in Athens with an astonishing collection. There is a welcoming interior garden on the first floor where healthy, light snacks and salads are served. Or where you can have a coffee and cake. We also appreciated Aneton. We opted for small but healthy dishes: cabbage with quinoa, cuttlefish, … and a Route Gris orange wine from Thessaloniki.
A final note on Greek wines. We’re not experts here, but it is a pleasure to discover new grapes. Filip prefers white wines; I like both white and red. Some white wines are a bit too sweat for my taste. We, therefore, often opted for the Santorini wines. The volcanic soil makes them mineral.
We’ll be back. There is more to discover, and we’ll take more extensive notes on the wines.