Eating out in Athens gets more exciting by the minute. Once, the focus was just on the food. Now everything else matters as well, from the service and setting to the provenance of ingredients and food presentation. Here are some of the hottest tables that are spicing up the city’s fine dining credentials.
The capital’s newest fine dining entry—crowning the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre—certainly lives up to the design heritage of this landmark urban hub by famed architect Renzo Piano. Delta is gifted with breath-taking views of Mikrolimano (especially at sunset), and the décor is a luxurious, futuristic landscape inhabiting a vast industrial space; with a forest of trees hanging from the ceiling and a sculpted brass bar centre-piece that resembles the sea. The 17 course meal comes in three options: omnivore, vegetarian and vegan (a previously unheard of concept in Greek fine dining). The two chefs Giorgos Papazacharias and Thanos Feskos have created perhaps the country’s only refined dining experience where sustainability takes centre stage; resulting in some surprising dishes such as a sea urchin made of potato and filled with fish roe and rose petals, or a fermented “white” pepper. Overall, this is an extraordinary (almost ritualistic) culinary safari that stretches out to around 2.5 to 3 hours. You can opt for either a wine or juice pairing to accompany the expertly-described dishes. Our favourite? A magnificent steamed squid with topinambur (artichoke) on a bed of white pebbles, and a slow-cooked cod in a jus of prunes.
Review by Despina Trivolis
You have to book well in advance for this tiny, unpretentious Japanese restaurant with just 12 stools squeezed around a sushi counter. Hidden behind a traditional noren (white curtain), the blonde wooden décor is simple and authentically Japanese. The focus here is on divine sushi and sashimi, all prepared single-handedly on the spot by the young chef-patron, Antonis Drakoularakos, who trained in Japan. Using fresh local fish rather than expensive Japanese imports, Drakoularakos slices fish and rolls the sushi in front of you, forever smiling as he explains the ingredients and technique in every dish and how to eat it. For the full experience, go for the omakase option, which means "I leave it up to the chef." There are specific time slots for seatings, with the first one at 6:30 pm. Despite huge demand, Drakoularakos keeps his popular restaurant closed on weekends. “Because I want to stay healthy and lead a good life, so that the food can taste good.”
Chic and minimal, with a luminous white marble counter, tiny dark wooden tables, and pavement seating that’s great for people-watching, Nolan opened with a bang in early 2016. Instantly, this lively warren of streets just below Syntagma Square became the hot new ethnic food district of Athens. That’s all down to Sotiris Kontizas, now a reluctant, and modest, celebrity thanks to a stint on Masterchef. He took his Greek-Japanese heritage and created an ambitious but harmonious fusion of the two cuisines. The result is light, comforting and delicious. The menu changes seasonally, but some star dishes remain constant: the soba noodles with smoked salmon in tahini sauce, the panko-covered cod burger with tartar sauce, and the shortfin tuna in butter miso and fennel. The menu is short (about 18 dishes and four sides) and is not separated into starters and mains. The idea is to share them around for a wider taste experience. If you haven’t booked in advance (please do: it’s so worth it), try your luck on a weekday lunchtime, when it’s usually less busy.
Feedel Urban Gastronomy
Even though it’s right in the heart of Athens, fashionable Feedέλ feels pleasingly private and peaceful. Tables spill onto a leafy square hidden just off hectic Ermou Street. A beautiful Frida Kahlo mural looks out from a red brick wall. An ideal spot for a romantic dinner or a quiet meal in the early evening, Feedέλ has evolved classic Greek meze for modern taste buds. Start with one of their signature cocktails at the long wooden bar. You can even keep drinking them throughout your meal: cocktail pairings are encouraged. Sharing lots of small plates, as is the Greek custom, is also the name of the game. The menu is simple and creative. Chef Leonidas Koutsopoulos carefully selects ingredients from all over Greece. Try the velvety green fava (split peas) with truffle oil, thyme and zamboni (similar to prosciutto) from Naxos island; the tarama (fish roe) with sesame oil and smoked eel served with sweet potato chips; or the cannoli stuffed with nivato (a white creamy cheese) pistachio nuts and a jelly made of honey and thyme. On the weekends, it’s open for lunch as well.
A fine farm-to-fork option for committed carnivores. Chef Yiannis Liokas describes his cooking as "mountain cuisine." He visits the restaurant’s organic farm in Central Greece every two weeks to oversee the produce that winds up on your plate: breeds like Charolais, Limousine, Red Angus, water buffalo from northern Greece, along with various types of sheep, goats, and game. All of the restaurant’s dairy products, eggs, honey, olives and olive oil, the legumes and most of the fruit and vegetables also come from the farm (free of pesticides, antibiotics, chemical fertilisers and hormones). Bralou’s epic meat pie—ground mutton and caramelised onions, wrapped in handmade filo pastry—takes classic Greek comfort food to another level. The hand-cut beef tartare with pickled mulberries and mustard seeds is also exceptional. Adventurous eaters should try the frygadeli (beef liver wrapped in suet) with smoked yoghurt and fresh herbs. Or choose a special cut of meat like a dry aged steak from the butcher’s counter. End on a sweet note with the kadaifi (vermicelli pastry stuffed with chopped nuts) served with sheep milk yoghurt mousse and caramelised walnuts. Bralou is open for lunch and dinner and has a deli across the street. There are two more branches, in Kifissia and Psychiko.
Parked on the rooftop of the Athens Marriott, e&o blends delicate Asian flavours and serves them over Poseidon-worthy views of the Piraeus sea. One of Athens’ most popular pan-Asian restaurants, e&o is shielded from the elements by ceiling-to-floor glass windows and feels earthy and homey, despite a glam clientele. Ask the clued up staff to steer you through the rich menu pickings as you agonise over tastes from Japan, China and Thailand; Bali and Malaysia; all prepared with market-fresh local ingredients. The smart play is to pair everything with a few cocktail elixirs from either of the two rooftop bars. Want a date night preview reel? If it was up to us, we’d kick off with a Cloud 9 sundowner of Aperol, gin and grapefruit (it’s the colour of sunset, after all); teamed with the prawn dumplings and scallops in a nest of kataifi pastry (golden, crispy shredded slices of phyllo dough). We’d chase that with the freshest of spicy tuna rolls; then for the main, perhaps the slow roasted black cod with miso marinade. Or we’d spice things up with the green chicken curry with its delectable homemade paste of 15 spices and chilli peppers, before playing it cool with a mango and papaya mix mochi ice cream. Then we’d go for the clincher. A nightcap while we watch the sailboats gently rocking against the twinkling hilltop of Kastella.
Reviewed by Maria Kostaki
A beautiful neoclassical building with a charming courtyard houses this one of a kind restaurant, where chef Gikas Xenakis puts a novel spin on traditional Greek dishes. Many diners opt for the tasting menus, which are designed to please different palates and to cater to all kinds of dietary restrictions. There are two main tasting menus, one with five courses and one with seven, plus separate vegetarian and pescatarian seven-course options. If you go a la carte, start with the deconstructed hortopita (pie stuffed with foraged greens) or the scallops with cauliflower, kumquat and beetroot. For the main course, try the bourdeto, based on a recipe from Corfu, made with couscous and a spicy medley of scorpion fish, mussels and calamari. The pork cheeks with potatoes, apple and chicory are also delicious. Sweet tooths are well cared for: our favourite desserts are the Valhrona chocolate with salted caramel, tonka and banana, and Aleria’s spin on saragli, a pastry with pistachio nuts, apple and cinnamon.
This elegant local favourite in the affluent neighbourhood of Neo Psychiko delivers the sea to your plate in a contemporary Athenian way. Head chef Yiannis Liakou’s menu changes constantly, depending on the catch of the day. You get to choose your own fish and you can ask him to prepare it the way you like best: carpaccio, sashimi, tartare, or maybe something heartier like kakavia (fish soup) or giouvetsi (baked with orzo and tomato sauce). Perhaps a seafood risotto or pasta? The bestselling salad is humble but incredibly tasty: a peeled tomato garnished with capers, fleur de sel, oregano and extra virgin olive oil. The red mullet carpaccio with citrus fruits is a winner, as is the prawn ceviche. If you’re craving something quintessentially Greek, try the grilled sardines with diced tomatoes, red onions and parsley, or the fricassee, a fish, lettuce and herb stew with a creamy egg and lemon sauce. Mop it all up with their wonderful char-grilled sourdough. During summer, the spacious courtyard is a gorgeous setting for a date night.
Simul Gastronomic Situ
For date night, look no further than this beautifully-lit space on a quiet street near the Athens Concert Hall. The fresh culinary approach of chef Nikos Thomas fuses contemporary Greek cuisine with Asian and French flavours. Simul in Latin means “together”, and the “(in) situ” tagged onto the name alludes to the focus on the best local ingredients (for instance, all the seafood comes straight from a fisherman on nearby Evia island). Dishes most deserving of an encore are the char-grilled calamari with chorizo chutney, creamed parsley root, peas, coriander and a lime-coconut sauce; the ray cheeks with fried-to-perfection gnocchi, cauliflower and black garlic; and my personal favourite, the meltingly tender Challans duck with mashed roast carrots, topped with chamomile foam. There’s a 7-course tasting menu (the best strategy is for half of the table to go that route, combined with some a la carte dishes). Desserts, prepared by young pastry chef, Emmanuela Delatola, are well-balanced and beautifully presented. Especially the mango and passionfruit sorbet, wrapped like a dumpling in mango carpaccio on an olive oil crumble with coriander pesto.
In the foothills of Mount Lycabettus, elegant Papadakis is a classic fine-dining destination with colourful artworks on the walls and fresh flowers aplenty. When it’s warm, there are tables out on the pavement, making for a lovely setting on this quiet corner of Kolonaki. (Some tables even have sneaky Parthenon views.) Celebrity chef Argyro Barbarigou comes from the island of Paros, and sources many ingredients from there. Despite her fame as a TV chef, Barbarigou still specialises in honest Greek island-style cooking. The menu emphasises simplicity and freshness, with a focus on seafood, although there are fabulous meat dishes and salads, too. Case in point: a variation of the classic Greek salad with sweet cherry tomatoes, caper leaves, and xinomyzithra (creamy sheep and goat’s cheese) or the slow-cooked chickpeas, served with taramosalata. Looking for a more hearty dish? Go for the prawn and langoustine giouvetsi. The star dessert is the bougatsa, Greece’s traditional custard pie. The orange pie served with frozen yoghurt also has devoted fans.