You’ve done souvlaki and tried a traditional taverna. Now treat yourself to the ultimate fine dining in Athens at these famous Michelin-starred restaurants.
By Kimon Frangakis
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Athens is home to some excellent gourmet restaurants. Although the venerable Michelin Guide has yet to grasp the breadth of what the Athens culinary scene truly has to offer, in 2019 it awarded five restaurants in Athens with Michelin stars—and in late 2021, another two outstanding eateries earned a seat at the table. All seven restaurants—five awarded 1 Michelin star and two with 2 stars—are well worth the visit. The setting is often as enchanting as what’s on the plate, from fine dining by the seaside to a rooftop restaurant with Acropolis views. They’re also reasonably priced by international standards, given their excellent form and quality. And you don’t have to book months in advance. So if you’re feeling starry-eyed in Athens, go for it.
2 Michelin stars
Chef: Angelos Lantos
The first restaurant in Athens to receive a Michelin star in 2002, Spondi has remained at the top of its game due to the perfectionism of its owner, Apostolos Trastelis. The restaurant sits in the friendly neighbourhood of Pangrati, in a pretty neoclassical building. The summer terrace is charming and the vaulted main room inside feels special in the wintertime. The food has always leaned on the creative French side as for years famous French chefs have been coming back and forward, creating memorable menus and training top notch brigades. Angelos Landos is the first non-French chef in years to be put in charge.
Spondi offers a truly knowledgeable, sophisticated cuisine presented with confidence, noblesse and—dare we say—humility. Meat dishes include Challans duck, milk fed lamb, veal sweetbreads and venison, beautifully paired with earthy vegetables (beetroot, carrot, red onion) and sweet and bitter notes (ginger, currants, endives).
This summer terrace sets the perfect stage for a Michelin-star meal.
"Spondi offers a truly knowledgeable, sophisticated cuisine presented with confidence, noblesse and—dare we say—humility."
From the fish selection, we recommend the turbot with corn, sesame, shimeji mushrooms and yuzu citrus, a tour de force of stealthy elegance. And being French at heart, Spondi has always offered the best foie gras in town—whether it’s the preserved version with spices, chocolate and orange, or pan fried fresh with chervil root, Jerusalem artichoke, chestnut and coffee consommé. The desserts here are consistently among the best in Athens—if not the best. We suggest you try more than one in mini portions.
The service at Spondi is up to Parisian standards, even though the cult maitre d’ Nikos Retelas, who had the gravitas of a vintage Christopher Lee, sadly retired recently. Ask for the alluring sommelier Miss Giovanna Lykou and don’t be afraid to taste some excellent Greek wine with your world class dishes.
Funky Gourmet is at the forefront of Greek molecular gastronomy.
Photo: Funky Gourmet
2 Michelin stars
Chefs: Giorgianna Hiliadaki, Nikos Roussos
After ten years at the forefront of Greek gastronomy, introducing molecular gastronomy to Athenian taste buds, Funky Gourmet is taking a sabbatical. The ground-breaking restaurant in the edgy neighbourhood of Keramikos recently closed, and will reopen inside the Athens Hilton in 2020. The restaurant may have a playful name, but it is a no-nonsense establishment, utterly deserving of its two Michelin stars. It probably aspires to gain a third at its new address.
Though the menu is sure to radically change when Funky Gourmet reopens, the first decade’s greatest hits included a famous granita of Greek salad, a duo of white chocolate and bottarga (cured fish roe), an amazing rabbit and shallot stifado “stew”, and a heartbreaking mini-burger. We hope that the excellent “soft boiled egg” dessert will reappear in some form: the shell was made of chocolate, the white was a heavenly mousse and the yolk a rich mango coulis that saturated your palate with fruity, creamy bliss.
(Due to reopen at the Athens Hilton.)
1 Michelin star
Chef: Tassos Mantis
This fine dining restaurant is rather tucked away on the 6th floor of the Onassis Stegi on Syngrou Avenue, a rapidly evolving highway that’s now home to three outstanding cultural venues. Hytra recently underwent a fresh revamp by Divercity, an award-winning architecture studio. The piece de resistance is the backlit bamboo-weave bar and ceiling, which bathes the dining room in a warm glow. In summer, the restaurant moves upstairs to the 7th floor roof terrace, with panoramic views of the Acropolis, Lycabettus Hill and the Athens skyline.
Hytra’s cuisine is influenced by the Scandinavian avant-garde. Case in point: a menu studded with rare foraged and fermented vegetables, herbs and fruit. Dishes feature fermented pear, pine needle emulsion, pickled porcini, blanched mustard leaves and creamed seaweed. So it’s a great choice for vegetarians. There is even a satisfying vegetarian (though not vegan) eight-course tasting menu.
"Hytra’s cuisine is influenced by the Scandinavian avant-garde. Case in point: a menu studded with rare foraged and fermented vegetables, herbs and fruit."
The kitchen’s philosophy—innovative yet earthy, whimsical yet unpretentious—is best illustrated in one of their desserts: a delicate white chocolate mousse with tangy yoghurt crumble, mint and a dollop of refreshing pea ice cream. Adjacent to the restaurant is Hytra Apla (it means simple in Greek), with equally exciting design but a more informal and less pricey menu. Fun dishes include a Greek hot dog, a quinoa salad with pickled wild baby artichoke, and a €9 gourmet mac and cheese.
1 Michelin Star
Chef: Hector Botrini
Greece’s answer to Gordon Ramsay (he hosted the Greek version of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares with comparable mordancy), Ettore Botrini is quite the entrepreneur. Sporting his trademark jockey’s cap, the Greco-Italian chef has lent his larger-than-life persona to a collection of ventures from casual pizzerias to potato crisps.
Botrini’s flagship restaurant in the unassuming but lively suburb of Halandri is a luminous space with white furniture and walls that show off the equally bright dishes. The menu balances the latest food trends with well calibrated nostalgia. Botrini’s culinary memories from the island of Corfu, where he grew up, are refined and updated using cutting edge techniques. The swordfish carpaccio flavoured with bitter orange is a good example. For his signature marine carbonara, the tagliatelle are made with calamari and the egg yolk emulsion is replaced with sea urchin roe. And what is this audacious addition at the bottom of the menu: Tzatziki for dessert? But no more spoilers!
1 Michelin Star
Chef: Lefteris Lazarou
Jovial and cuddly, chef Lefteris Lazarou is as likable as he is famous. As he proudly tours the floor of his award-winning seaside restaurant in Mikrolimano several times a night, local power brokers, beaming tourists, and modest couples who’ve saved for a special occasion all seem to know and love him. And he loves them back.
Lazarou was practically born in the kitchen and at sea. His father was a cook in the merchant navy. Although Lazarou is one of Greece’s most successful chefs, he has stayed true to his roots with a genuine man-of-the-people attitude. His restaurant sits at the heart of Mikrolimano, a picturesque yachting port famous for fish restaurants, about 20 minutes away from the city centre. Varoulko boasts three floors indoors and arguably the best outdoor seating the little port has to offer, almost touching the boats.
Grab a glass of wine and enjoy a Michelin-star meal.
"Varoulko boasts three floors indoors and arguably the best outdoor seating the little port has to offer, almost touching the boats."
After decades at the top of his game, Lazarou’s most famous dish—calamari al pesto on a nest of crispy potatoes—remains on the menu, alongside new recipes that he presents with bravado. Outstanding appetisers include the poached egg with smoked eel and potato mousse. The sweet and savoury combination of fatty fish fillets on thin sourdough toast with pea puree, smoked aubergine mousse, tomato and carrot jam is a “tartine” you could happily snack on for the rest of your life. The cuttlefish risotto is also a must-try dish in Athens.
If it’s your first time at Varoulko (or indeed Greece), we recommend you choose from the catch of the day (ask your waiter for advice, if you’re not sure about local fish species). Enjoy your fish with bitter wild greens dressed in a heartbreakingly simple emulsion of the best olive oil and freshest lemon juice.
The Pelagos fine dining restaurant in the Four Seasons Astir Palace of Vouliagmeni was awarded its first Michelin star only months after Luca Piscazzi (formerly of the two-star La Dame de Pic in London) took over as head chef. You can see him work quietly with his brigade in an open kitchen that runs along most of the impressive dining room. The decor exudes the luxury and confidence of a bygone era. It almost feels as if an Onassis’ yacht was "moored" inside an art deco New York palace. Everywhere around you, you see and feel polished but unpretentious class. It’s a philosophy that the cuisine seems to abide by too. Starters include the best seller cold spaghetti with caviar and an almond - fennel emulsion and the truly Michelin-worthy yellowtail with broccolini in a silky carbonara sauce.
The signature main dish is the dry aged sea bass which is cured for four days in a mastic crust before been dramatically presented at your table, raw, on a bed of pine needles. The waiter then proceeds to crack the mastic encasing and sends the fillet back to the kitchen for cooking. The fish is juicy and flaky, with a faint aroma of mastic: a must-try. Desserts include an excellent portokalopita (greek phyllo orange pie) with vanilla foam, honey comb and timur pepper. Or why not try the Mediterranean cheese selection instead, which comes with homemade walnut bread, fig chutney and honey. A dinner at Pelagos is a cosmopolitan fine dining experience, orchestrated by Cedric Vinckier, the restaurant manager who is quite a character. Beware, he might tempt you with one of his signature martinis, dotted with a selection of essential oils you can choose from!
CTC (an acronym which, when pronounced in Greek: “sitisi”, literally means “feeding”) was first listed in the much-watched guide 5 years ago. It wasn’t decorated with a star, but earned its place as a cool discovery for creative dining, worth checking out, in an inconspicuous corner of the lower Ilissia neighbourhood, near the Athens Hilton. Last year, the restaurant moved to grungy Keramikos, to a more spacious building with a lovely verdant courtyard for alfresco dining in the summer. Here, the chef and owner Alexandros Tsiotinis proposes an 11 course menu (good value at 72 euros), inspired by Greek gastronomic tradition (yes, there has been a modern rendition of moussaka as well, in the past). The menu changes seasonally—sometimes more often—depending on the inspiration but also on the sustainability ethos of the chef-owner. Basking in the glow of his first Michelin star, Alex currently proposes innovative yet comforting dishes such as beef cheeks braised in a “bianco” sauce from Corfu and laced with a cream of fresh cheese from Tinos, served with smoked gnocchi. Another coup de coeur is the confit of fresh Greek cod with a mousse of leek and burnt butter, topped with Greek farmed oscietra caviar. Playful yet sophisticated desserts include a cauliflower cremeux with white chocolate ganache and coconut sorbet—a surprisingly elegant symphony in white.