Is there any dish that doesn’t taste better when eaten by the seaside? Perhaps we become more attuned to what’s on our plate (and in our glasses), as the week’s pressures drift away on the sea breeze. Gregarious feasts by the seaside, drawn out over many hours and many carafes of wine, are a favourite Sunday pastime for Athenians. The Athens Riviera, with its cinematic coastline, extending from Flisvos Marina in Palio Faliro down to Poseidon’s Temple at Cape Sounion, provides the ultimate backdrop for this much-loved ritual. But there’s an etiquette and an art to seaside dining in Athens. Read on for our insider’s guide on how to lunch like a local, along with our top picks for your perfect weekend gathering—from elegant seafood restaurants open year-round to family-run fish tavernas where the kids can play on the beach.
Timing is Everything
Like most southern Europeans, Greeks don’t like to be rushed. Especially on Sundays. The most common time to sit down to Sunday lunch is around 2 pm (though be warned: if dining with Greeks, they probably won’t arrive before 2:30 pm).
Our advice? Book for the optimum slot of 1 pm. You get your choice of table and a calm window in which to order, before the waiters get overrun by large groups clamouring for attention. Which brings us to...
The More the Merrier
Greeks are very inclusive, so Sunday lunches tend to be rowdy group affairs rather than quiet family meals or couples dining à deux. Especially if it's a special occasion like someone's name day or a national holiday. The standard parea (group) lunching at the table next to you will most likely consist of the immediate family, the in-laws, the best-man's family (koubaroi), the children’s godparents (also, confusingly, referred to as koubaroi) and close family friends.
That’s an Order!
Ordering can be a protracted and unruly business. Greeks don’t really “do” à la carte dining, especially at tavernas. Instead, they throw a medley of small plates (mezedes) and main dishes into the middle of the table (sti mesi) for everyone to share, stoking the convivial mood. Insider tip: the mezedes are often the most satisfying dishes on the menu, so double down on those and cut back on the tally of mains.
Usually, someone in the group takes it upon themselves to order for everyone (you can throw in your two cents’ worth if you’re craving something specific, like saganaki, that chewy fried cheese, which should always make an appearance, in our opinion). Sometimes, the waiter will even order for you. It depends on the specials of the day or whether you’ve dined at the restaurant before and the waiter is familiar with your tastes.
"Ordering can be a protracted and unruly business. Sometimes the waiter will even order for you."
A Fishy Business
- Most seafood restaurants price speciality fish by the kilo (bones and all), which can really blow out the bill. As a general guide, half a kilo is sufficient for two people. Ask in advance how much they charge per kilo.
- You’re usually invited to go into the kitchen to pick your fish. Check that the eyes are clear to ensure yours is fresh.
- Steer clear of bright pink taramosalata (whipped fish roe). It’s a western mutation. The more authentic tarama is undyed, and white.
6 Seaside Sunday Lunch Staples
- Grilled octopus (best accompanied with ouzo)
- Horiatiki (Greek salad)
- Shrimp saganaki (cooked in olive oil, tomatoes, ouzo and feta)
- Kolokithokeftedes (courgette fritters)
- Kalamarakia (fried calamari)
- Dips: Choose from taramosalata, tirokafteri (spicy feta) and melitzanosalata (smoked eggplant). Scoop them up with lightly-grilled pitakia (mini pita breads) or the basket of bread that usually arrives the moment you sit down.
A Word on Wine
A Sunday lunch by the sea without the conversational accelerant of wine (or ouzo)? Unthinkable. Large groups generally order the house wine, called hima, by the kilo or half kilo (miso kilo) in a carafe instead of by the bottle.
Don’t say: Signomi, mallon iparhei mia tripa stin karafa mas (Excuse me, there must be a hole in our carafe).
Do say: Allo ena, parakalo (One more, please).
The Battle for the Bill
When the bill arrives, a lengthy battle of wills usually ensues over who will pay. Even in these financially-strapped times, Greeks will apply their time-honoured powers of negotiation for the privilege of being the one to hand over their credit card. Someone will eventually surrender with the promise of “getting it next time.”
Don’t say: Who’s got a calculator so I can divide the bill?
Do say: Put your wallet away! I’m insulted.
A Tip on Tipping
A 10% tip is generally considered very fair (although not widely practised by locals who usually just round up the bill to the nearest ten—i.e. for a €45 bill, they’ll leave €50).
Top Athens Riviera Restaurants
Ithaki: On a lofty perch above exclusive Astir Beach, this celebrity favourite is hard to beat for high-impact seaside dining (with prices to match).
What to Order: Monkfish meunière with bok choy, scallop and fennel, lobster tortellini with aged gouda.
Labros: A Vouliagmeni institution for over a century; still popular for its nostalgic ambience and stellar bay setting.
What to Order: Grilled barbounia (red mullet), mydopilafo (mussel rice), and Labros’ original fish soup.
Garbi: A local favourite with a chic, Hamptons-style vibe, serving up terrific meze along with the best sunsets on the Kavouri seafront promenade.
What to Order: Fish croquettes and shrimp saganaki.
Blue Fish: A fresh arrival from Paros with “feet in the water” charm, specialising in Mediterranean-Japanese seafood.
What to Order: Tsipouro carpaccio and scorpion fish linguine.
Kastellorizo: Classic elegance meets modern seafood, with a front row seat to lively Varkiza pier and the fish market.
What to Order: Chalkida crayfish tails with coriander and lime, gruyère-stuffed Leros squid.
Aperanto Galazio at N.A.O.B.B.: Bang on the sand (or in this case, fine pebbles), this Varkiza hotspot is eternally popular with yachties and fans of chilled, barefoot dining. Prepare to stay all day.
What to Order: Simplicity rules: go for grilled barbounia, seafood spaghetti and melitzanosalata.
Isalos: Bright and breezy contemporary taverna in the heart of the lively Yabanaki resort, with plenty of space for kids to run off steam.
What to Order: The superior fried calamari, creamy fava and tangy beetroot and yoghurt salad.
Sardelaki me Thea: Watch the yachts jig about on azure Vouliagmeni bay at this informal neighbourhood meet-up point.
What to Order: Baked sardines with tomatoes and parsley, grilled scorpion fish.