Athens Confidential: A city tasting tour (part 1)

A journey at the culinary landscape of Europe’s oldest capital, formed by a great number of talented chefs and passionate entrepreneurs.

A meeting with Greek culture is a “must” in a traveler’s agenda, but at the same time, a city tasting tour is definitely a more than interesting experience you can’t miss. Pluralistic and expressive, Athens is a melting pot which has it all: Rising fine dining scene with restaurants serving all kinds of international staples following up the new age trends, hustle and bustle street food spots, traditional “bakalotavernas” and koutoukia (old style tavernas introducing Greek meze in the sounds of live bouzouki), wine - bars with long wine lists, world class bars which pay a full tribute to fine drinking. To be exact at the last part, among the notable classic and modern establishments, two are included at the World’s 50 Best Bar list: The Clumsies (#3) and Baba au Rum (#31).

“Eat your myth in Athens”

At every inquisitive omnivore’s dilemma regarding the satisfaction of his consumer instinct, Athens has an answer. The city’s map covers every possible perspective of a gastronomic scenario from casual to fine dining. GB Roof Garden and The Tudor Hall, the elegant rooftop restaurants of the emblematic hotels Grande Bretagne and King George, are benchmarks of the Athenian restaurant scene. Asterios Koustoudis (Executive Chef of both hotels) along with Chefs de Cuisine Nikos Mavrokostas (GB Roof Garden) and Alexandros Koskinas (The Tudor Hall) create refined dishes which unfold their mature gastronomic perception. Finesse, high end techniques and beautiful wine pairings by head sommelier Evangelos Psofidis. The impressive pattern of the Acropolis completes a unique dining experience. Do try the desserts, cosigned by pastry chefs Evgenios Vardakastanis and Arnaud Lahrer. Elegance, tradition and innovation also unfold under the shadow of the Acropolis at Sense Restaurant, located at the 6th floor of AthensWas Hotel. Chef Alexandros Haralambopoulos is a typical part of a creative generation of chefs who ideally pair tradition with evolution. Authentic local flavors from all over Greece are highlighted in a specially designed 6 course degustation menu where culinary traditions meet modernism. You may also try dishes from the à la carte menu where “baby rooster bardouniotiko style” with sfela cheese, “bardouniotiko” sauce and corn and the lamb in potato “paper” with sweetbreads, lamb’s neck and homemade cheese, are major taste highlights! Don’t hesitate to deep their freshly oven baked “prozimenio” (sourdough) bread into this amazing sauce. The mythical Acropolis view completes another noteworthy dining venture: The gastronomic pen of chef Michael Nourloglou thrives for fourth consecutive years at the enchanting Premiere, the fine dining restaurant of hotel Athenaeum Intercontinental. Nourloglou’s cuisine has an intellectual profile and a gourmet soul and his well - orchestrated menus are supported by an exceptional wine list.

The star-studded classics

Athens is included in the Michelin Guide Main Cities of Europe with four restaurants: Varoulko Seaside, Hytra restaurant, Botrini’s (one star each) and Spondi Restaurant (two stars). In December 2018, two Michelin starred Funky Gourmet, closed to relocate from Metaxourghio district to the center of Athens, at the top floor of Hilton Hotel. The restaurant’s opening was scheduled in June this year but due to Covid-19 restrictions, the chefs’ – owners’ Georgianna Hiliadaki and Nikos Rousos plans were postponed. What we can tell for sure is that this is the most anticipated new restaurant of the year in Athens. For the past 10 years, both chefs presented well performed conceptual menus where the Greek gastronomic idiom had a substantial role. Let’s see what’s next…

Chefs, besides craftsmen-women are also amazing storytellers. Chef Tasos Mantis is one of Greece's most humble culinary storytellers. At Hytra Restaurant & Bar, at the 6th floor of Onasis Cultural Center, seasonal produce and locavorism reign in dishes far beyond the borders of good taste. His 14-course menu is a cumulative gastro-novel narrating his philosophy. Brilliant idea the juice pairing selection. Chef Mantis gradually transforms Hytra to the first fine dining Greek restaurant which puts in practice terms like “sustainability”, “foraging” and “farm to table” because that’s exactly what he does. Hats off!

Speaking about storytellers, at Botrini's restaurant, the "Travelling" tasting menu isn't just a way to present cooking virtuosity but an emotional and personal ode to locavorism and memories beautifully narrated. The “Sweet breads like a Corfiot savoro”, the “Herring, a journey around time” and the “Corfu bourdeto that would like to become Cacciuco alla Livornese” are some of the dishes of the menu which reveal stories based on the Chef’s Italian-Corfiot roots.

Captivating storytelling seasoned with flavorful gastro-art, exceptional wine pairings by sommelier Panagiotis Tsagris and a Chef de Cuisine -Nikos Billis- on the pass adding imaginative delicate touches. Spondi at Pagrati, member of the prestigious “Les Grandes Tables du Monde”, is another reference point at the Athenian restaurant scene, created by entrepreneur Apostolos Trastelis in 1996.Seasonal products and skillful ingredient handling in a stylish meeting of modernity and classicism. Refined dishes honoring the French traditional Haute Cuisine by the hand of Chef de Cuisine Angelos Lantos under the guidance of Executive Chef of “Trastelis Group”, Arnaud Bignon. The multi-awarded menus can be also paired with signature cocktails and home-made spirits created by mixologist Panayotis Papavramopoulos. The list of cocktails is formed according the seasonal produce which adds a notable “plus” to the high-end venture. At the other side of the city, in Mikrolimano marina, Piraeus, famous chef Lefteris Lazarou along with his Head Chef Giannis Parikos create a modern seafood experience at

Varoulko Seaside, a restaurant operating for more than 30 years. Varoulko’s (winch), guests “sail” here for lunch and traditional Greek meze such as taramosalata (fish roe dip), made with white fish roe, extra virgin olive oil and lemon, htapodi xydato (boiled fish marinated in vinegar) and so much more with a glass of beautiful wine, ouzo or tsipouro (Greek spirits). At night, the spacious dining room with the picturesque sea view welcomes fine dining specialties such as the grilled cuttlefish with caramelized lentils and orange sauce, the fish patties with a sweet and sour pepper sauce and so much more. The sophisticated sweet epilogue by the hand of pastry chef Theodoros Moisidis is a “must try”.

Classy, “wise” and… speakeasy

At the north suburbs, in Kifisia, Artisanal is a charming all-day choice. Chef Dimitris Dimitriadis is on the pass delivering playful, colorful and well - balanced specialties with lots of inspiring locavorism hints. Do try his seafood soutzoukakia with octopus, shrimp, Feneo fava and caper, the lamb tagliata “giouvetsi” with tomato and sundried tomato cream and definitely the “comfort” lahanodolmades with crunchy savoy cabbage, quail mashed meat, mushroom puree and avgolemono (egg and lemon cream). At Ekali, a bourgeois neighborhood also at the north suburbs, restaurant Kool Life at Life Gallery hotel, is a shiny gastronomic diamond.

The dishes created by Chef Giannis Baxevanis- a leading figure of modern Greek cuisine who cooks wisely using local ingredients- alongside with his Head Chef de cuisine Dionysis Zaharopoulos showcase dishes - ode to the country’s culinary treasures. Speaking about “wise” cooking, Cookoovaya (owl) at the center of Athens, owned by a creative quartet of chefs -Vagelis and Spyros Liakos, Kleomenis Zournatzis and Periklis Koskinas- is a place where urban Greek cuisine is served in a stylish yet relaxing setting. Taste clarity and creativity thrive at the restaurant's open kitchen. The menu includes variation of Greek classics such as the perfectly grilled octopus with fava or their keftedakia with Greek yogurt and spearmint. Do try the tender beef cheeks with graviera cheese cream and the buttery pear tart. At the same neighborhood, CTC is a restaurant packed with an aura of confidence. Chef Alex Tsiotinis's dishes are artistic and delightful. His cooking pot is a mix of mature culinary thinking and intense flavors at a well performed mini gastro recital. Try his signature corn velouté. Another fine dining classic staple is Aleria, restaurant, located in a neoclassical building in Metaxourghio.

Chef Gikas Xenakis pays tribute to high-end Greek cuisine using a few distinct ingredients and modern techniques in marvelous tasting menus. Unmissable experience is dining at Phi – Veta- Kappa, the only “speakeasy” Athenian fine dining restaurant located at the basement of restaurant Frater & Soror in Pagrati. Smoky flavors and umami packed dishes many of which are cooked in open fire, are chef Dimos Balopoulos’s “secret” specialties served in a 7-course tasting menu.