From meze to haute cuisine, our eclectic mix of restaurants will satisfy even the most discerning foodies
Despite the difficult climate, over the past year Athens has seen a surprising number of refreshing new gastronomic ventures. Although the boom has mostly been concentrated on coffee shops, bars and street food eateries replacing mainly clothing and shoe stores that could not survive the crisis, the city has also welcomed some notable restaurant openings.
They say that too many cooks spoil the broth but thankfully this is not the case at Cookoovaya (which means owl in Greek), where no less than five chefs seem to work together seamlessly. One of the newest rising stars on the Athenian gastronomic scene, this spacious, pleasant restaurant uses carefully selected seasonal ingredients from all over the country to serve a patchwork of creative dishes. Greece has a unique terrain that affects not only the taste and aroma of its wine but also of its fruits, its vegetables and its venerated olive oil, as well as fish, game, meat and poultry. Over the past decade there have been a growing number of farms, organic or otherwise, supplying restaurants like Cookoovaya, as well as gourmands, with exceptional produce and meats.
One of these suppliers is a particularly interesting venture called Radiki (Greek for dandelion greens), which collects wild greens and cultivates vegetables naturally for chefs and private buyers who know the value of fresh ingredients. Its manifesto states that it was created to “remind people of the pure and useful [naturally available] foods,” which “must be consumed alive [thankfully they limit themselves to the plant kingdom] and in the right season.” Cookoovaya is conveniently located near the Hilton hotel and is also open for lunch. The wine aficionado will not be disappointed here as they offer a fine choice of Greek, old and new world wines, as well as their own affordable and surprisingly good house wine. Not far from Cookoovaya is another intriguing new restaurant named CTC, an acronym deriving from the Greek noun “sitisi” which means “to feed.” It’s dashing young chef, Alex Tsiotinis, has built a very impressive resume after having worked in the kitchens of such legends as Arpege, Helene Darroze and NOMA. He also came first this year in the S. Pellegrino Young Chef of the Year competition for the Mediterranean region. Alex serves two gourmet menus: “Voyage” (eight courses for €70) and “Trip” (five courses for €50) in a minimalist setting. His wine list has room for improvement but the selection is adequate.
Although technically not a new opening, Varoulko, the quintessential fish restaurant created by Lefteris Lazarou in 1987, has moved back to the quaint port of Mikrolimano near its original location in Piraeus after a rather long sojourn in the center of Athens. In addition to its standard fare, the Michelin-starred Varoulko presents a new menu of finger-food with fine ingredients like sea urchin, avgotaracho (the exquisite Greek bottarga fish eggs that are less salty, much softer and tastier than the Italian variety) and eel paired with a selection of about 10 different Greek sparkling wines.
Another interesting and relatively new opening is Seychelles, a Greek “meze” (the equivalent of Spanish tapas) taverna located in Metaxourgeio, a historic neighborhood of Athens where you probably wouldn’t take your grandmother. Seychelles, which has taken over an old coffee shop named Bahamas, also relies on fresh, Greek ingredients for many of its snout-to-tail dishes, and also has a selection of fine cheeses and cured meats from around the country. It offers good value as you can eat for about €20 (with copious quantities of Zeos, a superb non-pasteurized beer from Argos in a horrific plastic bottle). Its service is at times idiosyncratic so you should probably avoid Fridays and Saturdays.