In Search of Ambrosia: Where to Eat in Athens
Few regions in the world can boast such a rich and long-lasting culinary tradition as Greece. With over 4,000 years of history, this Mediterranean nation could certainly share a secret or two about their gourmet creations – and this is exactly what Greeks do with so much enthusiasm and hospitality! By the way, turns out the first cookbook known to humanity was written by Archestratos in 330 B.C., so looks like Greeks know what they are talking about when it comes to indulging in flavors and aromas!
It is said that Greek cuisine is based on four pillars: quality fresh ingredients, mindful usage of herbs and spices, world-famous Greek olive oil, and simplicity. Olive oil deserves a special note. It is a timeless accompaniment to almost all Greek dishes and its beneficial characteristics for human health have been proven time and again. As far as herbs are concerned, they are renowned for their aroma and curative properties. Another important ingredient in Greek cuisine is its mouthwatering cheeses, especially feta cheese. Given that sheep and goats are free-range, and the pastures are naturally lush, the country’s meat has a unique, high-quality flavor, which also applies to the local seafood and fish.
All of this makes Greece an excellent destination to send your tastebuds on the journey of a lifetime! And just to make sure that you and your clients don’t get lost in this exciting process, here is a short guide to the most mind-blowing places to eat in the heart of the country’s capital.
Spondi – 2 Michelin Stars
The very first Athenian restaurant to be recognized by the Michelin guide almost 20 years ago, Spondi is a long way from losing its touch. The restaurant is located in the friendly neighborhood of Pangrati, in a beautiful yet unassuming neoclassical building. The summer terrace is endearing, and the wintertime colds could be spent delightfully in the vaulted main room inside. As to the cuisine, one could feel a very strong French presence as for years famous French chefs have been coming back and forward, creating memorable menus, and training top-notch brigades, with the current chef Angelos Landos being the first notable exception.
The charm of Spondi’s nuanced offerings is hidden in the way their truly sophisticated cuisine is presented – with confidence, yet humility. The meat section of the menu boasts Challans duck, milk-fed lamb, veal sweetbreads, and venison, with side tender side dishes made of earthy vegetables and sweet and bitter notes like ginger, currants, endives. The service at Spondi is inspired by the long-lasting Parisian traditions, even though the cult maitre d’ Nikos Retelas sadly retired recently. When treating yourself here, it is a good idea to ask for sommelier Miss Giovanna Lykou’s advice on pairing a glass of some excellent Greek wine with a world-class dish.
Funky Gourmet – 2 Michelin Stars
The ten years of fame and unfailing success at the Athenian gastro scene, all of which were fruitfully spent introducing molecular cuisine to the demanding Greek public, have managed to turn Funky Gourmet into a true embodiment of local culinary innovation. Despite its somewhat playful name, the establishment is dead-serious about its creation and is probably aspiring to land the third Michelin star at its new address.
Some of the highlights of the largely famous and arguably exotic menu include an irresistible granita of Greek salad, a duo of white chocolate and bottarga (cured fish roe), a mouthwatering rabbit, and shallot stifado “stew”, and a deceptively nourishing mini burger. The excellent “soft boiled egg” dessert treats guests to even more surprises: with the chocolate shell and the heavenly mousy white, the yolk offers your palate a fruity bliss in the form of a rich mango coulis.
Hytra – 1 Michelin Star
This fine dining establishment is somewhat hidden away on the 6th floor of the Onassis Stegi on Syngrou Avenue, a bustling highway that now boasts three top-class cultural venues. Divercity, an award-winning architecture studio, recently breathed a new life into Hytra, gifting it with a backlit bamboo-weave bar and ceiling, which envelops the dining room in a warm glow. In summer, the restaurant moves upstairs to the roof terrace with breathtaking panoramic views of the Acropolis, Lycabettus Hill, and the Athens skyline.
Scandinavian avant-garde is at the heart of Hytra’s culinary specialization, with the rare foraged and fermented vegetables, herbs and fruit being some of its finest examples. Dishes include fermented pear, pine needle emulsion, pickled porcini, blanched mustard leaves, and creamed seaweed. Vegetarians should also pay attention: a welcoming eight-course tasting menu is surely worth a try.
Botrini’s – 1 Michelin Star
If you enjoy the fiery temperament of Britain’s celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, chances are you are going to fall in love with Mr. Ettore Botrini, the head of Botrini’s, another one-star Michelin establishment. Sporting his trademark jockey’s cap, the Greco-Italian chef has fully dedicated himself to a collection of ventures from casual pizzerias to potato crisps.
Botrini’s most elegant creation in the elegant yet unpretentious suburb of Halandri is a luminous space with minimalistic furniture and walls built to highlight the equally bright dishes. The menu is a well-balanced combination of the latest food trends with sweet and innocent nostalgia. The swordfish carpaccio flavored with bitter orange is one of the finest examples. For his signature marine carbonara, the tagliatelle are made with calamari and the sea urchin roe replaces a more traditional egg yolk emulsion. Sounds exciting? Wait for the dessert, as some of the surprises are kept for the final bit of the experience.
Varoulko – 1 Michelin Star
Unlike the previous representative of the high-end culinary world, chef Lefteris Lazarou is as likable as he is famous. As he calmly wanders around his award-winning seaside restaurant in Mikrolimano several times a night, local power brokers, beaming tourists, and modest couples all seem to enjoy his presence. Lazarous’s restaurant sits at the heart of Mikrolimano, a scenic yachting port famous for fish restaurants, just a short drive away from the city center. Varoulko boasts three floors indoors and arguably the most charming outdoor seating the area has to offer, practically touching the boats.
After decades at the top of the market, Lazarou’s most famous dish—calamari al pesto on a nest of crispy potatoes—still provides guests with gastronomical satisfaction of sorts, being placed alongside new recipes. Exceptional appetizers include the poached egg with smoked eel on a suave potato mousse. Also don’t miss out on the cuttlefish risotto, which is a must-try dish in Athens.
Overall, Athens is rich not only with cultural and historical heritage sights, of which there is certainly a plethora but also with inspired modern dining options capable of producing a jaw-dropping effect even on the most sophisticated food connoisseurs. Looking to plan and execute an evening (or two) of the lifetime for your guests in the city? We at Amuse Bespoke will be happy to suggest relevant customized options based on your clients’ needs. Just drop us a message and we will be happy to introduce you to a whole world of Greek paradise.