Thalia Tsichlakis, who signed this article, is a Greek food writer and contributor for FNL Guide, as well as many other important magazines and websites.
Souvlaki, tzatziki, Greek salad and moussaka have been identified with Greece’s culinary image to such an extent, that it is usually rather rare for an unsuspected traveler to attempt and actually discover this country’s fine dining scene. A stop in Athens however, offers great opportunities for foodies-travelers to discover how attractive this new Greek cuisine can be and how cleverly it picks up the baton from the traditional one.
Modern and local Greek cuisine
Once the summer arrives and the heat becomes unbearable, the Athenians opt for garden restaurants. You will find them at the Greek creative cuisine restaurant Aleria, set in a beautiful neoclassical building with a green inner courtyard, where chef Ghikas Xenakis proposes a revisited Greek cuisine. At Athiri restaurant, located close by and with an equally charming and luscious green courtyard, chef Alexandros Kardassis offers his own, comfort version of Greek local cuisine dishes. At Manh-Manh, very close to the Acropolis Museum, chef Alexandros Fouroulis is inspired by the Peloponnesian cuisine, to which he gives his own interpretation by discreetly adding his personal touch.
A short distance from the National Gallery and the Hilton hotel is Cookoovaya, a restaurant that serves modern Greek cuisine and favours the Greek tradition of sharing dishes. Within walking distance lies the iconic restaurant of chef-restaurateur Aris Vezenes, famous for its hospitality and always the talk of the town, but also the comfort zone of all meat lovers in the city. At Vezene you don't go just for the food – you go to see the meeting place for every Athenian foodie. Next to it is one of the very few restaurants serving purely modern urban Greek cuisine, Vassilenas, which offers very good value for money and a carefully put together list of Greek wines.
Cookoovaya2A Chatzigianni Mexi St
Tel. 210 7235005, Website
Vezene11 Vrasida St, Hilton Athens area
Tel. 210 7232002, Website
Vassilenas13 Vrasida St, Hilton area Tel. 210 7210501, Website
Fine dining in Athens - with and without a Greek Twist
Surely a country's cuisine cannot have a strictly national character, nor can it be perceived as a local relic. When dining outside the comfort zone, at fine dining restaurants, taste becomes a global cause and the quest for purely Greek flavours ceases to be the priority. I will first mention the two Athenian restaurants whose young chefs excelled at the semi-finals of the S. Pellegrino Young Chef competition.
The first is CTC, where chef-owner Alexandros Tsiotinis (S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2015) proposes a very refined cuisine which draws on French aesthetics but also uses exceptional Greek gourmet products. The second one, Botrini's, a little further away from the Athens city centre, is also worth a visit: the restaurant’s assistant head chef, Nikolaos Billis (S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2016) and chef-owner Ettore Botrini (chef of the top-tier Etrusco restaurant in Corfu) propose a delicious avant-garde menu, demonstrating that high gastronomy with a Greek twist does indeed exist.
14 Oumplianis St and 27 Diocharous St, Ilisia
Tel. 210 722881, Website
Funky Gourmet adopts the same logic and is also on the same wavelength. At Funky Gourmet, chefs Georgianna Chiliadiaki and Nikos Roussos (chef of the Opsco restaurant in London), propose a modern Greek cuisine based on three tasting menus inspired by the Greek products and their seasonality. Another restaurant definitely worth visiting in order to experience the gourmet side of Greek gastronomy, this time expressed by chef Tasos Mantis, is Hytra, located on the 6th floor and, in the summer, on the rooftop of the Onassis Cultural Centre, overlooking the Acropolis. Première, the rooftop restaurant of the Athenaeum Intercontinental hotel, also with a breathtaking view of the Acropolis, is less focused on Greek cuisine, although Greek products do feature on the cosmopolitan menu created by chef Michalis Nourloglou.
13 Paramythias St & Salaminos St, Keramikos
Tel. 210 5242727
Finally, the list of iconic Athenian restaurants would not be complete without Spondi, worth visiting not only for its lovely urban courtyard but also for its refined, award-winning French cuisine, as well as Varoulko Seaside, the top fish restaurant of popular chef Lefteris Lazarou who, with his assistant head chef, Yannis Parikos, proposes a fine cuisine that brings together all the flavours of the Greek sea.