Liondi restaurant is less than five minutes from the Hera Hotel in what is for me the best part of the Plaka, very near to the Acropolis Museum. There’s a large row of restaurants on this section of pedestrianised road, of which the Liondi is said to be the best. It’s touristy, sure, and not really a place where locals would ever visit (we passed by often in the eighteen days we stayed in Athens and Liondi was always full of tourists during this time) but that’s ok and in our experience the food is some of the best you’ll find in this part of the city.
Overall we really enjoyed our visit, but first impressions weren’t good. We waited more than half an hour before we even spoke to anyone, which for us was a very bad start. When we did finally speak to somebody it was the head chef and joint owner, Stavros, the sort of friendly, enthusiastic, larger than life character whose impossible not to like. He’d spent many years in the USA and the UK giving seminars on Greek cooking and cooking at high profile restaurants, he said, and had even cooked a private dinner for Jeremy Irons at his home. I can imagine this happening, Stavros has a sparkling way with people, he’s a lot of fun to be around.
It was enjoyable listening to his stories, and we soon forgot the half hour that we’d been kept waiting. He said that if we agreed, he wouldn’t offer us a menu but instead he’d create something for us. That was fine by us, we said, just don’t bring any pork for Lamia as she doesn’t eat it, everything else is fine.
The waiter served up a bottle of house red wine as we waited.
“It’s created on the owners’ family farm, in the village of Liondi, in the Peloponnese,” he said, “the farm is big enough to provide three times the wine that the Liondi restaurant needs, so we provide the surplus to other restaurants in the Plaka area.”
The wine, made from the agiorgitiko grape, was bottled in 2010 and was light and easy to drink despite the fact that it was a hefty 13% volume. It was superb quality. I’ve never had a bad house red in Athens, even in the cheapest of restaurants; they do have excellent wine there.
We only had to wait ten minutes or so for our meal to arrive but as we did we looked around the restaurant interior (not many people sit here as there’s a great outdoor seating area). There were stories chalked on the walls, in Greek, telling the history of the restaurant, and wine bottles lining the mirrored walls.
Then our dinner arrived. It was a Greek style affair with several different dishes placed on the table that were meant for sharing.
First was a Greek salad.
It hit all the right notes; it was fresh and every ingredient tasted of something. You know how it is sometimes, when you get tomatoes that don’t taste of much. Well, this wasn’t like that. The tomatoes, the olives, the cheese, it was all full of fresh flavour.
The second plate, and my favourite, was zucchini patties with a plain yogurt dip.
They were crunchy outside and soft and gooey inside. The zucchini was a very flavourful ingredient and for me every texture requirement was fulfilled.
Beside this was refreshing Tzatziki dip with warm pita.
I was also served lean pork chunks in a tomato and green pepper sauce topped by a sprig of mint.
It was very soft meat, as if it’d been slow cooked for many hours. There was just enough fat to give it some flavour and the sauce wasn’t overly spicy.
Lamia had a Lemon Potato dish.
The potatoes were soft with a slight crunch from the roasted edges.
“They’re herbed in the Greek tradition,” said Lamia, “very tasty, full of flavour and easy to eat. I really enjoy dipping them in the tzatziki.”
And finally we shared a beef moussaka.
“I’ve eaten moussaka in the Plaka before,” Lamia said, “and this tastes and looks much better. It’s got a crunchy and soft, melt in your mouth taste. We know that real Greeks don’t eat moussaka very much so it’s a bit touristy to have it, yet still, it’s a fine example of the dish all the same. The dominant tastes, the cheese, the beef, the eggplant, all come through at the same time, which they should. The texture is varied, moist but firm and everything holds together well. I’m loving all the different tastes, flavours and smells of this meal. Crunchy, herby, saucy, fresh, each bite is delicious.”
Greek cooking is well known for using fresh ingredients and this is certainly true of this meal that we had at Liondi. One of the joys of this meal was also that everything tasted as you would expect it should, of what the ingredients were. Zucchini tastes like zucchini, for instance, which sounds obvious but when you’re not using fresh ingredients things can start tasting like nothing in particular. This isn’t the case at Liondi, everything seemed fresh, simple and tasty.
We recommend you pay them a visit and enjoy Stavros’s jokes and company and also the food he cooks. We ate more memorable meals in Athens, for sure, but it’s also fair to say that we did enjoy our meal here, that we consider the restaurant good value and also, that it’s hard to find more hospitable hosts than Stavros and his team.
Find out more at Trip Advisor, here - http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g189400-d5041914-Reviews-Liondi_Traditional_Greek_Restaurant-Athens_Attica.html