Mono Restaurant, Athens

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We received a warm and professional welcome on arrival at Mono. Jazz lounge fusion music played, the napkins smelt fresh and the decor was an earthy green mixed with Japanese/modern city style.

“This green lighting is going to make photography tricky,” said Lamia, and she was proved to be right, as you’ll see as you scroll through this review. I’m not saying our photography is bad, just that the overall greenness of the whole place, whilst being very pleasant to be in, was difficult to negotiate creatively at times (even when we played with the white balance). But that wasn’t the restaurant owners fault, they no doubt didn’t design the lighting with photographers in mind so we’re not complaining, especially as the restaurant itself was so interesting to look at. Here’s a few views of the interior to give you an idea of what I mean.

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We ordered our meals – sadly there wasn’t a satisfactory vegetarian or vegan option and this was the only letdown of our visit – and snacked on a side of garlic bread; the bread was thick, warm and had a beautiful aftertaste of quality olive oil that settled in slowly after the garlic.

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To accompany our first course the waitress, who we must say really knew the menu inside out and had a great knowledge of wines, suggested I have a Merlot from the Peloponnese area and Lamia have a white from Santorini.

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The red was smooth and easy to drink. I didn’t have to work hard to enjoy it’s slight smokiness at all, it tasted good from the first sip. I was shocked to hear that it was 15% in volume, it tasted so light that I was totally convinced it was only around 10%.

Lamia’s white was also very light in feeling and paired well with her starter, which the menu called ‘Countryside’

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“It’s a mushroom ragout on top of a crispy ciabatta scented with garlic and thyme and fresh burrata cheese with truffle,” said Lamia. “Wow, it’s great. I didn’t like truffle the times I ate it in Italy but this dish is so intelligently created that the combination of flavours is delicious. The mushrooms are tenderly cooked while still retaining texture and the ragout is a pleasant, slightly caramelized sweet sauce that compliments the stretchy mozzarella ball well. The dish is well spiced, but not hot spicy at all.”

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My dish was called ‘Memories’.

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It consisted of stuffed cabbage leaves filled with cod and Mediterranean hartwort, with a bottarga sauce scented with kaffir lime leaves. I found the combination a pleasant surprise; I thought the leaves would be more noticeable but they were as translucent as a fine filo pastry and instead of being crispy or stringy they were very soft. The slight citrusy zing of the lime leaves was subtle but gave a beautiful edge to the cod taste; overall it was a very light starter.

Next, to share, we had a Winter ’14 salad and to go with it a Thessalonika agiorgitiko wine that was fuller bodied and smoother than my first red yet a little less potent, which was a good recommendation from the waitress as if I’d have carried on with a 15% wine throughout the meal I’m not sure I’d have been in any fit state to enjoy my dessert…

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The core salad ingredients were lettuce hearts, iceberg, lolo rosso, grilled chicken breast, warm goat’s cheese, croutons scented with garlic and soy and an orange and smoked paprika vinaigrette.

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As the ingredients suggest, there was a huge and complete range of textures within this dish. The chicken was lean, moist but well grilled, the goats cheese warm, soft and full of flavour, the croutons light, crunchy and slightly garlicky and the salad leaves bursting with freshness. The vinaigrette was light but full of flavours and, along with the orange slices, really added life to the dish without any chance of overpowering it. The portion size was perfect for sharing between two.

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The waitress suggested our next drink be a rose from Thraci – we found it perfectly suited to accompany the wide range of flavours we had coming to us with our main courses.

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For my main I had the salmon.

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It consisted of sautéed salmon with blood orange and lemon beebrush sauce and beluga lentils with green apple and celery.

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The fish fell apart under the fork and there was a overall feeling of lightness (this was a feature of the whole meal) surrounding the eating experience. The sauce was fruity and really worked to compliment the salmon and liven up the lentil, apple and celery. The oranges, reds and yellows also reflected the autumn season well, I thought, reflecting well the the attempt at seasonality that was a theme of the menu.

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Lamia had the chicken.

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The menu described the dish as ‘corn starch and almond crusted chicken fillet served with couscous scented with saffron and vegetables, preserved in a bergamot orange sauce’.

“There seemed to be a strong smell of delicious ghee as it came to the table,” said Lamia, “and the first bite gave me a strong aroma of herbs, and a nutty crunch. The chicken is soft, fat free, and cut into big slices, in fact, it’s a huge portion overall. This is so good and rewarding I’d try to make this at home. A lot of care has been put into presentation with all the dishes offering visual pleasure as well as being, for instance, here you can see the threads of saffron, showing what’s in the couscous. Like your salmon, this is very autumnal. Nuts and a thickish sauce like this equal comfort and comfort is what you need as the weather turns colder, and of course the use of lentils, apple and these warm colours also place it firmly in autumn. You might say that this is an ingenious Greek take on Beef Wellington, I suppose, I’ve never tasted this combination before and I’m finding it a really interesting, fresh idea, and extremely satisfying food.”

We were offered a dessert wine to finish with, an Omega Harvest Estate from Thessaloniki. Apparently it’s a popular producer and we found it fruity and sugary, naturally, but also hearty and capable of adding depth to the dish.

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For dessert we shared (we were quite full at this point, the main dishes were of a very generous size, so we couldn’t face a full dessert each) a Floating Island.

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The experience was of an extremely light island of meringue topped with almonds floating on a creme anglaise with ricotta cheese sauce drizzled with lemon. This wasn’t the fireworks that you get at the end of a contemporary Italian meal (we’d just come from Rome when we visited Mono so our experiences there were fresh in our minds); it’s a braver dish than that. It wasn’t afraid to be soft and understated, and it was clearly a finale created by a confident chef.

A little about the chef; Vassilis Vasiliou is becoming known in the Greek food world as a quiet, creative man full of clever and innovative ideas, and that’s certainly a description that we can endorse having met him and tasted his intelligent, tasty food.

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We’ve mentioned the word ‘intelligent’ several times during this review and that was the overall feeling of dining at Mono. To summarize, we thought the food to be conceived and created with great thought (the use of colours, flavours and the effort at placing each dish in a seasonal and geographical context were all impressive), the wine chosen well to provide a near seamless transition between eating and drinking and the staff, both Vassilis and our waitress, to be hugely experienced and well capable of enhancing our experience with their knowledge. It’s a shame, for us, that they had no vegetarian or vegan options on the menu as we try to lay off animal products if we can but if this doesn’t worry you and you fancy a little fairly priced fine dining with good sized portions then you’re in for a great treat at Mono.

Be sure to look out for Mono as you pass, it’s very central and near the cathedral but unlike the touristy restaurants nearby where there’s always someone standing outside trying to entice you inside, at Mono there’s no one beckoning you inside so you have to look out for it. By the time we left, the place was filling up with locals (Greeks generally eat much later than tourists and Mono is popular with locals, which we take as a good sign) so if you want atmosphere, perhaps plan to arrive after 9pm.

To discover more, please see www.monorestaurant.gr

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