Tirbouson Restaurant, Athens

It was nearing sunset as we walked for twenty minutes from the Plaka down to Tirbouson Restaurant. It’s a little out of the centre but if you go on the Alternative Athens Street Art Tour as we did (see our review here) then you’ll already be acquainted with the area. Even if you don’t know your way around, it’s an easy taxi ride (or pick up a map and walk, the roads are grid system and simple to negotiate).

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John greeted us and was our waiter for the evening. He spoke great English, was very knowledgeable about the menu (not just the food but also it’s history, which is an interesting topic as there are so many foreign, ancient influences on Greek cuisine) and was also a charming, light-hearted host.

The music playing was jazz, old style (1940s/50s/60s American) with some Arab tracks interspersed as well. Intelligently chosen world music, I guess you could call it.

We ordered our food and then took a few images of the interior as we were waiting. Tirbouson has got that urban, hip, semi-industrial feel that we find at several restaurants nowadays which have been converted from old workshops and factories. They’ve retained some of the original feel of the building whilst also adding their own personal, arty touches in the form of wall decoration and inventive light fittings (the central chandelier is made from bottles – it looks fantastic – and the shower fittings ‘drip’ light).

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We’d ordered a carafe of house red; house red is always a safe choice in Greece, I’ve never, ever had a bad one.

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John explained that it was a Cabernet Sauvignon with a 20% Merlot mix from Nemea in Macedonia, in northern Greece. We found it to be smooth, slightly fruity and very easy to drink from the very first sip.

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As we drank our first glass and waited for the food John bought a tasty dip of yogurt with red peppers and capers and homemade, rustic white bread.

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Our meal started with the chickpeas, which we shared. In fact, all of the dishes we ordered (we’d asked for five or six) we’d decided to share. It’s the way that many Greeks eat and we like to do it that way too sometimes. The portions are small but they’re priced fairly and designed to be eaten over conversation, rather than during a more formal, sit down meal. Of course, there were many items on the Tirbouson menu that could be eaten as a regular, western style meal but we fancied chilling out and picking around the dishes on this occasion.

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The chickpeas were tender and served warm. Most retained the texture you’d expect but as you can see some where also mashed to provide moisture. The dish was topped with a sprinkling of fennel and coriander. We loved it.

Next we shared fresh fried potato with cheese.

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These had the feeling of the sort of classic roast potatoes that you’d find in England during a Sunday dinner (and if you did have them in England, you’d praise the chef highly).  The dish was a classic from Istanbul, said John. The potatoes were boiled, then fried and then topped with the cheese which came from Cyprus and was very fragrant.

“The potatoes are super soft and tender,” said Lamia, “and I love the roasted outer cripsy crust and the stretchy melted cheese. If you’re looking to make yourself feel better through food then this is a dish you’d like to have. You can’t go wrong with decent roast potatoes and cheese.”

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Next up were the courgette balls with feta.

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I love this dish, I eat it whenever I can. The balls look deep fried and heavy but in reality they’re really light in the mouth. The medium crispy outer encases a very soft courgette, mint and herb-feta-gooey inner. This is another classic dish that we’ve tried only in Greece but which we try to reproduce at home because it’s so tasty, and I must say that this version that they serve at Tirbouson is among the best I’ve had in Athens.

Next up was the Soutzoukakia with sweet wine.

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In many restaurants this is an appetiser but here the portion size is that of a main dish. The presentation reminded us of an Afghan or Pakistani dish. The second thing we noticed after the presentation was the delicious smell of tomatoes, and then the fact that the meat was so tender that we didn’t even need a knife to cut it. This was quality, tender ground beef. The last time I’d eaten something like this was in a small town in the north of Turkey; it’s not a dish I come across often and especially not as well cooked as this was.

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By the side of this we had the green herb pie.

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The filling was mostly spinach and herb with flecks of feta to bind it together. Topped with crispy, buttery filo, this was a superb, satisfying dish.

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Finally we shared the juicy burgers.

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Again this dish reminded us of the east, this time Iran, with it’s big chunks of meat and potatoes with pomegranate seeds in the salad.

“When you get a mouthful of pomegranate seed with potato it’s such an interesting and sweet combination,” remarked Lamia. “I really like that. The meat in the burger is juicy and tender too, even though they’re well done. There’s herbs in the beef, it’s slightly spicy, perfect for me.”

It wasn’t so much a burger as we’d expected it to be as there were no buns, just the meat. I didn’t mind though, and I really loved the little hits of sweetness added by the pomegranate seeds. John said this was a very traditional dish, brought to the Greeks by the nomadic Turks.

For dessert we had the nut pie with dark melted chocolate and mastic ice cream.

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It’s a little difficult to describe mastic as it’s not a widely used taste outside of Greece. We find it a very pleasant flavour, the taste of Chios (the only island in the world where it can be grown). Used as it was in this ice cream, it’s not a million miles away from a vanilla, floral taste.

There was a slightly cool sensation to the firm, crunchy nut cake. The bottom of the cake was soaked in a syrupy sweetness and the top covered in a sweet, thick, melted chocolate sauce. It was definitely not your usual mass-produced dessert. We’d been eating out in Athens every night for two weeks by the time we got to Tirbouson and this was the first time we’ve been offered this particular dish, and we weren’t to be offered it for the remainder of our stay either; it’s somewhat special to Tirbouson in our opinion.

We’d finished and were full but, as is the case with most hospitable Greeks, John was reluctant to let us out the door without something to warm us on our way.

“Here’s some Raki with crystallized sugar and spices, coming from Amaros island,” he said as he set down two glasses.

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This wasn’t your normal Greek grappa that you have to throw down in one go, more something you could sip and enjoy. Lovely.

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We were the only tourists in Tirbouson, it’s definitely more of a locals place but considering the standard of food and wine and the fact that the staff speak great English there’s no reason why tourists shouldn’t go there. It’s slightly out of the way – it took us about twenty minutes to walk there from central Plaka – but that’s the only reason why it ranks out of the top 200 restaurants in Athens on TripAdvisor in our opinion. We visited many of the top thirty in the list actually and we’d say that Tirburson was easily as good as or better than all but two of them. It’s not fine dining, it doesn’t set out to be, but it is a genuinely welcoming and friendly, great value restaurant serving excellent food – some dishes you’d find often in Athens and some which are much rarer – and a place that we think of with pleasure often now we’re back in the UK, reminiscing about satisfying, home cooked-style Greek food.

Make the effort to visit Tirbouson if you’re in Athens, it’s worth your time - www.tirbouson.com

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