Lithos Restaurant, Athens

Lithos Restaurant is a couple of minutes walk from central Psiri. It’s housed in a large turn of the century building with pale cream coloured walls, green woodwork and a grand balcony from which the Greek flag flies.

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Inside there are two floors of seating with simple wooden chairs set around tables that are the same colour as the walls. The decor is spartan with a couple of small olive trees growing from bare brick alcoves and some backs of chairs hand-painted with roses in a style reminiscent of that more often seen on Alpine lederhosen. Here are some views of the interior.

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Outside seating is plentiful and there are portable heaters (which was essential as it was pretty cold) and a really nice concrete smoking area around a tree decked out with flowers and padded seats.

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Vassilis greeted us, he spoke great English and made the evening more interesting for us with his genuine friendliness. Don’t get us wrong, the food was ok (although it didn’t have the home-cooked, made-on-the-premises feel that we’d gotten used to in other Athenian tavernas) but we always enjoy meeting decent people and Vassilis was most certainly that and his company really took the enjoyment level up a notch or two, for sure.

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Lamia’s seat was more like a comfortable, deep couch and on the table as we arrived was Cretan extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt and black pepper. The menu had the feeling of a hand-bound leather book; very nice.

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Vassilis brought some crusty fresh bread and an olive tapenade and advised us to spray olive oil into a plate and dip the bread to get the most out of it. For drinks we shared a bottle of fizzy water whilst Lamia had a coke and I a house wine from the Peloponnese, bottled especially for the restaurant and served at the correct temperature. It was an easy drinking red, although slightly acidic.

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We had decided to share our dishes, and we started with zucchini croquettes.

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They were lightly fried, filled with cheese and aromatic herbs and served with a thick yogurt that was topped with a sprig of dill. They were much denser than other zucchini croquettes and tasted more like sub-continent potato kebabs than the light croquettes we’ve had in much of Greece.

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Next we shared a cheese saganaki cooked in an earthenware container with chilly and tomato.

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This was the cheesiest thing I’ve ever eaten. It was basically a pure piece of cheese baked in the oven with a crusty edge and slice of tomato embedded into the melted middle. It was a challenge to eat, we took it little bits at a time. If we cut pieces off too soon it would be mouth scorchingly hot but if we left it too long it went cold and too chewy. We got it right towards the end and enjoyed it although it must be said that it’s a very rich dish, as you would expect a pure piece of flavourful baked cheese to be.

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Next was another Greek taverna classic, a fennel pie made to a Cretan recipe.

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The two strips of filo sandwiching the fennel mixture were crispy and held a very subtle taste. I love the fact that the Greeks think to make a pie out of such an understated flavour that wouldn’t really be considered a strong enough taste in many regions. This pie is undoubtedly peasant food in the same way as a lot of the cuisine of Provence is, it’s simple and making use of readily found ingredients. I love it and think it’s generally a very nice starter so I enjoyed this but as you can see in our photos this one did look a little too perfect and lacking in wholesome filling – like it came from a pack rather than the kitchen – and not the home-made pie that you’d expect to find in a taverna.

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Our next dish was chicken rolls in flaky pastry stuffed with cheese.

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The chicken pastries were also stuffed with mushrooms, Gouda and another cheese and were served with a beautiful plain yoghurt and sweet paprika mousse topped with a cape gooseberry. They resembled hearty but well presented chicken and mushroom pies, the light and non-oily type of finger food you might eat at a lunch buffet. There wasn’t any overpowering taste but it was a nice, colourful, easy eating dish.

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Our second to last dish was called ‘small kebab with mincemeat served with tomatoes, onions and tzatziki’.

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They were served in a very traditional Greek grill style that reminded Lamia of the Afghan kebabs she’s used to eating at her friend’s homes in Toronto. They were hearty and filling but the dish title was deceiving as there was nothing small about them, they were very substantial indeed.

“I’ve tasted many grilled kebabs and shish from eastern kitchens ,” said Lamia, “and I’ll say that this is really an excellently made dish. The meat holds together on the fork well, it’s delicately spiced with cumin and the tomato salad on top, along with the yoghurt dip, adds a fresh balance to the dish. Lovely.”

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Lamia also had chicken wings with gherkin sauce.

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“The chicken is very soft and tastes well marinated,” Lamia said. “The sauce is like a tangy tomato BBQ flavour and overall they’re similar to the chicken wings back in Toronto, except these have sesame seed on top which adds a nice crunch. There’s about eight wings here, which for an appetizer dish is large, I’d say it’s almost like a main meal. This is a solid, modern comfort food.”

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For dessert we had a baked cake made from flour, semolina, honey syrup, coconut and a twist of lemon topped with vanilla ice-cream.

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The ice cream was soft and vanilla flavour was noticeable, made by the ‘Kayak’ company, who are known in Greece for their excellent ice cream.

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So, all in all we spent an enjoyable few hours at Lithos. It’s very much a medium-value, tourist-orientated restaurant and the food is safe, familiar and subtle. Whatever your tastes and eating choices you’ll find something to suit you here, I think.

If you’d like to discover more, please visit http://www.lithospsiri.gr/

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