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The hotel is the first ever hotel project of award winning designer duo Fernando and Humberto Campana. The Brazilian brothers were commissioned for their eco-sensitive ethos and the use of contemporary handicraft practices and local ideas. The result is an intriguing 79-room establishment where every public space and every floor has been creatively renewed to include remnants of the former Olympic Palace Hotel, unusual custom-made furniture and handmade fixtures which’ll give you the feeling that you’re staying within a major art installation.

Location – The New Hotel is at Filellinon Str. 16, 200 meters from Syntagma Square and it’s transport links (the Airport train and bus both can drop you off and pick you up here). The hotel is between ten and twenty minutes walk from all of Athens’ central sites, including the Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, the Agora and also the Plaka and Psiri districts with their wealth of restaurants and shops.

Check In – The reception area gives an excellent first impression. The room is part functional check in space, part lounge and, like the rest of the hotel, part art exhibition. There are quality, complimentary chocolates and drinks available here on a table by the door and the staff were always very cultured and helpful in our dealings with them, especially the head receptionist. Check in was very quick.

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You can get to the rooms by either lift or stairs.

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Our Room – Our room certainly had the ‘wow’ factor. Mirrors emphasized the already ample space and there were antique postcards surrounding the wall-mounted TV wall facing the bed that offered a window into old Athenian life.

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The window blinds were electric and the windows near-soundproof; although the hotel is situated on a main road we weren’t kept awake by any noise.

Lighting was gentle, of which the only downside, said Lamia, was that the room must have been designed by a man as there’s no perfect place, even in the bathroom, to put on your makeup, lighting wise.

Bathroom fittings were gold in colour and the complimentary shampoos and gels were of a good quality (often these comp toiletries irritate Lamia’s skin into a blotchy reaction but these were fine).

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There was a great iPod dock by the bed, Lamia could slot her iPhone in and it would charge and play music at the same time. We’d had one of these once before (a Bose one!) at a five star hotel but it didn’t work then. This one did and it added a lot to the enjoyment of our stay; we found it a comfort to have our own music playing as we unwound after a day of new and varied experiences.

The balcony was airy with two chairs, a table and a view.

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Finally, a lovely touch was that when we’d return to the room at night we’d find complimentary sweets or drinks had been left for us.

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It was the sort of room where we never felt confined or bored; not once in our five day stay did we feel anything other than happy and privileged to be staying there.

Breakfast – The reclaimed wood art that covered part of the wall in reception also featured in the breakfast room, where it decorated the pillars and some wall space beside the bar.

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The seats were comfy – some had plush velvet cushions – and the food of a very high standard. But first, a couple of small issues to mention.

Some hotels aren’t worth criticizing because they’re so far from being good that we give up before we start as it seems that nothing we can say with improve matters. This isn’t true with the New Hotel as it’s almost perfect. Almost.

There are a few issues with the breakfast staff though. They’re perfectly polite and pleasant but we feel there’s some basics that need to be addressed.

Firstly, when I walk into the restaurant, I expect to be introduced to the way things are done in this particular place.  The staff should say ‘Help yourself to the buffet’ or ‘Can I bring you tea, coffee or juice?’ or ‘Help yourself to the buffet, can I bring your eggs omelette style, fried or scrambled?’ Something like that.

But in the New Hotel they show you to a table, ask you what drinks you want and then that’s it. There’s a menu card on the table that says if you want eggs or sausage, mushroom etc you have to ask the waiter whilst on the other side there are the prices.

We were signed in as bed and breakfast and the menu card didn’t specify if these prices were only for outsiders who visited the hotel just for breakfast, or for guests too. Did our room rate include only the cold buffet, or the hot items as well? There are so many hotels doing different things nowadays there’s sometimes a need to be specific about matters. Admittedly, the New Hotel is in a slightly unusual situation in that it’s breakfast room is a very popular meeting place for local businessmen who aren’t staying at the hotel yet still, we thought that things should be easy for guests. As it was we sat there and thought, is this hot food included, and will we seem too cheap if we ask the staff about it?

Also, my orange juice wasn’t topped up when the glass was empty on several occasions. I had to ask after my glass being empty for up to ten minutes. I’m not being stuffy here, I’m very happy to top my own glass up if I’m allowed to, but the orange juice at the New Hotel is freshly squeezed and kept behind the counter so we couldn’t serve ourselves. We feel that a good waiter is going to see your glass empty and quickly ask you if you’d like it refilled, at least at a classy establishment like the New Hotel.

The LCD screen broadcasting slogans above the buffet could be interpreted in a number of ways and for me it depended on how I was feeling. At times I felt like I was in an art gallery and the whole place was part of the installation. It certainly gave us plenty to talk about over breakfast. Here are some of the slogans…

  • When you’re considered useless people won’t feed you
  • Turn soft and lovely anytime you have a chance
  • What country should you adopt if you hate poor people
  • The mind craves time
  • You are trapped on the earth so you’ll explode
  • Put food out in the same place everyday and talk to the people who come to eat and organise them
  • Hide under water or anywhere so undisturbed you feel the jerk of pleasure when an idea comes
  • Dance on down to the government and tell them that you want to rule because you know what’s good for you
  • The breakdown comes when you lose control and you want the release of bloodbath

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On the other hand, when I wasn’t in much of a mood to be taking a fun point of view of matters I just viewed the slogans as if they were in keeping with the surreal surroundings and the often hypocritical nature of today’s trendy set. The one liners talked of revolution and bloodshed and treating the world right but if there was the revolution – like the slogans seemed to talk of – and people treated the world right then nobody would be rich enough to afford to stay in hotels like the New Hotel. Unless of course there was an honest mass redistribution of wealth, or the prices of services came more in line with the everyday wages of the majority.

At such solemn times I half wanted to applaud the designers for mocking their clientele like this, it’s very Faulty Towers or ‘Eat the Rich’ (perhaps you have to witness the clientele to appreciate this thought; our fellow guests often acted very stuffy indeed), although I’d advise the designers to forget fancy slogans; if they want to get the eco/equality/revolution message into rich folk then serve them stale cake with a soundtrack of 1976 punk rock…

But of course, some might say that if any piece of art makes you think as much as this simple LCD screen did us then it’s a success. It depends on your measure of success, I guess.

The food itself was, as we’ve already mentioned, very good.

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The pastries were packed with filling (spinach and feta being my favourite)…

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…and there was a very decent fresh selection (cheese, cold meats, sundried and plain tomatoes, cucumber, olives) cereals and sliced fruit. The juice, as we’ve mentioned, was clearly fresh and tasted excellent. Here was my regular choice of main breakfast; scrambled eggs, sundried tomato and either spinach pie or haloumi cheese.

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There was also organic yogurt of varying flavours, as well as more traditional Greek yogurt served according to fat percentage.

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The styles of pastries and cakes altered daily; one of the ones we looked forward to was a mastic cake that was a little like a syrup sponge.

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Here are some more images of the breakfast room.

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Other Areas – The New Hotel has a business centre, gym and spa on the lower ground floor; the lighting here is thoughtful and effective and mirrors once again are well used to give a feeling of space.

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On the floor above the reception is a conference area made up of several rooms.

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And on the top floor there’s an art lounge where dinner can be served amidst interesting wall art and panoramic views.

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Here’s a short video that we made during our stay. It’s not meant to be a glossy promo film, more an honest look at what you might experience yourself if you stayed at the hotel.

The New Hotel really is a unique place. Part boutique, part hipster, part business (especially at breakfast), part art gallery and 100% modern Athens; it’s also very central with very spacious rooms. We liked that they thought to support the city marathon by becoming the host hotel (to us that shows a community spirit that we like to see in any city centre business) and thought the whole building a very cool venue for photographers who enjoy capturing interior design; if you’d like to discover more, please see http://www.yeshotels.gr/category/hotels/new-hotel/

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Lithos Restaurant, Athens http://accommodation-restaurants.trekandrun.com/2015/01/19/lithos-restaurant-athens/ Mon, 19 Jan 2015 13:26:44 +0000 http://tpg.thephotographersguide.co.uk/?p=5365 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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Klimataria Restaurant, Athens http://accommodation-restaurants.trekandrun.com/2015/01/19/klimataria-restaurant-athens/ Mon, 19 Jan 2015 11:21:29 +0000 http://tpg.thephotographersguide.co.uk/?p=5326 Klimataria is a ten minute walk from Monastiraki and is very much a local’s restaurant, a place where Greeks go to relax, eat good value, home-cooked style food and listen to traditional live music. If you visit before 8 in the evening you’re likely to have the place largely to yourself whilst if you go after about 10 you might well be the only tourists; that was certainly the case for us and for others we’ve spoken to who’ve been there.

Look on a map before your visit to work out where you’re going. Like I said, it’s only a ten minute walk out from the more touristy restaurants but it does feel like you’re walking out into the suburbs as there’s mainly just residential properties around the restaurant and it’s likely you’ll doubt you’re in the right place if you haven’t got a fair idea where you’re heading. When you do get to the side street where Klimataria is located, there’ll be a sign above your head pointing up to it and then you can’t miss the place, although the wooden sign is rather covered in vegetation.

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Inside we found the atmosphere to be relaxed and friendly, as was Maria, the owner. Maria was to be an attentive host and not just to us, we noticed her being the same to all the Greek guests during our time there.

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Maria also spoke perfect English so we had no problems understanding how the evening was to go. I don’t mean the menu as that was in English, but more like things such as when the music was due to start, what we were going to hear and how the food is cooked (we’re interested in that sort of thing). Here is Maria showing Lamia the old style slow cookers that they use at Klimataria, usually to cook the meat ‘dish of the day’…

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Before we talk more about the food here are some views of the restaurant interior.

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As you can see there are vine leaves trailing down from the ceiling, a clear view through to the kitchen and wine barrels lining some of the exposed brick walls. In many modern places you might see this and think it a well thought out piece of interior design but here it’s authentic, and just how it’s been for years.

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You should also note that like most taverna-style Greek restaurants people do smoke inside here and get quite animated with their laughter so if you’re looking for a delicate evening out with quiet conversation, this isn’t your place. If you’re after an authentic Greek experience, however, you’re going to get it.

Having looked at the menu we could see that Klimataria was a little different to other tavernas we’d eaten at in Athens. For instance, they didn’t serve zucchini balls, ‘traditional’ moussaka or souvlaki like almost all of the others do (not that any of those things are bad, I love zucchini balls). And although we recognized some of the other names of dishes the way they were described made it seem that they weren’t going to be the same as we’ve tasted before. It was clear that Maria had observed what’s traditional and classic in Greek cuisine and decided to make it her own (she told us she still makes a lot of the dishes served in Klimataria herself, even though she has a very capable chef on hand).

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Whilst we waited for our food to arrive the waitress brought us some homemade bread with a caper salad dip alongside a complimentary raki. The bread was dense and substantial and really tasted of, well, bread (which isn’t as common an occurrence in restaurants as it should be) and later we found it delicious when dipped into our various sauces.

To drink we ordered a half litre of house red. It was served chilled and in a red metallic jug. You couldn’t really taste the quality of the wine when served cold (we’ve never had a bad house red in Greece though so we guess it must have been ok) but it was a very refreshing drink.

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We decided to share appetizers, as the Greeks like to do. We started with traditional spinach pie.

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We’ve had this pie several times in Athens and this was the thickest version (twice as thick as the previous nights) by far. There was a centimetre of spinach mixed with feta encased in a crispy filo. Most enjoyable and it was a large enough slice to suit the two of us comfortably.

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Beside it we had a tzatziki made of yogurt, cucumber, garlic and vinegar.

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This was excellent, just as I like and expect it to be with plenty of flavour, kick, freshness and coolness. The olive oil quality was shown by it’s colour and consistency; this dip was fantastic with the pie, and the fresh fried potatoes.

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These fries were sprinkled with dried oregano and were very crunchy on the outside, soft of the inside, and they definitely tasted home-made. They reminded Lamia of the fries that her mum used to make fresh for her as a little ‘job well done’ snack.

Next up were the stuffed peppers with feta cheese, spring onion and dill.

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These sweet peppers were absolutely packed with feta cheese.

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Our final appetizer was butter beans with spinach served with rice and freshly chopped coriander.

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Again, like all the dishes, this had a very traditional feel to it. It also tasted healthy and the sort of dish I’d expect to find at a village grandmas house; full of experience, texture, simple ingredients and subtle tastes.

For my main, although I’m not sure I needed it as I was quite full by now (the appetizers come in quite large portions) I had the vegetarian eggplant cooked in tomato sauce, white wine, olives, capers and peppers.

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This was a rich spicy, luxurious feeling dish with the sort of oily sauce that I normally associate with British-Indian cooking. There wasn’t a lot of texture to it but when I dipped the bread into it it was better. I generally don’t think of aubergine as a main dish as there’s not enough texture in it for that and nothing I ate here changed my point of view but I did really like the spicy olive and tomato sauce.

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Lamia had the beef in tomato sauce, red wine and spices garnished with rice.

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“It tastes and smells very similar to a Bengali beef curry,” she said. “The rice has a little texture, the beef comes apart easily, there’s a sweetness to the tomato sauce and it’s a very fragrant dish. The chunks of meat are similar to what I’m used to at home as well, big tender cubes with a little bit of fat to flavour the stew. I think I can taste cardamom and cumin in there among it all. I like it a lot, it’s very home-made, you know, like, it hasn’t been produced with ease of eating or with all the senses in mind as food is in some restaurants, only the taste is important here.”

Locals started coming in around 10pm, when the live music was due to start. The band played traditional Rebetika style (urban folk music) and were better than other, younger bands we’d heard. It was the sort of music that the crowd listened to but talked and laughed over at the same time.

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We left at about 11pm, just as the atmosphere was getting lively – we hadn’t planned on such a late night so we were tired by then – but if you’re looking for the full experience maybe stay until past midnight. Klimataria is a place to laugh with your friends, eat simply, cheaply but well (it’s the cheapest sit down, real Greek restaurant we’ve been to in Athens – share a few of their filling appetizers and glasses of red and it won’t be too expensive at all), and listen to traditional Greek music. We recommend you check the place out.

To discover more, please visit http://www.klimataria.gr

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Aleria Restaurant, Athens http://accommodation-restaurants.trekandrun.com/2015/01/18/aleria-restaurant-athens/ Sun, 18 Jan 2015 22:13:36 +0000 http://tpg.thephotographersguide.co.uk/?p=5175 Aleria is our number one restaurant in Athens, if we’re looking for a fine dining experience and don’t mind not eating a vegetarian main. We love the decor and the food, and the waiting staff and Nikiforos, the manager, are brilliant. Imagine a person who’s taken notice of many of the lessons that the finest North European/American restaurateurs have to offer and then been intelligent enough to keep the best bits and dump – somewhere off the coast near Marseilles – the pretentiousness and general stand-offishness, and then imagine that person opening a restaurant in a city where the paying clientele still value genuine friendliness. If you can imagine that, and add in a sense of effortless, well travelled class then you have the beginnings of a picture of Nikiforos, and of what you might expect if you go to dine at his restaurant.

The building that the Aleria is housed in – it’s a twenty minute walk or a very short taxi ride from the central Plaka area – dates from 1895. The upper floor was created forty years later than the ground and in the the 1960’s it was a doctors home (the doctor used to enjoy breakfast on the terrace looking up at the Parthenon; there are dining tables on the terrace now, although modern buildings now block the Parthenon view). Here are a few images we took as we arrived of the building exterior and entrance hall.

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Here’s an image of Lamia and Nikiforos, and some more views of the interior.

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There were fresh white and red roses on every table as well as a duo of tea lights.

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As you can see there’s a wide range of art on display at Aleria. Some work on the walls might be called Lowry going through a dark phase whilst other pieces are much more contemporary.

“I feel as though we’re in a film set,” said Lamia, “or an antique, classy doll’s shop. Everything’s precisely placed for maximum visual impact and to show off the interior to it’s best.” Nikiforos’ mother decorated it, he was to tell us later. She’s owned a shop for over thirty years and although she’s not particularly well travelled or studied she does have a great imagination. And, I might add, she’s not afraid of being homely either, which is a quality that we enjoy very much.

I like pleasant surroundings, for sure, but not so pleasant that I don’t feel at my ease. Now some might say that not feeling at ease is my problem and that if I can’t relax in stifled surroundings it just means I’m not well bred or secure enough. And this might well be true. All I can say in defense is that whilst I enjoy heavy linen napkins, solid silver cutlery, excellently presented food and other signs of a classy dining experience, I don’t enjoy bland international or the feeling that I’m in a room with twenty other people who can’t wait to eat up and get out so they can loosen their tie. At the Aleria it’s not like that at all, and it’s all the better for it in my opinion.

We were seated (in very plush, comfy chairs) to the sound of 1960’s romantic/melancholic French chanson (it was to move onto jazz swing covers of artists such as Leonard Cohen and Rolling Stones as the evening wore on) in front of a black and white striped alcove which reminded me of the Grand Mosque of Cordoba whilst for Lamia it made her think of the shop Sephora.

“Good design is timeless,” said Lamia. “Boabdil and Audrey Hepburn and everyone of style in between and after would have felt at home here I reckon. I feel really relaxed.”

We were to eat from the degustation menu with paired wines, and whilst we waited for the first course we enjoyed a range of breads and a white caviar dip.

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There were traditional round bread rolls, slices of bread with capers and sun-dried tomatoes, brown bread with walnuts and finally bread with goats cheese and oregano. The crunchy walnut bread was my favourite and I was surprised at how subtle the caviar spread was; smooth, nothing like fish eggs in texture and a little fishy but not at all overpoweringly ‘of the water’.

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For drinks we began with a Sauvignon Karipidis, 2013, a crisp 12.5% volume white that offered a refreshing pick me up.

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Then we started with a cretan pie with feta and wild greens on a strip of filo pastry, topped with herbs.

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“It looks like a flower bouquet,” said Lamia, “like a garden fresh, spinach something, and the filo base reminds me exactly of nimki, a Bangladeshi/Indian snack I have at home, so lovely.”

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It was a cool, fresh appetizer with a pleasant range of textures, from the crunchy, baked filo to the cooked, soft spinach and slightly harder feta. I love this sort of pie, where the flavours are incredibly subtle, with some mouthfuls only offering up the slightest hint of salty feta, or fennel.

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The waiters were attentive and well-coordinated, no sooner were our plates whisked away than new cutlery was placed with an understated efficiency and a new waiter had appeared with our second course.

“Here we have roasted calamari with zucchini couscous, artichoke purée and calamari foam,” he explained. He was to explain every dish as he brought it, as the wine waiter did whenever he changed our wine.

This dish looked outstanding. Like everything we were to eat, it had visually stimulated us even before it got anywhere near our mouths.

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I feared the calamari might be chewy, which I really don’t like, but this was happily not the case; I’d say it was almost melt-in-the-mouth texture actually. The black foam was ultralight and contrasted well with the flashes of green and yellow.

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We looked across the table at each other often as we ate; we were a little confused, in a good way. Calamari is supposed to be chewy and nasty, isn’t it? Isn’t that why people eat it, because they like chewy things and they enjoy being a little different? It’s not meant to be good, I thought? And here’s me, I try to be vegetarian. What am I doing enjoying this, I should be eating with a silent feeling of superiority, not enjoying it as much as I am, it’s confusing!

Well, it was for me anyway. Lamia was mostly just enjoying the whole experience, and who can blame her for that…

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Our next dish, the waiter explained, was “Roasted lamb with white carrot puree, a pepper pickle from Florina in northern Greece and black-eyed beans.”

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To accompany it we drank a Ramnista 2010 from the Kir-Yiannis estate. It’s the first time I’ve tasted this excellent red; I hope it won’t be the last.

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Even before I’d spoken to Nikiforos about this lamb dish I had a feeling that it was a special one, that had some special association to Greece. It just tasted that way, really.

“The lamb is meant to simulate the style of spit-roasted lamb eaten here on Easter Sunday,’ said Nikiforos, “in fact, all of the dishes that you’re eating tonight have a strong connection to our society and have been arrived at after much rhetorical discussion between myself and our chef, Gikas Xenakis. Gikas, in my opinion, strikes a perfect balance between using traditional methods and thought patterns with modern techniques to bring our traditional dishes into the modern age. So, we’ve tried to create dishes that represent some aspect of Greek life, perhaps a religious festival or our closeness to the sea or simply the fact that, as a great centre of trade, Athens has always had great access to a huge amount of fresh ingredients.”

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The presentation was once again beautiful. Occasionally you come across a restaurant where the food is so delightful looking that you’re reluctant to disturb it, and that is the case with the Aleria, at least in our opinion. We sat and looked at this dish for a long few minutes, sipping our wine, reveling in the visual pleasure to be gained for the chef’s work.

“The lamb is so incredibly soft inside,” said Lamia when we finally got round to eating it, “yet the exterior is crunchy, and the light, near invisible yet potent vinaigrette on the salad, it’s a masterpiece of a dish. My only complaint is that it has to finish at some point, but thankfully not quite yet. I think this is one of the best dishes I’ve ever had in my life, I want all my loved ones to try it. I normally don’t eat lamb much due to the smell even though it’s a very traditional meat used in my own Bengali cuisine, but this was superb, just something else really. I’ve honestly never had any lamb like this before, I just can’t work out how they’ve cooked this.”

Nikiforos explained later than the lamb was frozen before cooking, and then had a few other processes to go through in order attain it’s spit-roasted flavour. I would also say that the process made the lamb more subtle in taste which allowed the other flavours, such as the creamy carrot puree, to shine.

From a vegetarians point of view, of course I shouldn’t be in favour of eating things like this. But when you’re travelling with a non-vegetarian things aren’t so simple and you sometimes have to make compromises because of the trouble of finding a restaurant to suit you both. Often I eat meat though and think, oh, that just wasn’t worth it. There was little taste, it was all texture, and that little taste is no reason at all for that animal to have died, it’s just lazy thinking or cooking that brought about this dish.

But in this dish I have to be honest and say that there’s a very special taste and texture experience to be had from eating it, so I can see why people might fall in love with it, and with the link to the spiritual festival of Easter I don’t think it’ll be served to you flippantly, and you certainly don’t have to eat it without giving a little thought of the life that gave you this great pleasure. For a great pleasure it most certainly is. Thanks little lamb.

So, our Cretan pie had been a nod to the islands of Greece, the calamari represented the oceans surrounding the capital and the lamb spoke of the countries’ spiritual side. With every dish there’d been attention paid not only to how it tasted or how it fitted into Greek national identity but also to how it pleased our sense of smell and sight as well as our taste buds. What was to come next? We were excited. A good restaurant gets us like that…

“Here you have thick pasta with braised oxtail, shiitake mushrooms and béchamel sauce,” explained our waiter, placing our plates at a specific angle so that we might best enjoy the visual treat of the dish. To accompany it we had a smooth red wine from Macedonia in northern Greece.

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Now, the only time we’ve had béchamel sauce before in Athens was in the more traditional dish called moussaka, and this definitely wasn’t that.

“I feel this dish is a perfect autumn/winter match,” said Lamia. “The range of textures is fulfilling, from the al dente pasta to the soft braised meat and similar softness of the Shiitake mushrooms to the even softer béchamel. It’s very homely.” Lamia was right. It was a very rich dish that warmed you almost like a stew. And although this was nothing like a stew I felt that it had the soul and warmth of something home-cooked that mum would make. Perhaps it’s the béchamel or perhaps the thick pasta or maybe even the soft oxtail, but whatever it was, it made for a very comforting dish.

After we’d eaten Nikiforos explained that this was a very traditional dish that holds a special memory for most Greeks.

“It’s something their mother would cook them, we’d all have our own memories of eating this at home.” It was a triumph for the chef that we didn’t know the history behind this dish yet we tasted the concept and understood. During the previous few months we’ve been privileged to stand before many fine artists whilst on our travels – Michelangelo, Raphael, Pericles and also lesser known figures such as Aldo of Fior di Luna in Rome and here we were again, in the presence of greatness. Credit where it’s due, Gikas Xenakis, the chef at Aleria, has attained the status of true artist in the way he’s able to portray emotions, history and tradition through the dishes he’s created.

At this point the waiters began pointing out a slight step as we moved from restaurant to toilet. This was considerate, considering the excellent wine pairing it was only reasonable to assume there might be some stumbling going on at this point in the evening.

“For dessert we have halva mousse with caramelised nuts, pistachios peanuts,” said our waiter, “paired with a sweet wine, a Mescato from Samos.”

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The citron mousse was a cool hit and the soft halva mousse was such a departure from the normal halva yet it still retained it’s core characteristic, nutty traits. Everything came alive at once yet nothing was overwhelming, this was the dessert of a confident chef who wasn’t looking to make up for earlier possible deficiencies with a fireworks display. No, it felt more like the chef was working towards the end of a fantastic story that had begun at the front door and was reaching a finale that we couldn’t yet anticipate.

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We finished with mastica digestifs in the garden.

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Mastica, I love it. The taste of the island of Chios – supposedly the only place it can grow – first and then of Greece. A perfect way to end the meal.

I have to qualify whatever I’ve said in this article by saying that that we feel every description that we make about the Aleria experience is going to be inadequate. The chef has said all that can be said within the dishes and words or pictures just do not do them justice, all you can really do is go to Athens and eat there and experience the atmosphere of this true fine dining restaurant. Whatever level of dining you’re used to you will not be disappointed, we’re certain.

The Aleria is one of the only restaurants we’ve eaten at that we’d consider making a special trip overseas for, perhaps to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or some other special occasion. We’d love them to put a vegetarian main course option on the menu as Greece does have some amazing  traditional vegetarian meals, so hopefully they’ll do that sometime soon and become even more of an attraction for us. The service is understated yet attentive, delivered by genuine people who understand hospitality, and the dishes are creative, visually exciting, delicious and the sort of food you’ll not be eating at home (unless you’ve got a talented and intelligent cook in the house, in which case, we’re open for dinner invites!). It’s also cracking value (around £50 for a four course menu plus paired wine each, which is amazing considering the Michelin Star quality; you’ll be paying four or five times this amount each for similar food in Rome, Paris or London); pay them a visit, you won’t regret it.

Discover more at http://www.aleria.gr/en

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Tirbouson Restaurant, Athens http://accommodation-restaurants.trekandrun.com/2015/01/13/tirbouson-restaurant-athens/ Tue, 13 Jan 2015 14:48:24 +0000 http://tpg.thephotographersguide.co.uk/?p=5142 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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Prosopa Restaurant, Athens http://accommodation-restaurants.trekandrun.com/2015/01/12/prosopa-restaurant-athens/ Mon, 12 Jan 2015 20:18:11 +0000 http://tpg.thephotographersguide.co.uk/?p=5081 Prosopa is a half hour walk or a quick and easy taxi ride from the central Plaka district. We’d read about it online and thought it sounded interesting, their website is really well done (classy and a little arty) and their food seemed worth checking out, so we walked down past Kerameikos Cemetary and called in early evening on a Sunday night.

The restaurant is almost on a corner so there are two entrances, one that looks like this…

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…and the other like this.

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Inside, the decor was what you might call modern/industrial courtesy of the use of existing features such as the air condition ducts overhead and big factory-like windows that looked out to train tracks. The style would fit excellently in a hip North American downtown area. Here are some images we took just after we walked in.

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Once seated we were given substantial-feeling menus decorated with hand-drawn designs. We looked them over whilst enjoying a complimentary aperitif – a sweet, fizzy wine together with two cheeses and a selection of breads and breadsticks, olives and olive oil. The bread was lightly toasted and gluten free and both it and the breadsticks were delicious. The cheese was sprinkled with crushed nuts and served slightly warm with the outer a little melted over a solid inner. Overall it was a very classy, interesting introduction to Prosopa and it put us in fine spirits; if the aperitif was this good it boded well for the rest of the meal.

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To give a fuller picture of Prosopa, here are a few more observations.

The music was a real personal mix. Not the usual stuff you might hear in a fine dining restaurant, ranging from Abba to The Stranglers to Duran Duran to easy listening lounge and jazz.

There’s no language barrier for English speakers here; the three waiters we had serve us plus John the manager all spoke good English. The waiters were also attentive, in a understated way. For instance, our glasses were never empty but they weren’t afraid to smile and we were left alone when we wanted to be.

The cutlery was heavy and the napkins were refreshed regularly but although there was this very hip, fine dining experience going on, the restaurant was also family friendly. When the inevitable spillage occurred at another table where a family was dining there was no fuss, just a seamless continuation of traditional Greek hospitality. A super-quick mop of the floor, a few smiles to ensure the family were ok and everything was back to normal.

We started with rocket salad with spinach, sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms and grilled haloumi cheese.

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The cheese was chewy and perfectly complimented the taste of spinach and sweet balsamic with the sundried tomato giving an occasional hit of flavour. The salad was served at room temperature, perfect.

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“Usually I don’t enjoy salad as I find it too bland and even the usual seasonings don’t liven it up enough,” said Lamia, “but this is really tasty. I’m loving the variety of textures, chewy cheese, hard sun-dried tomatoes, soft mushrooms, and of course the tastes and also the balsamic is clearly good quality, like we got used to eating whilst in Tuscany.” A point to note is that the salad has a lot of dressing and is rather oily so if you prefer yours drier then advise the waiter of this.

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We’d asked the waiter to recommend a wine; he bought a light Greek red from Nemea. It was a sound choice, we enjoyed the bottle no matter what we drank it with throughout the evening.

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We’d read on TripAdvisor that it’s normal at Prosopa to expect certain items to arrive at the table compliments of the house. This was the case with the next item brought to our table, a Cretan spinach pie.

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The cheese was strong, there was a hint of fennel and the pastry was crunchy. Exactly what you’d expect from a good Greek spinach pie. This is quite possibly my favourite Greek dish; when it’s cooked right the fennel is at the same time the most powerful flavour yet also very understated. It took me a while to tune into the experience but now I love tasting a good Cretan pie, and this was certainly a good one.

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Next I had a fresh ravioli filled with mushrooms.

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The pasta was firm and filled with earthy tasting mushrooms. I wasn’t sure but I’d say the sauce contained truffle as it had the taste of the forest about it. I thought it a great success.

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We then shared a mushroom tagliatelle with Parmesan cream.

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It was a medium cooked pasta, not al dente, and it was tossed in a thick creamy cheese. It was ok, not my favourite pasta ever and not one that I’d be satisfied with as a main, but ok to put somewhere between starter and main perhaps.

Lamia next had the Gruyere cheese in crunchy pastry with orange sauce.

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“It’s crispy, lightly fried filo triangles packed with the warm stretchy cheese,” said Lamia, “in a reduced orange syrupy sauce. The sweet and tangy orange sauce totally complements the subtle flavour of the cheese. It’s not a full blown orangey taste, just a slight citrus tang.”

For her main course Lamia had the rib eye black Angus steak with baby potatoes and aromatic butter.

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The plate, when brought to the table, was placed at an angle to best emphasise the thin streak of sauce.

“The meat is very tender and cooked medium,” said Lamia. “I don’t normally order medium, I’m always going for well done, but this new experience of seeing red is interesting. It’s the most expensive dish on the menu so I didn’t want to massacre the meat and order my usual well done and I’m glad I didn’t as it doesn’t actually taste that different from well done, just more tender. It’s also much juicier and visually it adds more colour to my experience.

It’s a very authentic and fine tasting cut, and the roast potatoes are tender and herbed offering a pleasant and earthy taste to compliment the meat. John the manager asked if I wanted my meat more well cooked just after it arrived, I thought that was a kind gesture.”

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For my main I had a sweet pumpkin risotto.

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It was a thick risotto and it held it’s upside down half moon shape on the plate perfectly. The sauce was reduced so what you’re left with is sweet, drier rice on the outside and juicier rice at the bottom. It’s a comfort food, almost, as it’s quite heavy and not afraid of it’s strong and peppery flavour.

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For dessert we moved onto a selection of dishes that we shared. First was a creme citron on butter biscuits.

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It was an airy, citrus creamy mousse served in a cocktail glass with tiny pieces of crystallized biscuit at the bottom. This was probably my own personal favourite out of all the desserts we sampled.

Then there was a chocolate soufflé with vanilla ice-cream.

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It took fifteen minutes to come as it was made fresh and I loved the combination of soft, moist, hot melted chocolate with cold, lush ice cream. The presentation, on a piece of black rectangular slate, was lovely. Lamia liked this one the best.

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Next to the chocolate soufflé was a vanilla ice cream topped with butterscotch sauce, that you can see at the bottom of the photo above. The biscuit was mixed with hardened toffee and the vanilla ice cream was subtle in taste, smooth with no frozen crystals. The showing of butterscotch sauce finished it off nicely.

Another complimentary dish then arrived, a banoffee pie with banana and cream.

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It was as luscious and creamy as it looks and the light base broke up easy as we dug into it. It was a satisfying and decadent dessert that despite it’s creaminess also felt light and easy on the stomach, which it needed to be as we’d eaten a lot by the time we got to it!

We finished with an espresso with sparkling water on the side: also complimentary. There was a citrus flavoured chocolate chip biscuit with it, nice.

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We left Prosopa full and happy, considering that it was well worth the half hour walk from our hotel. I really liked that the staff, the atmosphere, the wine and the food (how great is it to find a decent restaurant that has a full range of options for both meat eaters and vegetarians). The music was fun, the decor really interesting, the food contemporary but not overly so  (you’ll recognise everything on the menu but it’ll probably be presented in a way you’ve not experienced before) and overall we’d say that the restaurant is really worth your time and money.

To discover more, visit http://www.prosopa.gr/

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Mono Restaurant, Athens http://accommodation-restaurants.trekandrun.com/2015/01/09/mono-restaurant-athens/ Fri, 09 Jan 2015 22:33:46 +0000 http://tpg.thephotographersguide.co.uk/?p=5012 _DSC2102

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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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The Art Gallery Hotel, Athens http://accommodation-restaurants.trekandrun.com/2015/01/04/the-art-gallery-hotel-athens/ Sun, 04 Jan 2015 11:21:47 +0000 http://tpg.thephotographersguide.co.uk/?p=3848 We stayed at The Art Gallery Hotel for five nights whilst researching our Athens City Guide. Here are a few observations and photographs that we made during our time there, and at the bottom of this review is a video that’ll give you a further idea of the hotel. 

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Location - The Art Gallery Hotel is at 5 Erecthiou Street, a quiet residential street lined with orange trees. It’s a five minute walk from the Syngrou Metro Station, a fifteen minute walk from The Temple of Zeus and a twenty minute walk to the entrance to the Acropolis site, and nearby are lots of restaurants and bars (including the excellent Mystic Pizza and Bock Beer) that cater mostly for locals. Here’s a location map –http://www.artgalleryhotel.gr/site/location.php

The Plaka, Athens’ old town, is all around, although it’s main (noisier and more touristy) centre is around the other side of the Acropolis hill, a pleasant 20 minute walk away through narrow streets. The new Acropolis Museum, which houses sculptures from the Parthenon and is well worth a visit, is very near to the hotel, the entrance is ten minutes walk away. And most importantly, if you are in town for the yearly classic marathon race, the hotel is well placed for attending the race itself (buses to the start leave from Syntagma Square, a twenty minute walk away, and the finish line is about a twenty five minute walk from the hotel).

The hills to the west of the Acropolis are an easy twenty five minutes walk from the hotel. They offer great views of the ruins and sunset.

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The ancient Odeon of Herod Atticus is visible at the top of the street, a five minute walk away. If you need a supermarket the Spar is just around the corner on Parthenonos Street. The bus stop to Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon is a 5 minute walk from the hotel, next to the Syngrou Metro Station. It’s worth making the trip, the sunsets there are incredible.

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Check In/Reception - Check in is after 2pm; the receptionist (one of the owners, this is a family run hotel) couldn’t find our reservation but no matter, we were checked in within five minutes. The owners/staff speak perfect English (and French, I learnt that as they dealt with the guests before us). The reception area is a nice introduction to the style of the hotel; there are several pieces of art on the walls, all painted by the owners’ auntie (Dora Bouki) who lived and worked in the building for many years.

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Arti, the hotel’s cat was also there as we checked in; he’s a dark, friendly beauty who can more often than not be found hanging around the front door and reception area.

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There are paintings and art posters on the way to the left and stairs (and throughout the hotel).

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The marble stairs are enclosed with a metal handrail..

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The Room – Our room was fitted out with three single beds, a TV with sixteen satellite channels (including BBC world service), air condition, a wooden chair and desk, a fridge, ambient low level lighting, wooden floorboards and ample wardrobe and luggage storage space. There was also a very good signal for Wi-Fi, which was free in the room.

The beds were firm, comfortable and gave us a pleasant nights sleep (and were made up every day whilst we were out sightseeing) and above them was another one of Dora Bouki’s excellent seascape paintings.

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There was very little noise in the room; the hotel is in a residential area so doesn’t get much passing traffic. The most common sound I heard was during the late afternoon and early evening when Arti the hotel cat would be most active and his bell would tinkle as he moved, meowing, between floors.

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The bathroom was clean and provided with towels and a good standard of toiletries. The hot water came through immediately and the shower had good pressure. The cold water out of the tap was fresh and good to drink.

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Everything was as we would have wanted it, apart from two things. There wasn’t a safe and also, there was the smell of cigarettes lingering. Not surprising, the hotel is very smoker friendly. Apart from that though the room had the great character that older rooms develop, combined with everything working as well as it should do.

Breakfast – Breakfast was included in the room rate and was available from 8am until 10am every day. The food was very traditionally Greek; yoghurt, honey, cheese, olives, boiled eggs, fresh fruit, jams, breads and juice.

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Basically, in line with the homely feel of the hotel, this was a breakfast that you could expect to eat if you visited a Greek friend who cared for the quality of their food (and for you!).

It was mostly served at the table although on occasion, when the hotel had more guests (at the weekend in our case), it was buffet style.

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Overall, I was very happy with the breakfast at the Art Gallery Hotel. It’s very local in character, tasty and the ingredients tasted fresh. The environment was lovely too (see the room description below) and the staff always ready to have a friendly chat.

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The view above shows me waiting for breakfast. The table was shady enough when it was sunny – the veranda gets the morning sun – but also warm. Below are two views taken from our breakfast table, of a roof terrace down below and the Parthenon above.

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The Lounge - On the 4th Floor is the lounge, bar and breakfast room. It’s tastefully decorated. Walking in there is like walking into the home of a cultured, slightly minimalist relative. On my first visit I looked around and thought yes, this is creative and understated, I like it.

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This is where you can have breakfast, inside or on the terrace, but where you can also relax at other times of the day, looking at the view of the Acropolis.

It’s a fine place to chill out and read, or catch the breeze on hot evenings. There’s not a lot of street noise and the rattan seats on the veranda are very comfy. At night, when the bar opens between 8 and midnight, the lighting is soft and the rooms develop a delicate beauty.

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In Summary - The Art Gallery Hotel has a good location for both general sightseeing and for attending the Athens Marathon race, and if you want to do any training runs before the marathon race (or just take a walk with fine views) there’s several nice routes nearby, including one that starts at the hotel and loops around the National Gardens, Zappeion Exhibition Hall, Panathenaic Stadium and Temple of Zeus.

The owners and staff are very welcoming, individual and helpful (nobody is bland international here, it’s very Greek, opinionated and friendly), our room was tastefully decorated and very comfortable and the breakfast offered a good standard of food. Add to this mix the lovely resident cat and you have a hotel with a very homely atmosphere.

Here’s a short video that we made during our stay. It’s not meant to be a glossy promo film, more an honest look at what you might experience yourself if you stayed at the hotel.

For more information on the Art Gallery Hotel, please email artgalleryhotel@gmail.com or click www.artgalleryhotel.gr

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Liondi Restaurant, Athens http://accommodation-restaurants.trekandrun.com/2015/01/04/liondi-restaurant-athens/ Sun, 04 Jan 2015 00:06:09 +0000 http://tpg.thephotographersguide.co.uk/?p=4961 _DSC9769

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.

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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Then our dinner arrived. It was a Greek style affair with several different dishes placed on the table that were meant for sharing.

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First was a Greek salad.

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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.

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The second plate, and my favourite, was zucchini patties with a plain yogurt dip.

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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.

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I was also served lean pork chunks in a tomato and green pepper sauce topped by a sprig of mint.

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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.

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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.”

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And finally we shared a beef moussaka.

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“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.”

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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.

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Find out more at Trip Advisor, here - http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g189400-d5041914-Reviews-Liondi_Traditional_Greek_Restaurant-Athens_Attica.html

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Mystic Pizza (Exarcheia), Athens http://accommodation-restaurants.trekandrun.com/2015/01/03/mystic-pizza-exarcheia-athens/ Sat, 03 Jan 2015 21:50:01 +0000 http://tpg.thephotographersguide.co.uk/?p=4919 _DSC9927

There are a few great value places to eat in Athens, for instance, Kostas in Agias Eirinis Square and the ladies selling the falafel just around the corner on Kolokotroni, both of which charge just two Euro for lovely kebab-style take-aways. But if you want a sit down, full meal with excellent eco-credentials then for us nothing beats Mystic Pizza. You’ll get brilliant pasta here, and of course pizzas, and there’s a strong lean towards the dishes being organic, health conscious and tasty and for around six or seven Euro a plate the prices, considering the high quality, can’t be beat.

Currently Mystic Pizza have three branches in Athens and we visited this one just after the Athens Marathon when we felt in need of some serious re-fuelling. It’s a twenty minute walk from the Plaka area hotel we were staying in and located in a neighborhood known as the original home of anarchy in Athens. It’s a friendly, interesting and vibrant area that you probably wouldn’t wander into by chance; we never saw a single tourist within ten minutes walk of the place and that was at 7pm, a time when lots of young locals were sitting down to eat there. If you’re interested in gaining an insight into modern Greek society and the student/alternative young people crowd, an insight that’s not currently pointed out in any major guidebook, then this is definitely a place to hang out once or twice (don’t let the graffiti in the photos put you off, Athens is covered in it).

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Lou Reed was playing over the sound system as we walked in. The other customers looked the friendly sort that you might find in art cafés or counter-culture centres the world over, for instance Kensington Market in Toronto or Camden in London. I immediately felt relaxed. I always tend to feel safer in alternative quarters than in more corporate areas. People who hang out in places like Mystic Pizza aren’t particularly interested in beating their chest, world domination and power, or in tearing down what remains of the rainforest to make junk that no one needs and stuffing their face with poisonous rubbish during their lunch-breaks. I like these sorts of people.

“It’s probably not the environment for someone’s whose favourite program is Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” said Lamia.

“No,” I replied, “you got to have a bit more brain to appreciate a place like this.”

And that’s not being unfair, I think. You really do need to think to get the most from Mystic Pizza. You need to be able to read that they use Cannabis seed in their dishes and understand how good that is for you, rather than just giggle or make a silly joke about getting high. You need to understand a little about health and super foods to realise just how well thought out their ingredients are. And you need to have been inspired to have eaten in more than a few excellent restaurants – and I mean excellent, rather than expensive or trendy – to truly appreciate the subtle, real food that you’re going to eat here, as opposed to the dishes full of fake highs that lesser places offer.

There was some quality art and sculptures on the walls and coloured glass, low lighting, hand crafted models, and fresh flowers on the tables.

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Our waitress, Despina, introduced herself. The menu had an English translation with clear info on what was in each dish but Despina spoke pretty good English and could explain when we had issues understanding. The menu’s were illustrated by hand, with this sort of artwork…

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As we waited for our food to arrive Lou Reed led into Bowie, Dylan into The Mamas and The Papas and Depeche Mode into Talking Heads. The DJ knew their music, for sure.

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This was how our table looked just prior to eating, to give you an idea of the size of the dishes I’m about to describe.

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Lamia started with the Epsa Lemonade, I the Epsa Orange, and we shared the Mystic Garlic Breads ‘A’ and ‘B’.

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The drinks were refreshing, not overly sugary or sweet as I find most fizzy drinks to be (Epsa use natural Stevia instead of refined sugar as a sweetener). The Mystic Garlic Bread ‘B’ looked like this…

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The wholemeal crust was stuffed full of sundried tomatoes, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and oregano. It was more like a pita with the topping enclosed than a traditional garlic bread. It didn’t feel oily when I picked it up and the tastes were subtle yet still, it wasn’t a hit with me.

Mystic Garlic ‘A’ had just garlic, olive oil and oregano in the same wholemeal pita. I thought this was better, the garlic was strong and I like it that way but still, when it comes to garlic breads I like mine more gooey. Both of our garlic breads were clearly fresh, and fine tasting, but when we visited Mystic Pizza before we had the Mystic Garlic ‘C’ which was for me the best option if you like gooey and want a treat for a starter. Here’s a photo of the Mystic Garlic ‘C’ here; as you can see, it’s very full of cheese and garlic.

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On the other hand, if you’re trying to be vegan, or want to lay of the fat that comes with cheese, then Mystic Garlic ‘A’ is a good choice.

Next we shared the Mystic Veggie Lachmatzou.

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It was a wholemeal base topped with onions, peppers, fresh tomatoes and squash; this was basically a pizza without cheese or tomato paste. There was also no extra spices, just the veggies. It’s perfect for vegans and people on a strict health watch. I’m thinking of becoming vegan myself so it was good to try this. I thought it would be awful to eat a pizza without cheese but actually, it was pretty tasty. I finished the lot, no problem.

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Another type of new pizza we shared was the Mystic Classic Peinirli.

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This was a simple pizza shaped like a boat with a filling of goats butter, Kayseri cheese and a sprinkling of fresh oregano. The herbs are all grown organically for the restaurant. The crust was medium thick but soft inside and the cheese not overly melted. Like all of the other dishes we ate at Mystic Pizza it tasted like health food but it also retained the ability to be tasty. I must also add that the crusts were unlike any other pizza crust I’ve ever had. They had a unique taste (that’s down to the cannabis seed used in the flour I guess) and texture; if all pizza crust was like this there’d be no talk at all about pizza being bad for us.

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For my main I had the Mystic Spirulina.

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The creamy sauce was made from zucchini, carrots, fresh mushrooms, olives, spirulina and cream that covered the homemade fresh tagliatelle. The pasta itself, served al dente, was made from a unique dough mix that included organic cannabis flour. It was brilliant, really, that something so totally good for you could be so fulfilling. Obviously that’s the point of view of somebody who has come recently to health foods (me) and who previously thought that ‘good for you’ meant ‘lack of taste’. I have the feeling that even if you didn’t understand the ethics of the restaurant you’d get a feeling of just how healthy this dish was, and you’d be surprised that something so good for you could be so tasty. I would recommend anybody who is in Athens to check this particular dish out, it’s incredible.

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Lamia had the Bolognese for her main dish.

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It was a traditional tomato sauce and minced meat mix with added parmesan, spread over the same home made al dente tagliatelle that I had.

“The sauce isn’t too watery or sugary,” said Lamia, “so that’s good, and the meat isn’t fatty either. It’s soft but there’s still enough texture in it, and the whole thing isn’t oily, so all in all, it’s a great pasta dish.”

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For dessert I had the Mystic Cheesecake.

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It was an unusual creation; instead of the usual biscuit base, the biscuit was sandwiched between two layers of tasty cream.

Lamia had the Mystic Choco soufflé.

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Lamia had already tried this at the other Mystic Pizza we’d eaten at (see the review here) so she knew that this was going to be a gooey, soft melted chocolate inner sort of good. So good that she had to get it again!

We’d love if there was a Mystic Pizza in the place where we live. It’s an intelligent concept with brave, well thought out ingredients and super healthy and tasty dishes. If you’re in Athens, please do pay this place a visit, you definitely won’t regret it.

To discover more, please visit http://www.mystic.com.gr/en

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