In a first ever visit to Greece, Athens enchanted. Walking round the Plaka was already extraordinary even before catching glimpses of the illuminated Acropolis. And the food. Wow, the food.
The first night, tavernas screaming ‘moussaka and Greek salad’ were about as tempting as an Angela Merkel fashion line. Instead, after much walking, I stumbled upon a place selling sensational chicken souvlaki for 1.5 euros. That’s HK$13. Chargrilled chicken (souvlaki on skewers, gyros on spit), fresh crisp salad, warm bread and great sauces. Generous, too. What is not to love?
The following day, before joining the good ship Silver Spirit in Piraeus for a sensational trip, a lunch close to Syntagma Square, in a venue chosen only by the number of people inside. Athinaikon has been around since 1932: It features prominently in their logo, while photos of the founding fathers take pride of place inside.
This is their second and more contemporary branch, buzzing with happy Athenians of all ages laughing and talking and smoking. Smoking could be an Olympic sport in Athens and the puffing section is only separated from the rest of the restaurant by a 3 ft glass partition. To my left, a mother and daughter sipping from bottles of Stella Artois. To my right, an elderly couple bickering over lamb.
I order not really knowing what to expect, namely because I haven’t knowingly eaten a rusk since about 1976. It is utterly sensational. Each of the ingredients: the perfect tomatoes, the green hued olive oil, capers, olives, oregano and perfect feta heaped in huge mounds over Cretan rusk bread – are perfect examples. The price of this enormous, knockout dish? 7 euros.
It’s a wonderful riot of color, flavour and freshness, the sharp capers and acid of tomatoes hitting the creamy feta, the bread underneath soaking up all the flavours and liquid but retaining its bite and structure. It’s also absolutely more than enough for lunch but was listed as a starter, so….
Mercifully the main is a small plate, but again beautifully done – the most tender octopus imaginable grilled on flame, crispy charred tentacles, and dressed with a garlic heavy eggplant salad. Garlic heavy in a good way. You already know that the remaining bread from the starter swam in the maritime olive oil from the main.
The damage for this Herculean feast was HK$160, complete with free bottled water and some honey polenta cake with cinnamon, on the house.Next time you pay this same amount for a desperate, tiny ‘Greek Salad’ in Mid Levels, have a look online for flights to Greece. They need you to visit – and you need to visit Athinaikon when you do.
34 Mitropoleos str & 9 Petraki str. Syntagma. 11.30 – 00.30, daily Tel: +30 210 325 2688 http://athinaikon.gr/en/
I flew to Athens via Doha with the good folks from Qatar Airways