Greece


I can’t believe it’s already been 4 years since I first visited Greece. This time I was there for almost a week – Saturday night to Thursday night – and it was mainly for work. And this time, the quality of the food we had everywhere really made a big impact on me; I came back to London thoroughly missing the food and the weather.

I arrived at my hotel at about 9pm on the Saturday night and after dropping everything off in my room, headed straight out again for nourishment. Nearby to my hotel is Ravaisi, a souvlaki place with outdoor seating (packed) and a long queue for takeaway – promising signs indeed! At €2 for each sandwich, I thought things would be petite and hence ordered one pork gyros sandwich and one of chicken too. They were huge – each the size of London burritos – and, of course, I couldn’t finish them. They were excellent though!

Gyros! At €2 each, I thought they'd be petite and hence ordered one pork and one chicken. They're the size of London burritos and they're fantastic!

The next day was a free day for me before work would kick in. The weather was beautiful and I spent the morning wandering around the Ancient Agora …

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… and then the Roman Agora.

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Lunch was at a suitably Greek time of 3pm and I headed over to Oineas, which seemed to have good reviews on Google. I wasn’t disappointed.

Al Fresco at Oineas

The restaurant had a good selection of meze and main courses and solo diners can still have a selection of meze by just choosing those that are offered by the piece. The cuisine is Greek but with a modern twist. Highlights for me were the incredible cheese pie made with kadaifi pastry and then sat in a pool of melted cheese …

Cheese Pie

… and this homemade little burger patty with a delicious spicy sauce.

Homemade Little Burger

My main course was a tender grilled calamari and homemade fries and its size did defeat me after all that initial cheese and meat.

Grilled Calamari and Fries

I thought I couldn’t fit in another bite but when a little slice of syrup soaked walnut cake was deposited on my table along with the bill, I tucked into that too!

Walnut Cake

That afternoon was spent at the National Archaelogical Museum, which is truly worth a visit if you have the time. The treasures within are indeed jaw-dropping.

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Dinner that evening was with an old friend I was meeting again after many years and he took me to spiti, an Italian restaurant in the outskirts of the city. Now here was where the locals eat! We split a couple of excellent salads. Here’s a tomato and caper leaf salad with a local cheese …

Tomato Salad with Caper Leaves

… and a refreshing salmon and avocado salad.

Salmon and Avocado Salad

My main course was a grilled croaker served with a little mound of Swiss chard and tomatoes and an excellent lemon sauce.

Grilled Croaker with Swiss Chard

We couldn’t fit any more after this, which was a shame as the food really was very good. I loved seeing another side of Athens.

On my first night after work, a colleague brought us to Efxaris, around the corner from Monastiraki station. Despite its super touristy location, our colleague had been brought there in the past by an Athenian and the restaurant was indeed filled with locals. Between 6 of us, we split a fine moussaka, …

Moussaka

… a ridiculous meat platter (grilled meat, more grilled meat, grilled chicken, grilled kebabs, gyros, etc), …

Meat Plate

… an equally ridiculous seafood platter (fried and grilled and boiled things galore), …

Seafood Plate

… a Greek salad (not pictured), and finally a couple mountains of Greek yogurt with honey. Prices were extremely reasonable and I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a place in the heart of the city.

A mountain of Greek yogurt and honey!

Sometime the next day, I discovered Greek spoon sweets, the jammy candied fruits traditionally served with a spoon to guests as a sweet welcome. These little figs were insanely delicious and I after this introduction, I bought a couple of jars of spoon sweets to take home and we’re enjoying them with Greek yoghurt at home.

Today I discovered Greek spoon sweets. These were little figs candied in lots of syrup. You eat them with a spoon and have them with Greek coffee. Sweet but delicious!

The second evening, another Athens resident referred us to Scholarchio, a highlight of my trip. Yes, it’s quite touristy but you do find locals there too and after our meal, my Greek friend did deem the food very good and the flavours correct. And best of all is the price – for groups, it’s €15 a head for a set number of dishes to share, mineral water, another drink (ouzo, beer, wine or soft drink), bread and dessert. To aid with selection of dishes (we got to choose 17 between 7 of us), the waiter brings a massive plate of the available prepared dishes …

The selection of meze at dinner yesterday! We had 17 dishes between 7 of us... 😬

… and also recites what can be ordered freshly made from the kitchen. You make your selection, start with what’s already ready to go, and wait for the rest of the dishes to be prepared. Let’s see, clockwise from the right in the photo below, we have giant beans, stewed pork in wine, dolmades in lemon sauce, and tyrokauteri (a fantastic spicy cheese).

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Let’s see, left to right below, we have fava (one of my favourite dips, Greek yellow split pea puree), tzatziki, taramasalata, and spicy pork sausages.

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More! Clockwise from the bottom: a new favourite – horta (boiled wild greens), another meat dish (beef?), meatballs in tomato sauce.

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It didn’t end there! The freshly fried stuff coming out of their kitchen was all excellent. Fried whitebait was crisp and non-greasy.

Fried Whitebait

Saganaki (fried cheese) was very popular at our table …

Saganaki

… as were fried aubergines.

Fried Aubergines

One of our other meat dishes was a tigania chicken, a sauteed chicken dish made with lemon and mustard. There was also a tigania pork with balsamic vinegar and honey.

Tigania Chicken

Courgette and feta fritters were also delicious if a bit salty; nothing a lot of tzatziki couldn’t solve though!

Courgette and Feta Fritters

There were other dishes too – too many to keep track of! I recall a Greek salad and fried courgettes and fried potatoes. And maybe another meat dish. How many is that already? Dessert was another slice of the typical syrup-soaked cakes I’d been seeing – this time orange.

Orange Cake

It’s a fun place to eat and to eat well too. I enjoyed working my way through an excellent spread!

On my last day, a quick trip to the supermarket about a 2 minute walk from my hotel ensured that my dried oregano supplies are now at their freshest. I also loved seeing the impressive range of feta and Greek yoghurt available!

Greek yogurt in Greece! #latergram

Before heading to the airport to catch my flight home, I also couldn’t help popping back into Ravaisi to get one last stick of pork souvlaki (they call each souvlaki stick kalamaki) – this was a perfect snack!

One pork souvlaki snack!

Ah, I really do miss Athens and all the amazing food I had there! One thing I did notice was how fabulous all the tomatoes were at all restaurants, even at the cheapest places. Actually, all the ingredients were top notch everywhere…this is some excellent Mediterranean cuisine! As usual, all my photos can be found in this Flickr album.

It was certainly a whistlestop visit to Athens. We’d be there for 36 hours and hoped to see everything; unfortunately, the heat and Greek opening hours forced us to hit the high spots. After a late start (the breakfast at our hotel was just too incredible to rush), we visited the Acropolis where we marvelled at all that white marble and acquired serious tans.

Parthenon

When we crawled back down off the rock, it was off to search for some lunch and we picked Diogenes out of one of our guidebooks. We dined in gorgeous settings, sitting on their shaded terrace overlooking the Lantern of Diogenes.

Aubergines Diogenes were baked aubergine halves bathed in tomato sauce and topped with feta. I’d never thought of baking feta before and I loved its salty tang on top of the rich mixture.

Aubergines Diogenes

We couldn’t handle another big chunk of feta by this point in the trip and so settled for a much simpler, but no less generous in size, salad.

Salad

Looking for something relatively light as a main, I turned to one of the day’s specials of stuffed courgettes with a lemon sauce, the lemon sauce being avgolemono. The hollowed squashes were stuffed with herbed rice and meat and the gentle lemon sauce was delicious on top.

Stuffed Courgettes with Avgolemono

My friend had been dying to try moussaka in Greece and the version at Diogenes did not disappoint. I’ll admit that it didn’t look like much but it was delicious.

Moussaka

Sure, it was a bit touristy but the food was very good. I think lunch ended up costing about €20 a head.

Diogenes
Lysikratous Square
Plaka
Athens, Greece

As I mentioned previously, suddenly we realised that all the other archaeological sites we’d hoped to visit were closed, having shut their gates at about 2pm. That afternoon passed in a bit of a blur and I vaguely recall visiting a cafe for coffee and then falling asleep on their roof terrace. Oops.

We did manage to wake up and walk over to Syntagma Square and then across to the Greek Parliament where we watched the guards.

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Further on, we also came across an adorable deli in Kolonaki – Degustation – run by a very kind Greek-Australian who told us not to worry about the groups of waiting riot police in the area. That’s what happens when you’re hanging around the Greek Parliament at night.

It was pretty late in the evening when we finally sat down outside the Mezedopoleio Filema for dinner. As you can probably guess from its name, it serves meze and only meze and that was just what we needed. I didn’t expect the meze portions to be so huge though! Fava was a dip of mashed yellow split peas scattered with chopped onions and drizzled with olive oil. I adore lentils so this simple dip was right up my alley.

Fava

Tomato balls were humongous fried tomato fritters, all crisp yet juicy – I never would have thought to make tomato fritters.

Tomato Balls

Filema Meatballs were huge fried juicy meatballs served with yoghurt and a tomato salsa. Each meatball was almost as big as my fist.

Filema Meatballs

The fried cod was the only semi-dud – I think we had been expecting fresh cod but I think we ended up with what was originally salted. The skordalia, a garlicky potato mash, was utterly scrumptious but do make sure everyone eats some before you end up the only stinker.

Fried Cod with Skordalia

The place is a total bargain – the bill was under €30 for all this food and a large bottle of water and it could easily have fed 4 people.

Filema
Romvis 16
Athens, Greece

The next morning, it was time to take in the new Acropolis Museum – everyone who heard we were heading to Athens was raving about it and insisted that we go. And so we did. And it was magnificent. And you should definitely visit it if you’re in Athens. (To keep it a surprise, I’d refrain from looking at my Flickr photos.)

The Museum

Try to leave some time to have a coffee at their cafe – choose a seat on their terrace and you’ll be rewarded with a splendid view of the Acropolis.

Coffees with a View

We just had enough time to squeeze in a quick lunch before heading to the airport for our flight home. We met up with colleagues at Monastiraki Square where all the famous souvlaki restaurants are and the one our Athenian colleague brought us to was Savvas. Beef souvlaki sandwiches all around (under €3 each) and plenty of tzatziki on the side to dollop over it.

Souvlaki

Greedy me couldn’t resist ordering a side of fried aubergine as well. Big chunks of soft fried aubergine were covered in yoghurt and tomato sauce and were incredibly delicious.

Fried Aubergine

Shame we didn’t have the stomach space to try all the other souvlaki places along the street!

Savvas
Mitropoleos 86
Athens, Greece

There’s lots of good eating to be had in Greece, even in Athens. I do hope to return to see the rest of the temples, hills and markets I missed. A warning though – you might end up being dinner yourself. I was eaten alive by mosquitoes – use lots of insect repellent!

All my photos from Greece can be found in this Flickr photoset.

I never considered myself as a beach holiday person but after a recent trip to Molyvos (also known as Mithymna) on the island of Lesvos in Greece, well, I’ve learned that I definitely can be. I stayed four days at the Delfinia Hotel for a friend’s wedding and apart from the wedding there was plenty of time to explore the village and laze by the pool.

Our Hotel Swimming Pool

Greek time is fantastic…everything seems to go in slow motion…or maybe it was all that napping by the beach and hotel pool that made it feel like weeks rather than days! And the food! The food was generally utterly fantastic and always fresh – these were my favourite bites during my time there.

On the day we arrived, we were all pretty shattered after an overnight flight and connection at Athens and after long naps, we rose at about 4pm to have lunch and were driven by the bride-to-be to Taverna Vafios just outside Molyvos (their website has a good map). Oh, how we feasted as if we hadn’t eaten for years.

Toasts grilled with olive oil and oregano arrived first with a Greek salad that started my love for feta cheese. That toast sure came in handy for sopping up all the delicious sauces from our main courses.

Toasts with Oil and Oregano and Greek Salad

The meze were all fantastic. Onions were stuffed with rice and meat and aubergine balls were little fried fritters of the mashed vegetable.

Stuffed Onions

Aubergine Balls

Cheese pies were fried and well…there was cheese in lots of things – stuffed into courgette flowers, put into tomato fritters, and one of my favourites, fried!

Cheese Pies

Main courses were generally good but these two were excellent. Chunks of tender pork had been cooked in wine and oregano and was my favourite dish but lamb with chickpeas was also fantastic, having been cooked with just a hint of cumin.

Pork Cooked with Wine and Oregano

Lamb with Chickpeas

This wasn’t even half the food for all of us (I think about 10 in total) and along with a few beers and ouzos, the meal came to only €15 for each of us.

Taverna Vafios
Vafios, Molyvos

After even more lazing about by the pool, we met up later that night to eat again. This time, our destination was in Molyvos, in its harbour. Their working harbour is lined with fishing boats bringing in fresh catches at all times of the day; needless to say, there are plenty of cats waiting for a treat. Facing the boats are lots of restaurants and ours was near the end – The Captain’s Table.

Among the meze shared on the table, of particular interest were the salted sardines (sardeles pastes). The sardines served on Lesvos are quite well known and this is one particular method that is popular to eat with ouzo. They are fresh salted sardines and their flesh has been cured by the salt. They’re, you know, salty but very tasty if a little spiny. We also had some amazing anchovies served with lots of olive oil but I didn’t get a good photo of them.

Salted Sardines

Individual main courses were ordered and many of us went with The Captain’s Platter which was just as humongous as it sounds. There was a variety of grilled fishes, from sardines to a whole sea bream, as well as a large grilled prawn and some fried calamari. Everything was incredibly fresh and delicious and I struggled to finish even half of this plate. A bite of a friend’s grilled octopus was equally fantastic.

The Captain's Platter

Again, with drinks all around, the meal came to €15 each again. It was an absolute bargain for all that seafood. Almost all the seafood served here had been caught locally by the fishermen in the area.

The Captain’s Table
Molyvos Harbour

The next day, while wandering around the harbour and village in the morning, we came across lots of octopus tentacles hanging out to dry in the sun – these below were hanging outside of The Captain’s Table.

Hanging Octopus

It’s a brilliant sight and one that triggered our visit to the Octapus restaurant in the harbour for lunch. Oddly enough, we didn’t order any octopus! We did have a few meze though.

Their tzatziki was very good and very garlicky and, of course, we ordered a Greek salad too. I never encountered a bad Greek salad in Greece.

Tzatziki and Greek Salad

These slices of fried aubergine may look a bit anaemic but they were perfectly cooked and crisp. Fantastic.

Fried Aubergine

Their zucchini pie was also delicious and more like an eggy, cheesy, chock full of zucchini tart than a pie. It seems very doable at home too…

Zucchini Pie

Our main course of pork souvlaki was quite dry though and I’d recommend sticking to the meze and seafood. This time, with only two of us sharing and only a bottle of water between us, the bill came to…€15 each. This must be the magical island of €15!

Octapus
Molyvos Harbour

The harbour isn’t the only place to find good restaurants in Molyvos. The cobbled market streets winding up and down the hill are shaded by wisteria vines and the buildings are filled with little shops and cafes and restaurants. (Speaking of shops, I highly recommend the shop run by the Women’s Association of Molyvos, located on the main road. They sell lots of local products, lots of which they created or harvested themselves, and there’s lots of pastries made in their large kitchen in the back.)

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We were utterly smitten with the tiny Cafe Oysia and loved their frappe and cappuccino freddo (we were told there that the young Greek people now preferred the more trendy cappuccino freddo to the traditional frappe). Their cheese pie was also very good.

Tiropita and Frappe

They’ve only got a tiny balcony, with two tiny tables, that overlooks the harbour and beaches. We lazed there for ages with our frappes and wondered if we really needed to return to London.

The View

We went back the next day, making us regulars in our eyes. The proprietor even recognised us the second day and saved us a seat on the balcony when others left! I do wish we had had time to try all the sweets in their display.

Cafe Oysia
Molyvos

We stumbled upon Giros Corner when looking for a light dinner and it immediately charmed us. To the left of that photo below was a gorgeous view over the sea. I loved eating outside in Molyvos and the beautiful views available everywhere certainly didn’t hurt.

Giros Corner

This was pork giros with tomatoes, onions, tzatziki and chips all wrapped in a beautiful pitta. It was just as good as it looked…and the best part? Only €2.50.

Giros in Pita

They also serve souvlaki and it was significantly better than that we’d had earlier at Octapus. Still, I think their giros are better.

Giros Corner
Molyvos

Even the food at our hotel (the Delfinia Hotel) was delicious. These courgette flowers were stuffed with rice, cheese and dill and were incredibly moreish.

Stuffed Courgette Flowers

For drinks at night, we went up to the castle where there was a cafe/restaurant. It’s a beautiful place at night (and also not bad to visit during the day though it’s a bit hot) and it was clear enough for us to spot the Milky Way up in the sky.

Molyvos Castle by Night

There’s also a loud but popular beach bar down by the beach and also a little place that had traditional Greek music on Friday evenings (not sure about other nights) along one of the market streets.

And, of course, the wedding was pretty amazing too. The bride arrived by boat! The groom’s niece was incredibly cute! And they had arranged for an old fashioned ice cream vending bicycle to be part of their wedding reception!

Ice Cream Tricycle

To get to the village of Molyvos, you need to first get to Mytilene, the main city on Lesvos. From there, you’ll need to either book a taxi (they are crazy) or rent a car or wait for the infrequent bus to get to Molyvos. I could have spent a week there easily, exploring every nook and cranny of the village and nearby villages too. For more information about the island, do take a look at Matt Barrett’s excellent Lesvos Guide.