Dining with a view: in Athens, people like to dine with a view of the landmark, the Acropolis – as here in the "Orizontes".

Dining with a view: in Athens, people like to dine with a view of the landmark, the Acropolis – as here in the "Orizontes".
Photo provided

Discover Athens: A Journey to the Culinary Olympus

In Athens, leading chefs are redefining Greek cuisine, skillfully blending modern culinary techniques with traditional flavours to transcend the typical tavern experience while honouring their heritage.

It often only takes a few steps in an unexpected direction to discover great things. This is particularly true in Athens. Gourmets who want to find what they are looking for in the centre of the Greek metropolis, with 3.8 million inhabitants, usually do so away from the vibrant nightlife.

While one taverna follows another at the foot of the Acropolis and gyros and tzatziki are served over the counters until late in the evening, Athens' top gastronomy is often hidden behind inconspicuous facades. The culinary delights here often start in the backyard. Or: in the beautiful inner courtyard.

The "CTC - Urban Gastronomy" is one of the best examples of this. If you venture from the lively Plaka to the Keramikos district in search of a top restaurant, you will end up in front of what at first glance appears to be an anonymous rust-red façade. Only when the small entrance door opens is there a clear view of the picturesque, green inner courtyard, where meals are served in summer. And onto the small staircase that leads inside the restaurant. This is where noble, almost Nordic minimalism reigns. This has nothing to do with what is generally associated with Greek cuisine. Or is it?

For a long time (and probably still today), Greece did not have the best culinary reputation. The cuisine here is honest and authentic, but not really fine. The classics such as moussaka, tzatziki and gyros are too greasy, too heavy and too coarse. This is the (preliminary) verdict of gourmets. That's true (tavern cuisine still thrives on the sometimes boisterous flavours) - and it's also not true.

For some years now, young restaurateurs have been trying to correct the country's image and establish an innovative and sophisticated cuisine. Once a beacon for this evolution, the "Funky Gourmet" was regarded as a cosmopolitan restaurant, a pioneer and flagship of this development, but today others have joined it. In 2019, five restaurants earned a Michelin star, and since then new ones have been added all the time, with three more just last year.

Culinary heritage

What many of the young creatives have in common is that, in their quest for modernity, they do not turn their backs on Greek traditions, but instead try their hand at the interpretation of the culinary heritage and experiment with classic ingredients (such as the ubiquitous split pea fava, which is served almost compulsively as a dip in the tavern).

One of them is Alexandros Tsiotinis, which brings us back to the "CTC", of which he is the owner and head chef. The name of the starred restaurant suggests that you don't have to hold your nose unnecessarily high here. The acronym (pronounced "sitisi" in Greek) literally means "to feed".

What Tsiotinis brings to the plate in his eleven-course tasting menu is impressive (for the palate and the eye). Typical Greek flavours and ingredients presented with so much finesse is rare. The fava octopus, for example, does without octopus - the tentacle on the plate is simply a fava pannacotta - but not without eel, muscat grapes and aioli mayonnaise. A little later, he uses beans from the island of Limnos to create a delicious stew that skillfully bridges the gap between a classic Greek bean dish and French cassoulet.

The signature dish, the corn soup with lobster and bergamot is just as impressive as the deconstructed pesto (with parmesan cubes, basil oil, tomato water and linguine) and the short rib, which is cooked to perfection at 65 degrees for 72 hours. It is allowed to stew and with aged black garlic and vine leaf pesto, the Greek touch is not missing either.

Childhood memories

For some time now, "Aleria" has also been a not-so-secret tip for those looking for modern Greek cuisine. Once again, you would never guess from the outside what awaits you inside the old manor house. Extravagantly furnished, the bar awaits guests on the ground floor, behind it lies (once again) a charming inner courtyard, a wooden staircase leads to the tables on the second floor. Gikas Xenakis ' cuisine is influenced by his childhood memories in the countryside, and now he wants to develop the tradition further; the Greek pasta casserole pastitio is deconstructed and the moussaka reinterpreted.

The "Soil", one of the up-and-coming stars in Athens, is also dedicated to the modern interpretation of Greek cuisine and is located in a 1925 townhouse with a pebble courtyard surrounded by lemon trees. The aim: to remain cosmopolitan and at the same time "honestly Athenian".

Earthy gastronomy

Chef Tasos Mantis has adopted a comparatively radical farm-to-table approach, sourcing his ingredients from local producers and above all from his own garden, which he cultivates in a coastal village an hour away from Athens. Guests can even visit the farm on a culinary day trip. Signature dishes include the eel burger with a distinctly earthy aftertaste (the "Soil" does not advertise itself as "Earthy Gastronomy" for nothing) and the excellent goat meat, both of which can be found in the 14-course tasting menus.

Of course, the "Cookoovaya", where chef Periklis Koskinas has set himself nothing less than the search for "wisdom", is also one of the Athenian avant-gardists. There is no better way to pay homage to the ancient Greeks. The focus is on light, modern cuisine, regionality and seasonality. And the motto: "Don't just remember what you ate, remember how you felt." That sounds pretty wise.

The (admittedly few) old stars are of course still around. For example, the "Spondi", which has been an elite meeting place for decades and was the city's first ever starred restaurant in 2002. (Here, however, the French culinary tradition is alive and well, including the best foie gras in Athens. That's not really Greek).

"Botrini's", whose Italian-Greek chef Ettore (or Ektoras) Botrini is often regarded in his home country as Greece's answer to Gordon Ramsay (both are merciless TV chefs), is more in keeping with the image of modern Greek cuisine with its creations. For one of his flagship dishes, the carbonara with seafood, the tagliatelle is prepared with calamari and the egg yolk sauce is replaced with sea urchin roe.

Of course, you can also dine in Athens not only in the courtyard, but with a wonderful view. If the landmark, the Acropolis, is enthroned on a hill in the middle of the city, you have to know how to make the most of it. The Tudor Hall on the top floor of the King George Hotel, which is located directly on Syntagma Square in the city centre, offers a good view (and a taste experience).

The "Hytra", which is located on the sixth floor of the Onassis cultural centre, is not only known for its good view. The restaurant's Michelin star was once held by Tasos Mantis, who has since moved on to "Soil". The cuisine at "Hytra" is influenced by the Scandinavian avant-garde. The menu includes rare fermented vegetables, herbs and fruit. A good address for vegetarians.

Off to the Riviera

The "One&Only Aesthesis" can still be considered an insider tip for travellers. The luxury resort aims to set new standards on the outskirts of Athens. On the beach of Glyfada, the unofficial capital of the Athens Riviera, the resort has opened in a 21-hectare protected forest reserve (it even has its own excavation site, with ancient walls coming to light during construction work). Luxurious bungalows and villas promise guests seclusion, but you can still reach the city quickly.

The aim is to create a genuine urban beach resort on the site where the rich and famous of the Greek capital used to stroll in the 1950s. So that the Athenians themselves (and not just the tourists) also make the journey to Glyfada, the hotel has come up with some culinary ideas. In the hotel's own restaurant "Ora" is an encounter with a familiar name: star chef Ettore Botrini has also lent a hand here. Inspired by family recipes and the travels of his youth, the aim is to present classic Mediterranean flavours "in a modern dress".

The oysters are given a Greek twist with olives, tomatoes and basil. Giouvetsi, the classic braised dish, is also on the menu, but the orzo pasta and veal are accompanied by finely spiced Gruyère from the island of Naxos and Greek truffles.

The plan seems to be working. Many a wealthy Athenian family already enjoys meeting here for a meal; once again away from the vibrant nightlife.

Photo provided

Tips & Addresses

Restaurants

One of the best uninterrupted views of the Acropolis meets the regal and stylish restaurant on the rooftop of the King George Hotel. The menu is an intelligent blend of contemporary cooking techniques with Mediterranean influences, complemented by a wide range of wines.
Βασιλέως Γεωργίου Πρώτου 3
105 64 Athen
Greece
96
Conceptual experience with a sustainable approach at the forefront of sophisticated tasting menus based on refined dishes and delicate flavours. Impressive views, modern design and exquisite cocktails complement the high-end concept.
Λεωφόρος Συγγρού 364
17674 Kallithea
Greece
Modern cuisine based mainly on Greek products following high values in terms of quality, environmental awareness and sustainability. Chef-patron Dimos Sanourakisís attuned to seasonality tasting menus, encompass his experience and exceptional aesthetics.
Διοχάρους 27
161 21 Athen
Greece
Housed in a beautiful listed building dating back to 1939, chef Ettore Botrini's Athens base offers creative and well-crafted dishes where his Italo-Corfiot roots merge with his culinary references in narrative menus. Extensive wine list.
Βασιλέως Γεωργίου Δευτέρου 24
152 37 Athen
Greece
French-influenced cuisine with a contemporary twist in an elegant restaurant that is considered a gastronomic landmark in the Greek capital, where Arnaud Bignon, culinary director, presents his philosophy in two exquisite menus.
5 Pyrronos, Pagrati
116 36 Athen
Greece
Playful interpretations of Greek and Mediterranean cuisine in a stylish yet cosy atmosphere, where chef patron Alex Tsiotinis serves his urban gastronomic perspective in tasting menus that stand out for their intense flavours and creative roots.
Αχιλλέως 15
104 37 Athen
Greece
Located on the 6th floor (7th floor in summer) of the Onassis Cultural Centre, this elegant restaurant offers a contemporary and expressive culinary profile with a Greek base, serving a la carte and tasting menus, one of which is vegetarian. Interesting cocktail and wine pairings.
Onassis Cultural Center, Syngrou Avenue 107-109
11745 Athen
Greece
93
With a personal approach to the sustainable ethos of fine dining, chef and patron Tassos Mantis creates a sophisticated menu using ingredients from his garden in Alepochori, so the season is the guide here. Botanical cocktails support the concept.
Αράτου 5
116 35 Athen
Greece
Megalou Alexandrou 57
10435 Athen
Greece
A true icon on the Athens Riviera: the "Four Seasons".
Photo provided
A true icon on the Athens Riviera: the "Four Seasons".

Hotels

One&Only Aesthesis
The luxury chain's new resort has opened directly on Glyfada beach. This stretch of beach is known as the "Venice Beach of Athens". The bungalows with private pool and first-class room service leave nothing to be desired. Culinary delights by Ettore Botrini in the "Ora" restaurant.

Leof. Poseidonos 110, 166 74 Glyfada
T: +30 21 66861000, oneandonlyresorts.com

Four Seasons Astir Palace
An icon on the Athenian Riviera that has hosted stars such as Jackie Onassis and Brigitte Bardot. Elegant rooms with a view of the sea, eight restaurants and 30 minutes by car from the centre.

Apollonos Street 40, 166 71 Athens
T: +30 210 8901000, fourseasons.com/athens

Hotel Grande Bretagne
The traditional company celebrates its 150th anniversary. It is located opposite Syntagma Square, and from some rooms you can watch the ritual changing of the presidential guard in front of the parliament.

Vasileos Georgiou A' 1, 105 64 Athens
T: +30 210 3330000, marriott.com

Gatsby Athens
Noble boutique hotel with 33 rooms in the city center, inspired by Art Deco and furnished with works by Greek and international artists.

Lekka 18, 105 62 Athens
T: +30 210 3216001, gatsbyathens.com

King George
Opulent luxury since 1930. The hotel has 102 rooms and suites, a penthouse suite with a private outdoor pool and a great View of the city's landmarks. The "Tudor Hall" is one of the city's top culinary addresses.

Vas. Georgiou A' 3, 105 64 Athens
T: +30 210 3222210, marriott.com


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Christoph Schwarz
Christoph Schwarz
Chefredakteur
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