In Athens thereís now more then Funky

Greece/1: new fine restaurants. On top of Funky Gourmet, we discover Hytra and Varoulko

30-11-2015

Thereís more than Funky Gourmet: new creative cuisine restaurants enrich the culinary scene of the Greek capital. Above all, Hytra, of chef Anastasios Mantis (in the photo)

Greece is a country offering excellent raw materials, a joyful sight in the city markets, something celebrated in the simple rustic style of the excellent inns filling the country. We will return to this aspect soon. What we want to highlight now, however, is that the Hellenic state has now taken its first steps towards a more contemporary, high quality and elegant cuisine. One capable of looking at the future without forgetting the past.

This, in our opinion, is the right way: which leads us however to neglect – among the internationally awarded restaurants – a place such as Spondi, in pure French-Mediterranean style, and include in our Identità Golose 2016 the innovation of Funky Gourmet.

Mantis’s Chef’s Garden

Mantis’s Chef’s Garden

Excellent, yet it’s not enough. Because our recent visit to Athens and its surroundings leads us to make prominent at least two more places that deserve strong consideration. The first one, most of all: Hytra, opened in 2004 in the town’s historic centre but moved in 2012 to the sixth floor of the Onassis Cultural Centre on Syngrou Avenue.

Since last year, the chef is Anastasios Mantis, who aims for the perfect fusion of international techniques and styles with local heritage, as one can notice in the spanakorizo, the classic Greek risotto with spinach, interpreted in the form of a crispy wafer with tasty counterpoints of dill, lemon and onion.

Another tasty and elegant dish by Mantis: Calamari with roasted potatoes, salicornia, fennel and squid ink mayonnaise (photo by Passera)

Another tasty and elegant dish by Mantis: Calamari with roasted potatoes, salicornia, fennel and squid ink mayonnaise (photo by Passera)

It is a deferential bow to history, which however anticipates a more dynamic future, as in The Rooster, where the perfectly cooked meat meets celeriac, mushrooms and a chicken liver parfait. The result is charming and elegant, but without forgetting the local earthy origins. «I seek harmony, a balance between the different ingredients», explains Mantis: and he accomplishes this in the dessert too, another proof of the ability to quietly but elegantly upturn the Greek cooking pillars: yogurt and honey, of course, but the former is in three textures (sponge, mousse and panna cotta), with clear notes of citrus fruits; the latter is in a camomile tea infusion. An almond crumble, adding crispiness, and the final nuance of pollen complete the picture. Truly talented.

Another location doubtlessly also deserves to be mentioned, Varoulko, and not just because of its pleasant seafood cooking, with the right amount of creativity. Most of all, there’s a beautiful story behind this place: that of Lefteris Lazarou, born in 1952, promoting Greek cuisine around the world, just like he used to do at 15, following his father, a chef on cruise ships.

Squid ink soup, with a heart of beetroot and ginger aroma: a dish by Lefteris Lazarou, of Varolulko at the Piraeus (foto Passera)

Squid ink soup, with a heart of beetroot and ginger aroma: a dish by Lefteris Lazarou, of Varolulko at the Piraeus (foto Passera)

For many years he followed the same career, until he finally touched ground in 1987, and in 2004 he moved his restaurant to the new, beautiful location. «I’ve returned to Mikrolimano, the touristic port. This is the neighbourhood where I lived as a child»: and seeing him perched on the deck of his current ship – a huge kitchen where he directs a kitchen staff that can reach up to 40 people – his sense of liberation is clear, the pride of someone who has experienced hard life and now enjoys and has everyone enjoy with generosity and a big heart, the delicious taste of recipes made with organic vegetables and the best seafood.

After having navigated at length in the beloved Mediterranean Sea, he cooks it in the kitchen.
(1 – to be continued)


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Carlo Mangio

An outdoor trip or a journey to the other side of the planet?
One thing is for sure: the destination is delicious, by Carlo Passera