Greece Is The Word
Saturday, June 10th , 2017
Athens is the cradle of western civilisation but has lived through some tough times, and during the week of my visit appeared to be having a graffiti festival. This is a pity since there is some real grandeur to be found in the city despite the graffiti-strewn, often boarded up shops, and even the stray dogs that roam the streets seemed listless. The Parthenon still looks down over the city, and there are the remains of fine ancient buildings such as the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which must have been remarkable in its day. The best preserved ancient building, incidentally, is the temple of Hephaestus, which is in excellent condition. Despite the current economic crisis, the cafes and bars seemed surprisingly vibrant, and the locals that I spoke to appeared quite resilient and phlegmatic about the economic mess (unemployment at 23%, with youth unemployment at 45%, debt at 182% of GDP - the second highest ratio of any country in the world) that their politicians have presided over. As a visitor the city has a lot to offer, with some excellent museums, a fine coastline, remarkably inexpensive taxis and the ancient monuments, amongst other things.
On the dining scene there are currently five Michelin starred establishments in the city, two of these with two stars: Funky Gourmet and Spondi. As the name suggests, Funky Gourmet is the more modern of the two. It offers a playful tasting menu with all the modernist trickery to be expected, with all sorts of dishes not being what they appear to be. This kind of thing can get quite wearing but they pull it of pretty well, helped by some top notch waiters and a good sense of theatre in the service. Many of the dishes seem borrowed from elsewhere, but this was a fun meal. The cooking at Spondi is classical French, and uses some good quality ingredients. The cooking was of a high standard, with for example a very good Challans duck dish and an excellent signature dish of langoustine tartare with caviar. The evening was only let down a little by a less than stellar set of waiting staff.
CTC is very much modernist in style but does it well, and had capable front of house staff. It is perhaps a bit too clever for its own good in places, with a lot of gimmicks used, yet the food was very good. Although this style of food is not really my thing, I can certainly see that a lot of work has gone into the dishes, and it was quite inexpensive to boot.
On the casual front we also tried the veteran souvlaki restaurant O Thanasis, still packing them in after five decades. This is located near a large flea market in the centre of town, and has copious outdoor seating, so is suitable for a casual lunch as you explore the city. It is, incidentally, not far from the temple of Hepaestus, which is worth seeing.
Next week I review the three one star restaurants in Athens, as well as a place which Michelin seems to have overlooked and yet was actually better than any of them. I also reveal the restaurant with the worst service in the city, despite its Michelin star.