Aleria is located in the Metaxourgeio district of Athens, set in a restored neoclassical villa. The head chef is Gikas Xenakis, who prior to this had worked at Spondi and Boscetto in the city. There is courtyard outdoor seating in good weather, with dining rooms both upstairs and downstairs. The upstairs room was nicely decorated in the style of a drawing room, with wooden floor and ornate wall fittings with night lights. The tables were set with two layers of tablecloths, with roses on the table. There were tasting menus at €44 (£39) and €58 (£51), as well as a fairly extensive a la carte choice.
The wine list had a quite broad selection of references, with for example Isisma Drios Wine Art Estate Assyrtiko 2016 at €29 for a bottle that you can find in the high street for €17, Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay 2014 at €46 compared to its retail price of €17, and Robert Weil Grafenberg Riesling Spatlese Kiedrich 2013 at €80 for a wine that will set you back €46 in a shop. At the prestige end of the list, the excellent Guigal Hermitage 2010 was €97 compared to its retail price of €52, and Elio Altare 2012 was €115 for a label whose current market price is €67.
An initial trio of nibbles appeared. A take on fish and chips was a crisp fried potato encasing mullet roe and golden herring. Beetroot with goat cheese and raspberry was a less obvious combination of flavours but was pleasant enough, and there was also a cone of porcini and a goat cheese called arseniko from Naxos, which had good cheese flavour and nice mushrooms but a somewhat clunky cornet that could have been more delicate. Best of all was smoked eel, apple and raisins on an endive leaf (average 15/20). Bread was made in the kitchen and charged extra at €3 for a basket. There was a white bread flavoured with lemon, brown bread with walnut, and a muffin like bread flavoured with goat cheese, milk and oregano (14/20).
A "pie" of wild greens had feta cream with green vegetables topped with raw greens and herbs on a crisp base. This was very good, the base delicate and the vegetables bursting with flavour (15/20). I had a modern take on "saganaki", a traditional dish of fried cheese. This dish was a salad featuring fried goat cheese with fennel, apple and truffle honey. This was simple but good, the mesclun leaves fresh and nicely dressed, the goat cheese enjoyable and the sharpness of the apple enough to cut through the richness of the fried cheese, a few hazelnuts adding an extra texture (15/20).
This was followed by a creme brûlée of feta, watermelon heart, pickled watermelon, rocket cream and iced shavings of watermelon juice flavoured with what was described by our waiter as "wasabi". This was no such thing, being the fake wasabi for a tube that is really coloured horseradish and mustard, and anyhow was so subtle as to be barely detectable. I liked the pickled rind though this was quite intense, while the fruit itself had nice freshness and the creme brûlée had good texture (14/20). Sautéed squid came with rice crisps, wild rocket, raisins and fennel foam. This was nicely presented and had tender squid, the salad elements working well and the fennel flavour an enjoyable complement, the texture of the rice crisps being good (15/20).
Lamb was roasted and was served with a purée of butter beans, fried kale, roast celery, picked celeriac, caper berries and a sauce of the cooking juices. A fish called croaker had flavour reminiscent of halibut, and came with cauliflower cream, caramelised carrots, saluted white asparagus, "couscous"' of grated cauliflower and onions and an emulsion of ouzo and tomato. The fish was cooked accurately and the asparagus was good, but the cauliflower cream was a little runny and the "couscous" seemed a little sharp (14/20).
"Pastitsio" is traditionally a baked pasta dish with beef and bechamel. The modern interpretation here comprised quite thick pasta, oxtail, shiitake mushrooms and a foamy bechamel sauce, with a crust of cinnamon and Parmesan. This was very enjoyable, the pasta having good texture, the oxtail plenty of flavour, the mushrooms properly cooked and the cheese and the white sauce comforting (15/20).
There was quite a lengthy menu of Greek cheeses, which was an interesting and welcome touch. For dessert, white chocolate cream came with quince and apricot in three forms: gel, tartare and cooked with almond ice cream, along with a few biscuits. This was prettily presented, the apricots having excellent flavour and the combination of textures working well (15/20).
Rice pudding had cinnamon, along with pistachio cream, crispy rice and a sorbet that was described as blackcurrant sorbet but was certainly tasted like cherry. The fruit sorbet was good and the rice pudding was fine, but it would have been better with less of the rather dominant cinnamon (14/20).
The place was packed, albeit in a Saturday night. Service was very slick, the drinks topping up flawless and with our waiter being patient and friendly. The bill came to €116 (£103) per head including pre-dinner drinks and an excellent wine. Certainly prices here seemed reasonable, and they were clearly attracting plenty of customers. The cooking was skilful and the overall package, with the nice decor, smooth service and fair prices clearly working well.