Funky Gourmet

13 Paramithias Street, Athens, 104 35, Greece

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Editor's note. In November 2019 it was announced that Funky Gourmet would close in January 2019 and relocate, reopening in November 2019 in the Athens Hilton hotel. 

Funky Gourmet is located in a quiet pedestrianised street, with little obvious sign at street level that it is a restaurant at all. The dining room is one floor up, in a conservatory-like room that looks out over the street. Funky Gourmet’s joint head chefs and part owners are Georgianna Hiliadaki and Nick Roussos, who set up Funky Gourmet in 2007. The restaurant gained a first Michelin star in 20102 and a second star in 2014. Words like “provoking” and “playful” adorn the website. There is no menu as such, just a no-choice tasting menu at €145 (£125), though they are happy to substitute dishes to fall in with dietary preferences or allergies. The tables were large and well spaced, and despite the hard floor and background music the noise levels seemed fine. 

The wine list had a quite extensive selection of references, with for example Emiliani Adobe Reserva 2013 at €34 for a title that you can find in the high street for €10, Hess Collection 19 Block 2011 at €75 compared to its retail price of €41, and the lovely Marques de Murrietta Castillo Ygay Reserva Especial 2007 at a very fair €103 for a wine that will set you back €83 in a shop. At the prestige end of the list, Penfolds Yattama Chardonnay 2013 was €285 compared to its retail price of €111, and Drouhin Le Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 2010 was €695 for a label whose current market price is €580.

The meal began with a series of nibbles, the first of which was a tart of Greek bottarga (cured grey mullet roe) and yuzu topped with a disc of chocolate. This was a somewhat odd combination of flavours, though the yuzu went some way to balancing the chocolate. However the main flavour coming through was still the distinctive briny, bitter taste of the bottarga (14/20). This was followed by an "Oreo" of cuttlefish inside a biscuit layer coloured black by cuttlefish ink, served with a little mayonnaise. The cuttlefish was tender and the contrast of textures worked quite well, with the little visual joke reference to the Oreo biscuit (launched in 1912 in Manhattan by a company later taken over by Nabisco) being something that is far from original. However there is a linguistic twist here in that Oreo also happens to be a Greek word apparently meaning "beautiful" or "well done". Ignoring all the references, the important thing was that it tasted good (15/20). Next was a beetroot rose resting in edible soil made of carrot with a traditional Greek cream made with garlic. This was pretty and enjoyable, the texture combination good (16/20). An alternative carrot rose was offered for anyone with a dislike of beetroot, which seems to be the Marmite of vegetables.

Finally there was a little "picnic" set up, complete with gingham tablecloth and a few rocks deployed to give an uneven surface for the picnic. On the tablecloth were placed a series of further nibbles. Filo pastry contained wild greens, there was a meatball on tomato jam, minced beef in a pasta case, a soft cooked quail egg, cashew nuts in an edible bag, a cheese made with honey, miniature olive baguettes, a dip of taramasalata cream and passion fruit with fake seeds made of tapioca. The best of these varied elements was the excellent bread, though I also particularly liked the meatball and the little pasta dish. I am not quite sure what the cashews really added other to show off the cheffy trickery of the edible bag, and the quail egg was just that, but certainly the whole setup was quite theatrical and fun. It has also been done before, at Azurmendi (16/20).

Next was buttermilk bread with sesame seeds, made from scratch in the kitchen, which had very good texture. Next was a modern take on the classic stuffed vine leaf dish dolmas. Here we had very delicate vine leaf crisps, on a bed of quinoa instead of rice, but still with the stuffing mix of pine nuts, onions, currants and spices. This was a clever take on the familiar dolmada, and for a rare change when modernist cooking takes on versions of classic dishes, this actually improved on the original (17/20).

Next was semolina pasta with sea urchin eggs, chives and some citrus. This was pleasant enough, the filing of the pasta in good balance, though I have tasted better sea urchin in Japan (15/20). I was less taken by a Greek salad in the form of a granita, that featured the promised feta, cucumber, tomato and pepper, but within a granita. This is all very tricksy and shows off the gadgets in the kitchen, but was it really an improvement on a salad? I remain to be convinced, though the texture was fine and the flavours came through well enough (14/20).

This was followed by a dish of "earthy aromas", with mushrooms, toasted barley, black truffle from the Peloponnese, nasturtium leaves and pansy flowers. I really liked this dish, the crunchy barley adding a contrasting texture, the mushrooms good and the truffle aroma coming through well (17/20). The final savoury course, or so it seemed, was lamb brain in a sauce of lamb brain, cream and citrus. This was actually excellent, the texture of the brain good and there being just enough citrus to cut through the richness of the dish (17/20). A pescatarian alternative at this point was dentex with greens, chive oil and garlic, which sadly was seriously, wildly overcooked. I know that this was an alternative dish rather than part of the stated menu, but if a kitchen is to offer basically a no-choice menu then their substitute dishes need to be good too, and this was worryingly off-key, a basic culinary error. This is all the more of a shame since dentex is a lovely fish, one of the glories of the Mediterranean, so this was a waste of a fine ingredient (10/20).

The first seemingly sweet dish was a "Ferrero Rocher" that of course, this being a modernist restaurant, was no such thing, but just looked like it. The gold paper was edible and the filling, instead of the hazelnut centre of the original chocolate, was actually foie gras. All very clever and witty, but the centre lacked enough liver flavour (barely 14/20). Intriguingly, the non-meat alternative, with a Roquefort and nut filling, seemed to me to work much better and, with the hazelnut taste that actually came through, was closer in spirit to the original sweet on which the dish was modelled as well as tasting a lot better (17/20). 

This was followed by what appeared to be a boiled egg with salt and pepper and some bread on the side. By now it will be clear that it was no such thing. The "bread" was actually a vanilla sponge, the "egg" having a chocolate shell and a filling of passion fruit and mango in place of the egg yolk, and coconut in place of the egg white. The condiments were really cinnamon and tonka bean powder. Although all this "aha, it is not what it seems" stuff can wear thin after a time and can seem simply contrived, in this case I will give it a pass. Firstly, the impression was skilful - it really did look just like a boiled egg. More importantly, the dish tasted lovely - the passion fruit, chocolate, mango and coconut was a lovely combination (18/20).

Next was a chocolate "bomb" with a candle wick on a bed of what was presumably intended to resemble sand. The sand was a chocolate crumble with hazelnuts, the bomb being a milk chocolate and hazelnut praline with a filling of strawberry and raspberry sorbet, the wick being made of sugar. This was less visually witty but again the flavours were very good - the fruit balanced the richness of the chocolate, and the crumble gave a contrasting texture (17/20). The petit fours were a couple of spheres presented hanging from a little bush, all in a dish that had dried ice poured over it. I am not sure how many diners in the world by now are left who would be surprised by seeing dry ice and being wowed by it, but I suppose there must be some. Similarly the "fruit hanging from tree" trope has all been done before, though perhaps I am just showing my age and cynicism. In this case the problem wasn't the theatre but the fact that the sphere of "mastic" and tangerine was really not very impressive, having a vague citrus taste (14/20).

Coffee was from a producer in Panama and was very nice. Petit fours were a pineapple jelly, chocolate truffle, honey Madeleine and a series of macaroons: forest fruit marmalade, white chocolate with lime, passion fruit with butter chocolate, raspberry cake and white chocolate with pistachio. These were very well made (17/20). There was one final piece of theatre, a dessert painted on a tray, something which Grant Achatz at Alinea should really get a royalty fee for every time another kitchen wheels out his idea. In this case the theme was a Black Forest dessert, so the many elements included cherries, whipped cream, a soil of cocoa biscuit, "tree trunks" of bitter chocolate, white chocolate "twigs", cherry syrup, candy floss, a glass of sour cherry liquor, glazed kirsch ice cream with hazelnut butter, cocktail of red fruit and rum, a sauce of kirsch and yoghurt and a dusting of "snow" in the form of icing sugar. It may be based on another restaurant's idea, but the theatrical assembly of the dish was fun to watch, but the flavours were coherent and the elements technically capable (17/20).

Service was seriously slick, the waiting staff patient and attentive, topping up flawless. The bill came to €212 (£183) a head, with pre- dinner drinks and an excellent bottle of wine. If you shared a modest bottle you could get away with a cost of about £145 each. This is hardly cheap, but then a great deal of work has clearly gone into the lengthy menu that appears. Funky Gourmet is very much a modernist restaurant with all that and implies, so the no-option tasting menu, the cheffy trickery, the visual tricks and the theatricality are a given. I am fine with all this if the food actually tastes good too, and at this meal it mostly did. Many ideas seemed borrowed from other restaurants, but there is no copyright on a recipe idea; acknowledging where the idea came from would have been a nice gesture, but perhaps I am being over geeky at this point; most customers will not be aware of the inspiration for the dishes, and won’t care. The dentex was a worrying slip, and there were certainly some dishes that did not dazzle, so this was not up there with the real showcases of modernist cooking around the world, such as Alinea or The Fat Duck, amongst others. However Funky Gourmet was certainly enjoyable, the staff were lovely, and the best dishes were very good indeed.


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