Spondi was opened in 1996 by Apostolos Trastelis, and was the first restaurant in Greece to receive two Michelin stars. It has had several chefs over the years, including Jerome Seros and Arnaud Bignon, who was in charge when the restaurant gained its first Michelin star in 2002 and its second star in 2008. Mr Bignon is now at The Greenhouse in London, and the head chef of Spondi these days is Angelos Lantos, who worked for many years here with Arnaud Bignaud before he took over as head chef. The restaurant is in a quiet side street in central Athens. There is a small courtyard where tables are used on warm nights, but the main dining room has stone walls and moody lighting. There was a tasting menu at €135 (£117), as well as a full a la carte choice.
The wine list had a quite extensive selection of references, with for example Biblia Chora White 2015 from Macedonia at €40 for a title that you can find in the high street for €20, the superb Donnhoff Riesling Oberhauser Lesitenberg Kabinett 2015 at €60 compared to its retail price of €21, and Chateau d'Esclans Deesse Astree 2010 at €95 for a wine that will set you back €72 in a shop. At the prestige end of the list, Leflaive Puligny Montrachet 2014 was €245 compared to its retail price of €125, and Louis Roederer Cristal 2009 was €360 for a label whose current market price is €174.
The meal began with a little soufflé bread with a lemon and thyme cream filling, which was very pleasant (16/20). There was also a little beetroot with mustard ice cream and raspberry mousse, a combination that worked better than I expected. The gentle bite of the mustard lifted the earthy flavour of the beetroot nicely (17/20). Bread is made from scratch in the kitchen. The main bread was a miniature brown loaf with excellent crust and good texture. There was also a crisp bread, which was fine, and a superb Parmesan straw, with delicate texture and bags of cheese flavour (17/20 average).
A signature dish of the restaurant is tartare of langoustine with Petrossian caviar, grapefruit and a celery coulis. This was pretty and very enjoyable, the langoustine's natural sweetness balanced by the sharpness of the grapefruit and the earthiness of the celery, the caviar adding an additional taste and texture (easily 17/20, bordering 18/20). White asparagus tart fine came with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, pistachio, and spots of herb juice. This was a very effective way of serving the white asparagus, the pastry adding an extra texture and the high quality balsamic bringing its hint of sweetness and working well with the earthy flavour of the asparagus (17/20).
Sea bream came with a selection of spring vegetables: peas, artichokes, carrots, pea shoots and nasturtium leaves. The fish was beautifully cooked and came with a classic beurre blanc sauce, the vegetables carefully cooked (17/20). I had Challans duck, which came with yellow beetroot purée and some little potato ravioli, as well as a sauce made from the cooking juices. The duck was cooked pink and was high quality, the beetroot purée a sensible foil for the richness of the duck, and it was nice to see a proper jar of sauce left on the table rather than a few artistic dots on the plate. The sauce itself was lovely, reduced and with deep flavour. For me something green on the plate would have been welcome, but this was certainly a very good dish (17/20).
A pre-dessert was apple and cucumber with lemon sorbet topped with meringue. The latter had good texture and the sorbet was nice, but cucumber? This trend of shrubbery in dessert is a pet peeve of mine, but this dish would have been improved if you just omitted the cucumber (15/20 if I forgive the intrusion of the cucumber). If pastry chefs insist on proving how fashionable they are in this way, then surely it is better to offer such modernist sweet/savoury dishes as a dessert or two on a menu with alternatives, rather than forcing them down customers' throats as a no-choice pre dessert?
Vanilla puff pastry restored equilibrium to the meal, with light pastry, a cinnamon straw and a salted caramel sauce poured over at the table. The latter was a bit rich but the dish was certainly enjoyable (16/20). A deconstructed cheesecake had good filling served separately from what would normally be the base, in this case a gingerbread crumb. This came with apricots, raisins, a raspberry and a delicate tuile pointlessly garnished with coriander. There was a stewed apricot on the side, as well as a little cup of fresh lemonade. This was a successful dish, the ginger flavour a nice counterpoint to the fruit, which neatly balanced the richness of the cheesecake filling (17/20).
The brand of coffee used is an Italian one from Verona called Giamaica, and it was very pleasant indeed. This came with a beignet of raspberry and red currant, the beignet being less light in texture than the ideal, though doubtless Homer Simpson would not have minded too much (15/20).
The bill came to €174 (£151) each before tip, including pre-dinner drinks and an excellent bottle of wine. A typical cost per person with a modest bottle to share might be around £120. Service was friendly but lacked polish. A couple of times I needed to ask to get my wine glass refilled and after we finished one course the plate remained on the table for an uncomfortable amount of time. First world issues for sure, but this is a two star restaurant and the grand dame restaurant of Athens, so the service should match the price point. Overall this was a very enjoyable meal, with an appealing menu, good quality ingredients and a generally high level of technical skill on show. If the service operation was tightened up then this would improve the overall experience, but I would happily return.