Experience authentic – and delicious – Greek street food without the linguistic difficulties at The Athenian, writes Alex Diggins
The atmosphere was appropriately Greek when we visited The Athenian recently. The evening sun shafting between buildings, the happy crowds promenading, the light glinting off the River Avon which – with a squint and bit of imagination – might have been the Med, all contributed to the impression that we were somewhere more exotic than Wapping Wharf.
The food certainly helped as well. The Athenian specialises in Greek street food, and a commitment to the genuine flavours of the founder Efthymios’ homeland was present in every mouthful. We kicked off with dakos: a salad of tomatoes, oregano, Kalamata olives and feta cheese on bed of softened barley rusk. It was a superb start. The tomatoes and feta were fresh and cleansing, but the olives and oregano brought sufficient burly assertiveness to make it moreishly good. Our waiter, Josh, inexplicably cheery despite being rushed off his feet – “It’s always this crazy” – had made his intentions about giving us a right proper feeding clear from the start. But even so we couldn’t leave that salad alone, returning and picking at it repeatedly – the perfect way to refresh the palate.
Then the food began to arrive in earnest. An elegant mezze arrangement appeared; a real ensemble piece this one, each element well-balanced yet distinctive. Stand outs were the tyrokafteri, a fierce, fiery feta dip, and the Kalamata tapenade which plunged sea-deep in its briny intensity. But no sooner had we picked our way around the board, when Josh slipped with a grin from the scrum of eager customers at the door and whacked down the main events: chicken gyros and mushroom souvlakia.
Even though we were now perilously close to fullness, my girlfriend and I pressed resolutely on. We were well-rewarded: these were some of the best damn kebabs I’ve ever had. The mushroom souvlakia seduced me in particular. As an on-off veggie – or ‘flexitarian’ depending on how much I want to annoy my loved ones – I always wrestle with my principles when the smell of coal-kissed marinated meat fills the air. But this souvlakia more than compensated my virtuousness: unctuousness mushrooms slid about in a glistening sauce of their own juices, swaddled in an airy pitta bread (imported specially from Greece), crowned with the crisp crunch of fries. Truly, the Greeks are the masters of meat – or mushroom – in bread.
By this point, we were well on our way to glazed-eye contentment. But in the spirit of venturesome research, we picked at some of the other fried morsels scattered about. Cheese croquettes were naughty little bundles of crisp, fried potato getting along nicely with a sharp oozy cheese. Their companions though, courgette and feta fritters, were the only slight disappointments of the meal. Courgette and feta just weren’t strong enough flavours to hold their own against the deep fat fryer: a homogenous greasiness was the result.
They were the only missteps in a meal which more than lived up to its billing: generous, delicious and bellowing with Greek authenticity. Bravo!
Unit 16, Cargo 2, Wapping Wharf
Bristol BS1 6WD