a little over a decade ago, my family and i had a summer vacation in greece. despite the heat we all loved athens and santorini and more than anything i loved the food. on the ferry from athens to santorini our hearing was assaulted by the loud and persistent cry of a man selling loukoumia, a soft sweet and gelatinous square reminiscent of turkish delight. we bought home boxes of the honey and apricot kind. whilst in greece we ate lots of seafood, souvlaki, moussaka and the cooling tzatziki and taramosalata. i was partial to the thick and cold frappes as well. what appealed to me most was the simplicity of the food and the strength of the taste of the olive oil. i have not since been back to greece but there is a memory that lingers on of an evening in plaka of a particularly good dinner of large dolmades cloaked under a blanket of avgolemono sauce. since then, the only really good greek food i’ve had is in arizona. it strikes me as strange that for all its cosmopolitanism, london does not have a single decent greek restaurant, a fact that is affirmed by my greek friends.
a couple of weeks ago we had a reunion – m square, k sans p, o and i. m and i had been going back and forth with a list of chinese and thai restaurants but in the end settled on retsina as k cannot have chilli food. o and i were familiar with retsina from our days of watching the f word. i must confess that having tried another f word restaurant which did not live up to its expectations so i wasn’t entirely sure it would be a good choice. the fact that the restaurant didn’t have m’s reservation listed was a rather inauspicious start.
o and i gladly left the ordering to the greek contingent of the dinner party so to start there was haloumi, dolmathes, spanagopita, tzatziki and kalamari. of the five it was only the spanagopita that was worth a mention which had a nice balance of salty feta with spinach encased in a thin flaky filo. the kalamari was overly oily and chewy, the hauloumi had been over grilled and was tough to eat and the tzatziki suffered from a lack of garlicky boldness. the dolmathes were nothing like the moist and flavourful ones that i had had in athens and what i missed the most is that lovely creamy and thick avgolemono sauce made by thickening broth with egg and lemon.
the mains were mousaka, soutzokakia (meatballs) and chicken kebab. i tried the mousaka which was fair enough but needed a slightly thicker blanket of béchamel sauce. the meatballs were very good and packed an earthy flavour of oregano. to finish there was the really nutty halva made with sesame, some baklava and loukomia, easily the best part of the meal.
i left retsina extremely disappointed with the awareness that i’ll have to forgo my craving for greek food until i go there again.