To eat: Monastiraki and Plaka

Avocado: A solid option for a casual bite, Avocado is a vegetarian/vegan café popular with locals and tourists alike.  With a wide-ranging menu spanning dishes from all over the world, the usual vegan offerings are available including guacamole, hummus, tofu and wellness smoothies.  For me, the place was a little too “homely” (and brightly lit) – the food was the kind you might cook yourself.  Given its USP, prices are also steep – my pesto pasta (gluten-free with added veggies) came to €17 and was nothing special.  Though worth a try if you’re here for a while, particularly given its convenient location, I wouldn’t prioritise (an) Avocado.

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Birdman: An intimate, no-fuss and no-frills Japanese pub and grill, Birdman is a great spot for a bite (and a date!) at the bar over a Saki cocktail.  Tucked in an alleyway near Syntagma Square, the open kitchen-counter specialises in meaty dishes to enjoy whilst perched on the high stools at the bar.  Founder, chef and butcher Aris Vezene is a committed “nose to tail” chef, encouraging the consumption of unpopular meat cuts and limiting waste.

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Ergon:  Like its performance all over social media, Ergon is beautiful in a millennial way: a wall of herbs, a market (“agora”) and even a tree with seating around it.  More importantly, the food served here is absolutely worth this fuss.  Grab a spot at the marble counter and order their Greek Salad: featuring pillowy soft olive oil-soaked pitta bread, it was one of the best I’ve tried.  Also wonderfully seasoned is the sumac-topped hummus.  Its rooftop bar, Retiré, is also a must for its view of the Acropolis and Clumsies-collaborated cocktails.

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Elaia: Meaning olive tree in Greek, this spot is one of the most beautiful dining choices in Plaka, set in a three-storey mansion.  During the summer months, dining on the terrace, especially at sunset, is dreamy and offers a view of the city spanning from the Acropolis to Lycabettus.  Like the setting, the flavours are traditionally Greek and based on Cretan cuisine.  Highlights include the Eggplant cups with fava beans and caramelised onions, the Dakos Salad and the Grilled Vegetable Salad, all authentically prepared and served and eaten with a view of the Acropolis.  A Greek tavern at its finest.

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Feyrouz: This popular little spot and its recently opened separate bakery just opposite brings a culinary experience to the backstreets of central Athens, fusing the flavours of Greece, Turkey and Syria.  Using family recipes and the freshest of products, their speciality are wholemeal, hand-kneaded wraps and “pides”, both available vegan/vegetarian.  The vegan pide filled with beetroot, cauliflower, broccoli and sundried tomatoes and topped with avocado hummus and walnuts is a must try.  Tasty salads, including a colourful fattoush topped with a smoky, spicy eggplant-tomato sauce and delicious daily-changing seasonal soups are also on offer for just a few euros and all incredibly tasty.

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Folk: From the same team behind Different Beast, the all-day food here, from Breakfast and Brunch through to Evening plates, is very special and super inventive.  Inspired by the US West Coast meets the flavours of the Middle East, Folk combines the two using top quality Greek produce, in a Scandi-inspired aesthetic.  These global influences make for some very imaginative dishes which will take you on a culinary journey.  Highlights are the Roasted Cauliflower with Dried Anthotyro, Sultanas, Pickled Romesco & Pinenuts (€13), the Spiced Roasted Broccoli Sprouts with Muhmamara, Roasted Hazlenuts and Fresh Onion (€7.50) and Charred Sweet Potatoes with Toum (€5.50).  The floor-to-ceiling windows also make this an ideal people-watching spot.

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Heteroclito: Taking its name from the Greek word for “varied”, true to its meaning the menu of this wine bar (with small plates) is almost a book.   It’s a perfect place for tasting the produce of Greek vineyards amidst the buzz of downtown Athens.  On a warm evening, nab a table on the lovely pedestrian street for an atmospheric setting.

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Hilton: The Hilton bar, restaurant and pool are unlikely popular spots in the City.  Though a rather (pedestrian) hotel, the views from its rooftop bar and sushi restaurant are pretty spectacular.  Back down to earth, the pool is the largest in the centre of Athens.  Even if you’re not staying at the Hilton, the hotel is worth a stop-off.

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I Kriti: Hidden in one of Athens’ many central arcades in a rather unappealing location, I Kriti is a shrine to everything Cretan – which is arguably the best form of Greek food (home to the Dakos salad, of course).  For authentic food from this island – which has to be my favourite type of regional Greek cuisine – head here.  The menu features classic favourites, including the traditional rustic dakos (barley rusk in extra virgin olive oil finely topped with chopped tomatoes), wonderfully fragrant and olive oil-infused handmade dolamades (stuffed grape leaves with rice) and a range of vegetable plates including grilled oyster and portobello mushrooms with olive oil and honey, and eggplant with tomato sauce.  The unfussy interiors are equally Cretan: cast-iron figures hang on the walls, chequered tiles form the floor and brown paper tableclothes cover the tables.   Service at this utterly unpretentious tavern is also charming: on my visit, the waiter brought me a complementary poached cinnamon pear for desert.  Truely Cretan, down to the hospitality.

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Kuzina: Though popular with locals and tourists alike, probably because of its location and views from the terrace of the Acropolis, the vegetarian options at Kuzina are limited and the Greek Salad disappointing – the tomato to cucumber/rocket/olive/caper ratio was totally off.  The meat options look more promising and Asian-inspired.  Also convincing are the appetisers of falafel-like Zucchini balls with traditional soft cheese, herbs and a yogurt sauce.

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Madame Phú Man Chú: Round the corner from Clumsies, Mamade Phú is sister restaurant to Buba in Kifissia.  Its Vietnamese sibling has downtown authenticity and a very varied vegetarian/vegan menu.  Look for the colourful lanterns and ruby red walls to spot this funky little corner site, with a handful of stools around the open kitchen counter.  With wok cooking in front of you, the food here is tasty, fresh and fun, particularly the coconut rice flour vegan pancakes and the stir-fried glass noodles.

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Mamacita: A stone’s throw away from Syntagma Square, Mamacita could easily be considered a multi-cultural downtown paradise with its colourful character and unpretentious aesthetic.  Its wide-ranging menu offers everything from tacos, quesadillas and burritos, to cocktails, beers and sangria.  After my half-Mexican colleague gave it rave reviews, I’m certain that this place will give you an authentic culinary stroll through Mexico if you’re looking for a change from the usual Greek fare.

New Hotel: A design project of the Brazilian Campana brothers, New Hotel opened about six years ago and its entrance is immediately testament to its status as a Design Hotel of the World.  Commissioned by the art collector Dakis Joannou, it’s no surprise.  Inspired by Brazil’s favelas, tree-trunk like figures decorate the ground floor restaurant.  But it’s worth taking the art-deco bronze lift up to the rooftop NEW Taste Restaurant in the Art Lounge for atmospheric 360 degrees views of the Acropolis, Lycabettus Hill, Syntagma Square and the Parliament.  The restaurant uses the finest of Greek produce (and serves a white wine from Santorini which is not to miss!).  Definitely try the “Wheat Salad” for a unique taste of this Greek grain cooked with a wonderfully al dente bite and paired with a citrus dressing with a great kick.

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Nolan: The restaurant (supposedly named after the owner’s favourite director Christopher Nolan) is headed by Chef Sotiris Contizas, who designs a simple menu based on his Greek-Japanese heritage.  The dishes have memories of Japan and Greece, with fresh ingredients that blend together in harmony.  Though centrally located, this sophisticated urban bistro feels distant from the hustle and bustle of the big city.  You’d miss it if you were just strolling by, but it’s a place where people go and seek out for good reason.  Blending Greek and Japanese flavours in a contemporary way, the food is incredibly tasty and inventive.  Not to miss is the Zuchinni with smoked eggplant and miso.  It’s totally unique.

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Oinoscent: The Greeks know a thing or two about wine – as they should: they’ve been making it for the past 6,500 years.  And this is evident in a clutch of excellent wine bars in Athens, all nestled between Monastiraki, Syntagma and Pláka.  As well as Heteroclito (above) Oinoscent is another.  Athens’ original downtown wine bar opened by brothers Agis and Danis Agapitos, the stellar list is curated by perhaps the city’s most knowledgeable and friendly staff.  The short, carefully selected wine list is balanced between domestic and foreign wines, but the real adventure definitely lies on the list’s Greek side.  The snacks are also excellent: in addition to the barley rusks (big, fat rustic croutons soaked in olive oil) and olives, there’s an excellent selection of salads, including Fattoush with quality olive oil.

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Tuk Tuk Thai Street Food: Casual, fast and budget, this small joint On the outskirts of the Acropolis in Koukaki is an outstanding choice for some quick bites with strong character.  Head here for truly authentic, fresh Thai food prepared in front of you (if you manage to nab a seat at the bar counter!).  Their Thai Green Curry, served in a generous portion, is perfect after a day at the beach/on an island.  With its very spicy kick, you could be in Thailand.

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One thought on “To eat: Monastiraki and Plaka

  1. Pingback: To eat – Yumtini

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