Greek food has a pretty bad reputation in my family. Dad likes to regale us with stories about the greasy spanakopita and 'retch-sina' that he was subjected to on Greek holidays during the 1980s. Don't even get him started on the subject of taramasalata....
However, over the last decade, Athens has transformed into a foodie city, with a strong culture of eating out - and the restaurants to match. Recently, I visited Athens for the weekend, and I was blown away by the beautiful produce and homely, tasty taverna fare. Here's a little selection of the highlights.
Psarras Taverna, Plaka
Address: Erechtheous 16 & Erotokritou 12, Plaka
Contact: +30 210 321 8734; psaras-taverna.gr
This gorgeous restaurant spills out into the atmospheric streets of Plaka, one of Athens' most beautiful neighbourhoods. I visited on a warm evening in August, and it couldn't have made for a more magical first night in the city. Descending the steps to the restaurant, you are greeted by a warm glow from the candles on the tables, and the reception from the waiters and waitresses is equally welcoming. We left ordering in the hands of our waiter, a congenial Greek-Australian, returned to Athens after many years in Melbourne. He chose us a sweet, tomato-rich cuttlefish stew and some flavourful meatballs, alongside a crisp greek salad. All the food was delicious and fresh, and was accompanied by a fantastic Greek wine. The red was made from the Agiorgitiko grape and hailed from the Nemea region of Greece. Legend has it that it was this wine which Hercules drank after slaying the Nemean lion.
This is the sort of restaurant where the hours just slip away, as you listen to music, drink good wine, and sip on mastika.
Address: Sokratous 1, Athina 105 52,
Contact: +30 21 0325 4184; karamanlidika.gr
A hidden gem, we stumbled upon this taverna after a mouthwatering walk through Athens' Central Market. The taverna serves as both restaurant and delicatessen, with an impressive array of hams, sausages, and cheeses on display. Indeed, on almost every table there was a long wooden board of cold cuts and sliced cheeses: we knew what we would be ordering! Accompanying this selection, we had a bubbling skillet of tender aubergine and tomato stew, topped with feta, fresh dolmades, and an egg cooked with spicy sausage. Home-cooked and tasty, this was the perfect lunch - although he did have to go home for a little siesta afterwards!