The global trend of fusion cuisine, particularly Nikkei, has filled Athenian chefs with fresh inspiration, prompting them to compose menus featuring hot yellow amarillo peppers, plenty of soy sauce and red mullet sashimi. Tuna from the island of Alonissos is being flavored with miso and garnished with shiso, while sake is replaced by wine for fine dining on fresh fish. In short, they are bringing Japanese cuisine to a wide public – albeit with some shortcuts on technique that occasionally compromise the quality.
Inroads have already been made in fusion cuisine, such as the palate-thrilling marriage of soy sauce with extra virgin olive oil or the use of lime instead of lemon to “cook” the flesh of the Ambracian Gulf’s famous shrimp. Meanwhile, rumors abound regarding the imminent appearance of the country’s first fusion bean stew, a traditional fasolada made of fermented white beans, though how well it will go down with Greeks when its more widely known soybean predecessor, Natto, is rarely enjoyed by anyone save the Japanese, is the subject of some debate.
Fusion cuisine is the union of ingredients and techniques that may at first appear incongruous; the “marriage” of cultures on a plate; the composition of fascinating, global flavors.
The culinary union of Japan and Peru resulted in Nikkei and the man who pioneered it has a restaurant in the Greek capital. Matsuhisa Athens boasts not only some of Nobu’s most popular recipes, but also inspired dishes by Greek chef Vassilis Papatheodorou, who heads the kitchen. Luxurious and stylish, it is impressively located by the sea on Athens’ southern coast, and offers high-quality sushi, an extensive wine list and a more affordable Omakase menu, named after the Japanese word for “entrust,” meaning that you trust the chef to create dishes using the freshest available ingredients and on the basis of the preferences of regulars. In Greece, as in other parts of the world outside Japan, this term has become associated with budget-friendly options at lofty establishments.
Located in downtown Kolonaki, Nikkei is a bit fancier than the Peruvian cuisine it embraces might require. The space is modern ethnic, with just a few tables and a big bar, where the cocktail list has received a good deal of attention. After building his career in several well-known kitchens, Chef Thanos Stasinos gravitates more to Peru than Japan. So you won’t be having sushi but tiraditos with raw fish, ceviche, pork belly and bao ban (steamed bread rolls) with a twist, topped off with delicious desserts.
“Tuna from the island of Alonissos is being flavored with miso and garnished with shiso, while sake is replaced by wine for fine dining on fresh fish.”
The most popular bar restaurant in the same neighborhood and the first Athenian venue for this kind of cuisine is Cinco, with JSP (Japan, Spain and Peru) roots. The atmosphere is industrial with mix-and-match decorative elements, and more bar than restaurant, as the music gets louder and the lights dimmer at night. The food is good and matches very well with the excellent cocktails and premium spirits that are served.
In the northern suburbs, fusion is synonymous with Rakkan. The geometric installation on the ceiling, composed of 9,500 wooden cubes, is quite impressive, while the ambience and crowd are best described as cosmopolitan-posh. The cuisine is basically Japanese with Mediterranean influences. The lunch menu is streamlined and ideal for a quiet business meal, while in the evening the fare on offer is as stylish as the diners. The very well-executed black cod is the star of the kitchen, while there’s also an extensive variety of sushi.
A Greek-Japanese gastronomic alliance forged by one of the boldest Greek chefs around today, Dimitris Katrivesis, is the driving force behind Kiku, an institution that has seven different restaurants in a range of styles operating under its umbrella. Where possible, the chef replaces imported ingredients with fresh Greek ones, so menu highlights include Greek tuna as well as tonburi (a garnish also dubbed “land caviar”) with sea urchin, soy milk skin, squid ink and Japanese barbeque sauce – several timeless delicacies on one plate. The Kolonaki restaurant is reserved for members only, while that in Neo Psychico further north – darker and with louder music – is more influenced by the traditions and culture of Peru than its downtown partner.
Taking a step beyond fusion is Funky Gourmet. The dining experience here is not limited by the type of cuisine, but is rather fun and original, mimicking no one but itself. Funky Gourmet has been around since 2009 and has racked up two Michelin stars thanks to the high standards maintained in the kitchen by chef duo Georgianna Hiliadaki and Nikos Roussos. The menu consists of a stellar parade of different dishes, many microscopic bites with layer upon layer of flavor that make you wonder how the essence of so many ingredients can be concentrated in such a tiny portion. Its reputation, however, is very well deserved and Funky Gourmet should not be missed if you’re in the mood for splashing out.