Anyone visiting Athens after years away is flabbergasted by the explosion of a new, thrilling dining scene that’s on par with many of the world’s most sophisticated cities. Lockdowners found profound comfort in the ever-growing choice of places that sprung up out of nowhere and delivered fantastic cuisine to their doorsteps, and now that we’re out it’s time to visit them in person.
Here, we feature restaurants that are each extremely different from each other in terms of their menus and the remarkable chefs behind them, yet have some common attributes. Seasonal, fresh, often organic and local produce, sourced from around Greece from chiefly small producers who put great care into what they cultivate; creativity that doesn’t hit the roof but smashes through it, coming from awarded or highly experienced chefs sharing a new vision; beautiful, sometimes very chic, generally upbeat locations; and prices that, even when way over our budget, are well worth it considering the quality and memorable experience they give.
Located in a beautifully renovated neoclassical mansion, since this restaurant opened in 2006 by Nikiforos Kechagiadakis it began to raise the profile of Metaxourgeio. Head Chef Gikas Xenakis, described as “a fierce advocate of modern Greek cuisine,” has won Aleria numerous prestigious awards throughout the years, putting it on the map as one of Athens’ best dining spots. With sophisticated yet cozy décor that juxtaposes old nostalgia with modern quirkiness, the restaurant is a pleasure to visit throughout the year but is particularly refreshing during summer, when one can dine in a lush, warmly-lit garden.
There are two set, 5-course tasting menus here, “Earth & Sea” and “Garden & Nature” (€65 p/person), both including one dessert. Each menu is composed of creative, playful and intelligent combinations of nouvelle, fusion and molecular cuisine, and all dishes are created using fresh, seasonal and mainly local ingredients. The menus can be accompanied by a wine pairing (€48 for the standard wine menu and €84 for the Premium).
The flavors are vibrant, delicate and soothing, with some dishes composed in innovative ways to create a familiar taste, as is the example with the “Spanakopita” amuse bouche, a crunchy cracker-like filo disc topped with a cheese mousse and aromatic fresh herbs, or the “Yiouverlaki,” a mini steak tartare with avgolemono-style (egg-lemon) sauce topped with crispy sweet potato angel hair.
A new – and definitely novel – arrival on the Athens restaurant scene, Herve is the creation of French chef Herve Pronzato, who imbues his menu with flavors he discovered during his travels through Europe, the Middle East and Asia. After years of creating jaw-dropping menus for awarded restaurants such as Athens’ Hytra and Spondi, the chef has conjured up a cuisine of his own that combines techniques and philosophies connected to classic gastronomy, exotic street food, and outright creative genius.
Upon booking your reservation, the Petralona restaurant sends you an entrance code to punch in at the (otherwise locked) entry door. Once inside, you’re immersed in an other-worldly ambience with low lighting and a sleek, minimalist and ultra-modern décor. There is a huge curved purple bar (the chef’s table) with a busy kitchen at its center, as well as a pretty outdoor courtyard with colorful murals and plants. If you come to dine here, and you should if you want to experience one of the city’s absolute best restaurants to date, make sure you have plenty of time and a big appetite. The meal, a set tasting menu of 17 dishes (€95 p/person) lasts for three and a half hours, and despite savoring every bite and the experience it created in me, halfway through I was tempted to stop, but I knew I’d be racked with regret if I did so.
The staff have been immaculately trained to provide the diner with a clear and unpretentious explanation of every single dish. The menu combines Greek and international ingredients in completely original offerings, such as the duck air baguette with port wine and cocoa nibs, the quail egg with spinach fricassee, hollandaise, dill and lumpfish roe (or Ossetra caviar at an added €22), or the rooster with porcini, miso, red chili, galangal, Florina pepper and mustard leaf, which will give your tastebuds a deliciously dizzying workout. The degustation menu can be accompanied by a six-glass wine pairing menu (€50) or you can opt for a wine bottle or glass of choice.
Proveleggio’s, the second and equally special gastronomic project by Greek-Japanese chef Sotiris Kondizas, opened in 2019 just before the pandemic struck and lockdowns ensued, so it’s only recently being discovered by seekers of delectable, experimental food. I had heard that the hip restaurant is known for its sourdough (prozimi) bread and pizza dough, which is left to sit for 24 hours and has an excellent texture and flavor. But on the evening I visited Proveleggio’s, which has tables lining a pedestrian street of neoclassic buildings covered in murals and graffiti, I was definitely not in the mood for bready things. I wanted something light and airy, ideally including umami flavors, spice and exotic tastes, which I thought I wouldn’t find here.
I was wrong. I got the first “fix” for my desire with a refreshingly zingy cocktail containing ingredients like lime, ginger and chilli. And looking at the menu, I also discovered marinated mussels, tuna and shrimp in strawberry vinegar sauce, which we were encouraged to mop up with the airily foamy yet crisp rosemary focaccia, a sashimi of Palamida fish with yuzu and mizuna and melt-in-your-mouth Kerkini buffalo fillet with a BBQ and apple sauce.
Encouraged to try the pizza (with toppings, like “lactic” – the restaurant’s own creamy cheese, miso truffle, or quince gorgonzola are so original you want to try them anyway) we went for the “Almost 90s” with creamy lactic and crispy bacon, which literally made us feel high because of its incredible dough and creamy, crunchy topping. There is nothing predictable or ordinary about Proveleggio’s menu (a la carte, with price per decently sized portion dish ranging between €8-€16). Each dish is entirely different from the last, which means return visits are required – and its prices make that very possible, as well as the warm and hospitable staff.
This latest creation by Tasos Mantis and Alex Mouridis, housed in a 1930s villa behind the Panathenaic stadium, centers around the “earthy gastronomy” of Head Chef Tassos Mandis, who sources most of the restaurant’s super fresh ingredients from his organic gardens in Alepochori village near Athens. The multi-award winning chef, who has led kitchens in a number of 3 Michelin Star restaurants such as Hof Van Cleve in Belgium, Geranium in Copenhagen, Frantzén in Stockholm, and Fat Duck in England, has created a set 14 course menu (86€ p/person) that artfully plays with the earth’s elements.
Soil’s table décor and exquisitely presented dishes include flowers, herbs and leaves, offering an immediate connection with nature. The contrast between the restaurant’s “home” as they describe it, a 1930s villa with a lovely two-tier garden courtyard, which creates a feeling of old fashioned glamor and nostalgia, with the edgily modern dishes and nature-themed touches is stimulating.
The originality of the tastes is also exciting. Dishes like the green salad with a buttery oyster, unripe strawberry and cherry, the scallop with yuzu kosho, grapefruit and lemon confit, or the mini eel burger with guanciale, vadouvan and sorrel or even the incredibly refreshing palate cleanser between savory dishes and dessert, a sorbet-style cucumber with anise hyssop, green apple and jalapenos are all part of a memorable journey. The chef takes the diner from the ground to the ethereal plains and then lands them gently back down to earth, to the soil from which everything grows.
Describing itself as “alitiki kouzina” (rogue kitchen), Tzoutzouka quickly built a fanbase when it first opened last year in Rouf, for its creative, feel-good cuisine composed of fresh, seasonal and regional Greek ingredients in a modern-traditional mix and buzzy vibes. Set in an old-style kafeneion, the restaurant has a décor as spirited as its menu, with colorful interiors and an outside pavement covered in tables that quickly fill up every night.
Created by Andonis Liolis, who combines a playful bon vivant attitude that makes his guests feel warm and fuzzy with pragmatic, worldly cuisine and a visionary taste philosophy, Tzoutzouka reflects the tastes and desires of the modern Greek palate. His unpretentious yet sophisticated cuisine is being increasingly noticed by guests, including, recently, a food critic from the New York Times.
From mouth-watering fresh fish ceviche to Black Angus tartare with smoky mayonnaise and truffle, to fried cauliflower with curry, fresh coriander and chilli or sea bass with tomato juice, pepper cream, basil and lime, the menu offers a broad choice of conceptually refreshing and tastebud-pleasing dishes. Prices range from €8 – €19.