When eating out, most Greeks put meat above all else. They usually prefer a traditional taverna/grill house, specialized in sizzling lamb chops and skewered meats. In recent years, a new wave of bistros and restaurants specializing in meat has raised the culinary bar significantly higher. What we are seeing for the first time is imported meats being put on the same level as domestic offerings.
Greeks are justifiably proud of the latter, as intensive animal farming is still quite limited in the country. But now, meats from select breeds are being flown in from some of the best farms in the world; French and American cuts are being applied to meats aged for months, and meats certified as coming from pedigree animals raised on top quality feed are offering cuts that are richer in intramuscular fat – meaning richer in flavor.
In the downtown area, Telemachos resembles a classic Parisian brasserie, with a lofty ceiling, grandiose chandelier, huge mirror and tasteful art de la table. The menu offers a broad range of dishes: classic international and Greek recipes, from carpaccio (very thin slices of raw beef served with dressing or sauce) and Brazilian picanha (sirloin cap), to Thracian kavourmas (a slow-roasted, sausage-like cold cut) and pork fillets.
The high quality of the ingredients is more than evident in both the raw and the grilled offerings. Try the tartare of Piedmontese beef fillet and the Greek heifer rib eye steak. There is also a good variety of aged Greek cold meats, while the wine list features more than 200 labels – mainly strong reds from Greece, France, Argentina and South Africa.
Behind the Hilton Hotel, in the area of Ilisia, Vezene is a stylish bistro that makes up in reputation what it lacks in size. The well-traveled chef and owner, Ari Vezene, was one of the first in Greece to introduce special cuts and lengthy (aka dry) aging.
A meal here is an experience. Start with an open pie baked in the wood oven or one of the noteworthy pasta dishes, such as the orzo or trachanas. For your entrée, choose the excellent loin chop from a 12-year-old retired dairy cow. Aged for 200 days, it has that perfect, rich and heavy unadulterated flavor that comes from the process. Also take advantage of the unusual combinations, such as the Japanese Miyazaki beef sashimi, served with a mushroom broth and smoked sea urchin.
The goat’s neck, aged for two weeks and served with wild fricassée greens, is also a rare treat. The wine list is a work of art, with some excellent international selections, and the famous Ari’s Deal Closer dessert (basically a tower made of dark chocolate brownie, vanilla ice-cream and fudge) is a must.
Fabrica tou Efrosynou
Near the Museum of Contemporary Art in Koukaki, you’ll find Fabrica tou Efrosynou, a restaurant that doesn’t specialize in meat but has a few very interesting meat dishes. Best described as a new–age taverna with a varied decor of iron constructions and bronze chandeliers, it serves a plethora of Greek starters made with PDO products from around the country. The highlights are the pies, the handmade kavourmas and the delicious fries made with potatoes from Kilkis.
The beef patty, made with young Greek beef, is beautifully cooked, juicy and delicious, as are the liver and rib eye steak. The wine list is sophisticated, with several lesser-known wines from native varieties and great value for money.
For a high-caliber extravaganza take a cab to Bournazi, a neighborhood some 15 minutes from the city center, to Base Grill. The owners, two brothers, have shaken up the Athens restaurant scene by opening this meat-only restaurant, throwing down the gauntlet in terms of quality as well as know-how. The cook on the meat is magnificent, but before you dig in, start with an original dish that other restaurants have tried – but failed – to replicate: fried eggs in a nest of finely-sliced fried potatoes.
Another bestseller is the liver, which comes medium rare and dressed in nothing but a sprinkling of rock salt and a dash of olive oil – just right to bring out its deep metallic flavor. In order to ensure that customers are getting exactly what they want, the meat is cut at the table and includes such delectable choices as the Hereford ribeye, aged for 75 days. Leave some room for a selection of fine cheeses, Greek and foreign, at the end.
The wine list is decent and well-priced, but you can also choose from dozens of interesting beers by small Greek brewers.
Dry and Raw
Over in the southern suburbs, Drakoulis is a butcher’s shop famous for its special cuts and takes pride in the amazing dry-aged meats it brings in from selected farms around the world. Now, it also has an in-house restaurant, Dry and Raw.
In this rather surprising space, soft lighting, leather, wood and stone complement the modern menu with dishes like bread with butter and marrow – although the music is quite loud. You can choose your cut of meat from the display cases and we recommend trusting the chef on how it shoukd be cooked. The Wagyu (Japanese Cattle) beef tartare is prepared on the spot and is nothing short of excellent: perfect fattiness offset by the acidic and hot elements of the recipe such as chives, finger lime with maple syrup, chili, sakura (cherry blossom) mix, and wasabi mayonnaise on the side.
You really should try the chorizo sausage made with pata negra (black Iberian pork). The meat is served together with classics with a twist, such as mashed potatoes with truffle and smoked parmesan, or a cream of spinach, mushrooms and onions. The wine list comprises some 75 labels imported from small wineries in Australia, New Zealand, California, South Africa, Italy, France and Spain.
If you’re up to traveling a few more kilometers outside of Athens, Kritikos in Pallini, near the capital’s airport, is one of the country’s most famous meat tavernas, around for 50 years and renowned for its good Greek meats. Try any of the steaks and the scrumptious bits like the kidneys and chops. This is solid no-frills food at a reasonable price.