Sometimes, when I’m extra famished, my hunger takes the form of a spirit animal. When I visited this new Greek restaurant, it was post spin class, my legs were wibbling like corned beef coloured blancmanges and my face resembled a ripe damson. I practically had to grope my way along the pavement, like Velma in Scooby-Doo when she loses her specs, because my vision had gone all wonky. Very low blood sugar.
In this ravenous state, this sensation became a daemon (sort-of like Pan in His Dark Materials). Except I did better than a silly pine marten and got a roaring phoenix. Woo! Convenient that, because apparently it’s the national animal of Greece.
This place, on the corner of East Claremont Street, is in the style of a classic taverna, with blue and white livery and the prerequisite props of a little olive tree and a bowl of lemons inside the door.
On a Saturday lunchtime it was pretty dead, apart from a few regulars up at the bar. In fact, we seemed to be the only ones eating.
Their menu features all the usual Greek crowd-pleasers, from houmous (£3) and marinated Kalamata olives (£2) to good old kalamari (£7.50), spanakopita (£6.50) and gigantes (butter beans cooked in the oven with tomato and herbs, £6.50).
My phoenix, who we’ll call Jim, over-ordered, of course. (I should have left him outside, tied to the railings). The first of many plates to land was a large dish of melitzanosalata (£3) – pulped aubergine polka-dotted by chilli seeds, with a pungent smoky taste that was on the cusp of being acrid (but in a strangely addictive way).
A large helping of taramasalata (£3.50) was suitably whipped in texture, fresh and creamy, with plenty of lemon juice in the fish egg mix. We scooped up these dips with bits of toasted pitta (£1.20 for a basket). NB You will need way more than one basketful of this with every dip that you order.
From our mezethes (or meze) selection, the cheese saganaki (£5) was as filthy and salty as you’d expect from three fried matchboxes of breadcrumbed kefalotiri cheese; patates (£4) were ovals of evenly tanned fried potato slices, with a whole load of dried oregano, the texture of fag ash, dumped over the top.
While, courgettes (£4.50) consisted of stubs of this vegetable – lightly floured, more frying involved – served with a chunky tzatziki. All good, but Jim’s flames had only been slightly snuffed.
Our second round of food was meaty, with four small and charred lamb chops (£8) that we stripped down to the bone, and two fat and roughly hewn keftedes (£7), both of which were served with more tzatziki and more sliced patates. The prawn saganaki (£6.50) were also slightly forgettable, as the few nibs of fish and feta had been rather drowned in a vat’s worth of parsley topped tomato pulp. An olive oil doused octopus (£8.50) tentacle – as elegantly curved as a calligraphy serif – was meaty and soft, with raw red onion, more dried oregano, parsley and lemon.
Puddings (£3.25 each) are chalked onto a mini Tanqueray blackboard by the bar. They were still in the process of baking the bougatsa and ravani cake, so we went for the remaining options – a serviceable warm chocolate brownie with chocolate ice-cream and a pleasantly chewy and honey riddled wedge of baklava. Not bad, but, as the national animal of Greece, what do you think Jim?
“The food is unremarkable I guess, but also unpretentious and homely,” he said, “I’m happy as I was in the mood for that kind of stuff anyway. I may look impressive, but I have a taste for the simple things in life.”
And with that, he was extinguished.
Lunch for two, excluding drinks, £57.70