Monday, September 24, 2012

Krinos Bakery, Athens

I lived in France for some time and, while I'm not sure if it is the contempt born of familiarity speaking, I really think that a lot of places in the world do a far better morning pastry than the French.  A croissant is fine. A pain au chocolat has the sort of suburban "oh I shouldn't, I'm so naughty" air that's made E.L. James the richest fanfic author in the universe, but the really cognoscenti of the early-morning filthy nibble will tell you that it's all about the bougatsa

We went to Krinos on our first morning hoping to share a plate of their legendary loukoumades - a sort of leavened, fried donut, drowned in light syrup and dusted with cinnamon, but we were too early in our desire to be up the Acropolis before the sun and the coach parties became too unbearable.

Instead we had to settle for some of their sweet pies. I say settle...
To call this "Apple Pie" and "Cream Puff" is like calling Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel "interior décor".

We tried the apple pie. You know the McDonald's deep fried apple pie. That is to this what an Elvis impersonator in a third-rate seaside resort is to the man himself in his G.I. days. One raises feelings of agonised pity, while the other exercises an irresistible compulsion.

But the Marilyn to this Elvis, the "gone too soon, desired to the end" pastry, is the bougatsa. To describe it as a "cream-filled puff" is to do a travesty to the English language. Warm, flaky, flavoured with the merest waft of cinnamon, this pastry, Krinos' bougatsa moved me to tears of rapture.

But my head was turned on the second day by an altogether simpler snack - a plate of the loukoumades.

Oh loukoumades, I would die for (and possibly of) you.

We began the week sharing one plate of six between us. That didn't last long. Had we stayed longer I think we might have ended up with multiple portions each. And adjoining intensive care beds.

Light and crispy, these delicacies will do a number first on your taste buds then on your pancreas. But who cares?  A diabetic coma is just nature's way of making you rest between portions.

We tried these in a café in Santorini but they really lacked the Krinos magic. From the photos on the wall at Krinos they've been around for a while (ironically as a pharmacy at first, then later as a dealer of diabetes) and they've got very good at it.

To see what I mean, look for the mannequin at 87 Aiolou!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Ouzerie "Lesbos", Athens

A day of travelling, combined with the avowed intention to hit the Acropolis at the earliest possible moment the next day, meant that we didn't want to stray too far from our hotel on our first night in Athens. Thankfully, the mobile guide I had with me recommended a Lesviot Ouzerie practically around the corner on Εμμανουηλ Μπενακι (Emmanouil Benakis street, despite the way it is rendered by Google Maps!)

Our first impressions were promising: a neighbourhood bar with chain-smoking old geezers at the pavement tables; the city street obscured by climbers in pots; an exquisitely rendered octopus in the window:

I'm not sure about the size of that lobster. It worries me.

"Hoorah!" I thought. "Authentic spit and sawdust ouzerie, here we come!"

But our host didn't start out too genial. He gave us the menus with the cheery salutation, "Has English, otherwise I have to explain you..."

I had the feeling we weren't the first British customers to pass his way, and I'm not sure he had enjoyed the experience much. But once we had ordered in halting Greek (the seafood selection, plus some courgette croquettes) he seemed to consider us slightly less of a liability.

The food was good, cheap, seafood-centric meze. It wasn't particularly delicately prepared or presented but that's not what you come to a corner bar for. The chef seems to have decided that she was put on earth to fry sea creatures and so that's the note that the menu stresses:

"Is catfish. Dogfish maybe. One'a them, anyway" Our garrulous host: Greece's answer to David Attenborough.

The host on the other hand has decided it is his role in life to put food and drink in front of you on request then leave you the hell alone. After a week of Santorini's touts ("Dude!" I wanted to whisper to one of them, "You're coming off a bit...desperate,") his approach has my seal of approval.

After our second visit it's my impression that, much as the woman behind the counter seems to have set her face against frying the entire contents of the Aegean, she really comes alive when faced with pulses or a slab of cheese. The fried feta is most definitely her strong suit. 

But Mama's got fish to fry, to the strains of this spectacular jukebox.

I'd definitely go back: it was cheap, local and had a pretty nifty ouzo list. Also, by our second visit the owner unbent enough to ask, "Where you from?"



"Are you from Lesbos?"

"Quarter."  Decisive nod. Exit stage left.

If you want to eat fried cheese and drink ouzo in piece - and who doesn't? - this is your place!

38 Emmanouil Benakis, Athens.