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.

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