Sunday, 28 November 2010

"Μπαρμπά Τζορτζ" Follow-up Pictures

Thursday, 4 November 2010

"I Got Bored of Pastitsia & Mousakades"

Its been a while since I made a one-in-a-million discovery.

I mean, when i think of 'George the discoverer'... 'Going where no man has gone before'... 'Venturing out of the main stream to bring you the very best'.. etc etc... i think of hidden little shops; dark alleys; no bright light; no queues outside going round the corner; only the freshest of ingredients, prepared the most honest of manners. Food & drink for the sake of food & drink.

So a curry & kebab shop located on a narrow pedestrian alley, paces away from the epicenter of the 2008 Athens Riots, owned by a Greek elderly restauranteur, has either the makings a major flop or something truly great... I'm pleased to report, and was happy to confirm, that the second it is!!!

The shop that impressed was "Μπαρμπά Τζορτζ" which loosely translated means 'Old Man George', and at this point, and after my prolonged introduction I have to admit that I can't take credit for discovering the place. It's been around for eight years and was featured on AthensDailySecret where a friend of mine run into it. Of course it took very little convincing on his behalf to get me to go there for a Saturday lunch.

On arrival, we were taken by the size of the place. Only a couple of tables outside and maybe a couple more inside. We sat down - and just as we did, a senior man with a slight limp came to us from inside; no doubt old man George. We asked for the menus at which point he disclaimed "we only serve Indian food here." "Of course" we said, "that's why we came". "OK, because we get some people that come and don't realise it". We laughed at the thought that someone could not notice the sign outside: "Indian Kebabs". He continued to give us the best description he could of the items on the menu. We didn't interrupt him to tell him that we were Indian food veterans.

The menu was - in a nutshell - perfect. Nothing extravagant about it. A few kebab options, a few starters and a few curries, naans and rices. And if anything "few" is a sign of good things to come. When I see a small menu I know that everything on it has a reason for being there! The only curious thing was the "barbecue" kebab option. Not strikingly authentic, but, note to self, I have to try it out of plain curiosity...

We did wonder how a very traditional looking gentleman ended up with an Indian shop, and were convinced he must have been a sailor in his younger days. We imagined him working his way across the Indian coast. So, next time he came out to take our order we asked with conviction if he had a sailing background. We were wrong. He told us he had a background in the food service industry. "So how come you decided to go Indian" we asked. "Well, I just got bored of Pastitia and Mousakades". Turns out he had some friends in the Asian community and they decided to go for it. I was sold before I'd even sunk my teeth in anything.

We ordered a kebab each and a curry to share. My money was on the curry: a chicken vindaloo. And boy was i spot on. I mean, the kebab was good. Really tasty. But the curry struck a weak spot, reminding me of my days in Manchester and the Curry Mile, where there was shop after restaurant after take out, and every place had its own recipes. And some of the recipes used prepared sauces and prepared pastes, but others you knew had been prepared from recipes passed down through the generations. Maybe I'm an idealist or maybe just naive, but my vindaloo tasked like it had been made from tomatoes and spices, and the pilaou rice tasted or saffron and cardamom- and I count the days till I can return and try the rest of the curries!

View Μπαρμπά Τζορτζ in a larger map

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Simple Things

Sometimes, its really the simple things that make the difference, and in this case it's the stop at a canteen at the end of a night out.

While I was in the UK, it was a dirty kebab. In Athens, its more often than not a hot dog stuffed with grated carrot and cabbage and dripping in sauce. The only similarity to the British kebabs is that they refer to them as "Bromika" or "Dirty". And the next day's stomach upset is never caused by the 15 shots of tequila or the 10 pints of beer. Its always that dirty snack that's to blame!

But I believe the reality is far from poor hygiene or poor quality of ingredients. Besides, what could be more settling for a stomach drowning in spirits than a meal balanced in carbs, proteins, vegetables and seasoning? ;)

In a health conscious society, a tasty but unhealthy or dirty snack is almost forbidden - naughty, making it all the more appealing. The picture of a child covered in chocolate, surrounded by chocolate wrappings looking up at its parents that have just caught it, come to mind. But is being naughty only a privilege of children? Or also adults who have the excuse of a conscience clouded by a nights worth of drinks? Maybe labelling a snack in this was has the same affect?

Whatever the case may be, Athenians are generally split into two groups. Those who swear by the canteen at 'Mavili' square and those the will hear of nothing other than the one on 'Mixalakopoulou'. I have my preference but will none the less urge you to try both and make up your own mind!

View Bromika in a larger map

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Family Reunion... I Don't Think So!

Big family reunion planned for today. Not really my cup of tea. So, not to say that I need an excuse not to show up, but a phone call with a plan to try out an upcoming grill is what one would call the cherry on top!

The grill in question "Base Grill", located in the western suburb of Athens, 'Bournazi', (Κωνσταντινουπόλεως 64, Μπουρνάζι) just off the National Road:

View Base Grill in a larger map

We ordered some starters, a salad, three different cuts of veal, and a red Chilian wine. When the wine came and was transfused into a large glass container to breath, we knew that we were in for some serious meat eating.

The thing is, its rare to ask for a medium or medium rare meat and get one - much less a medium one with a tasty char grilled crust. But oh boy did these people hit the nail on the head! We had guessed that would be the case by looking around at the other tables, but then, to our surprise, the waiter showed up with the coolest looked carving knife that looked and worked like a huge penknife! He sliced up the meat for us giving each a piece to try and talking us through the differences between taste and texture of each cut.

OK granted, maybe that was a bit too much - a step further would be to be fed - but when one complains about the lack of service in most eateries in Athens, one can't then complain about too much service.

All and all a great experience, and definitely worth the journey there. A bit on the pricey side, but we did order allot of stuff. I think, next time I'm there, it'll be a salad, a steak and chips.

You can read more about the place at on the Athinorama Website

But my day wasn't over yet, because after having a coffee at one of the many cafeterias of Bournazi and observing the local sights and sounds, we decided to return to the centre of Athens for drinks and the promise of an oasis hidden in its heart. Or rather the tail end of Six Dogs (I had to say it), because instead of entering this bar through the front entrance one can choose to takes the stairs that lead down, under and behind it, into an courtyard filled with wooden tables and chairs, a bar, a tent, and even a hammock and swing:

View Larger Map

Couple of cocktails - not half bad either - and we were on our way... All and all a day filled with adventure and discovery... and too think i could have wasted it with aunts and uncles...

Friday, 1 October 2010

The best burger in the city?

So, a few weeks ago I'm supposed to meet up with friends for to grab some food and maybe a few drinks. But, me being me, I made up some excuse and went home to make my own dinner and relax after a hard days work.

No sooner than I had finished dinner I get a phone call from one of them claiming that they had discovered - in no other words - the "Best burger in the city" and that I had missed out. Now normally I wouldn't have given this preposterous statement much weight, had it not come from the other burger lover (the first being myself) of my friends. I had to try this burger for myself.

The very next day I was on my way to try this so called champ. Accompanying me were my friend who made the claim and another (who obviously hadn't had enough the day before).

The source of this burger was a small establishment in the Mets area of Athens called COLIBRI:

View Larger Map

On arriving, one notices the compactness of the place. Jam packed in an area no bigger than my bedroom, full of clutter creating an enticing, warm and friendly atmosphere.

We ordered a burger each, a pizza and a salad to share.

Now, while waiting for the food, my friend came clean: his overblown statement was but to spite me for not coming to the previous days gathering (and it only took one beer for him to come clean). However I was still quietly anticipating being surprised. And surprised I was! Not by the burger, but by the pizza which was thin and crispy and fresh and everything that the PizzaHut generation has destroyed. Not quite your Italian stone baked pizza, but as good as you can hope to get from a conventional oven. As a matter of fact everything was very nice. The burger was - well not that fat juicy medium done American style patty I had hoped for, but was juicy and pleasantly different from other alternatives in the city.

I imagined myself living in an apartment round the area and grabbing dinner from this gem at least a couple of times a month on my way back from College. Alas, I was reminiscing my University experience and remembering the local take-outs I had lived by all those years ago. This is the sort of place this was: a bit further out of the city for me to want to have to go out of my way for, but just the sort of place I'd like to have down the street from home.

So, the best burger in the city? Well, not quite: but with the closure of Hells Kitchen the hunt is on!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Too little too late?

Saying that it's been a while since I've blogged On Athens is an understatement. Over two years would be more accurate. What can I say? I was busy. But alas, I have seen the error of my ways, and it has taken the closure of one of my favourite places for me to do so.

Hells Kitchen was, as its name suggests, situated in a rough part of Athens. A bright light surrounded by prostitutes and heroin users: ironically the area behind the Athens City Town Hall. Maybe the mayor didn't use the back entrance - and the were no back facing windows.

All of the ambiance of the décor, the soothingness of its jazz notes and the phenomenally good quality & commendable non-pretentiousness of its food were spot on, making Hells Kitchen a beacon of what is possible with just that little bit of love.

But eventually the area got the better of it, and at arriving on the premises on one of the first days of September I was confronted with a red and white "To Let" sign. Oh the disappointment. I can but only hope that sooner rather that later I will find that the owners have opened shop in a new location.

And what eats me up inside is that I never did my part in propagating its excellence to the masses. I can but feel that I too am to blame. And so I promise to post a retrospective of the places I have discovered in the past two years: both beautiful and ugly, but always in honor of a lost friend.

Hells Kitchen, we miss you!
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