Sunday, 19 June 2011

Hard Rock Cafe Athens: Consistent Through Time and Space!

In my last post, I described how an unexpected phone call led me and a couple of my friends on a mini bar crawl in the centre of Athens. What I left out from my story was a little part in the beggining where I layed down some ground rules to our outing, and a little part towards the end, where those ground rules went gloriously down the drain!

The rules where simple:

1) We would't be eating
2) We would not be eating
3) We would NOT be eating

I'd already had five stuffed tomatoes and three stuffed green peppers, and let's face it, the summer is here and I do plan on making my share of visits to the various beaches in Greece without being harassed by members of the WWF wearing 'Save the Whales' t-shirts!

Now knowing my friend, and knowing we always end up eating out (the number of places I've gone to with this guy on the way to or from the gym you wouldn't believe!), I told him, "We can go on a wild bender, we can end up on a plane bound to Mexico, Moscow or Shanghai, I don't care, as long as we don't end up stuffing our faces again!". "Ofcourse", he said, "I just called you so we could have a quiet civilised drink."...

Legendary 10oz Burger

Yea... this would be the 'gloriously down the drain' part. You see, I hadn't counted for my friend's bro being with us. This guy is unstoppable! I managed to swerve his attempts to get us to "Indian Kitchen", a very interesting looking new Indian restaurant just off Syntagma square which has yet to be tried. Dodging souvlakia was easy, but when he said he'd been to the Hard Rock Cafe the other day and he thought the burger was actually pretty good; well, that was check mate!

So there we were, at the Hard Rock Cafe, Legendary Burger each and Caesar salad and Chicken Tenders to share. Was the burger all that good? Lets just say I bit the bait and found myself dangling at the end of a fishing line! It was ok.

Caesar Salad

You wouldn't expect that three guys could have a fifteen minute conversation about a salad. But of course my friends and I aren't just any three guys! Should a salad be tossed with its dressing or not? What sparked the conversation off was that the Caesar Salad didn't taste overdressed, but it just felt heavy, and the salad leaves were just stuck to each other like... well... nothing particularly appealing! We concluded that when dealing with light dressings such as vinaigrettes, then these should be tossed with the salad. However, when dealing with heavy creamy dressings, then the salad should be tossed with no more than half the dressing and the rest should be on top of the salad.

Tupelo Chicken Tenders

Tender, juicy, spicy. Not bad at all!

The first HRC I went to was in Manchester while I was a student. That was more than ten years ago. Since then I've been to the HRC in Barcelona, Berlin, and Athens, and it is and has been a consistent experience through time and location.

Contrast this with TGI Fridays. I can still remember when the first one opened in Kefalari over ten years ago. Then, it was like nothing else. I can remember going there with friends, girlfriends and family. Now? "It's not you, it's me. I've changed. I want something different. I still want to be friends". If only this was the case. But it's not. First I got served the Jack Daniels Chicken Strips in an elongated rectangular place - as if I was having Gyoza in a posh Japanese Restaurant. An attempt to excuse the steep prices, to hide the low quality, or to blend in with the other restaurants in the area? Then I got served a Burger in a small plate: it made sense given there were hardly any chips to go with it. I wonder why they even bother asking how I want my meat cooked if it's going to be cooked to a crisp every time. And then being charged double for a margarita because we didn't want ice in it. Hello! Smaller glass!

So if you're in the centre and fancy that kind of food, make your way to the HRC and don't look back!

View Hard Rock Cafe Athens in a larger map

Saturday, 18 June 2011

42 and The Gin Joint: Have-a-laugh Cocktails and Serious Cocktails all within walking distance!

A few days ago I got a phone call from a friend claiming that 'gone are the days of Baba au Rum'. A bold statement indeed (you want to go about half way into this post to see what I'm talking about), but I wasn't shocked. I had already read about a place called 42 on Miss Ls' blog, who in turn saw it on Athens Daily Secret. I calmly answered back, with a smug note and the air of someone who is ahead of the times (or a smart arse), "Oh you must mean that place '42' where that barman who worked at both Baba au Rum and Guru used to work". Obviously I was forwarding what I had read on Miss Ls blog. I wasn't prepared for the answer. "No, I was talking about The Gin Joint". We both paused, knowing that it wasn't going to be an early night.

First we arrived at 42:

The Entrance

An entrance? More like a gateway: to another galaxy! As in 'the answer lies within'. If you can't tell where I'm going with this it's because you haven't heard about the epic comedy by Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I quote from Wikipedia:

In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (published in 1979), the characters visit the legendary planet Magrathea, home to the now-collapsed planet-building industry, and meet Slartibartfast, a planetary coastline designer who was responsible for the fjords of Norway. Through archival recordings, he relates the story of a race of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings who built a computer named Deep Thought to calculate the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. When the answer was revealed to be 42, Deep Thought had predicted that another computer, more powerful than itself would be made and designed by it to calculate the question for the answer. 

Inside: wooden flour boards, low lighting, very welcoming. Like an English pub, but with the practically totally open façade, its different. In a nice way of course!

We sat outside, at the far end, almost under the building that was towering above us. Big mistake! The pigeons sitting on the windowsills many flours above us had no notion of 'appropriate public behaviour'. After two near misses, we promptly moved. 

We started looking through the menu which was shaped like a fan, made of plastic and sturdy as such. I'd go as far as to say it was a fan, or designed to be used as one. Perfect for the hot summer nights in the city centre!

A little message on the fan read (more or less), 'If you can't find something you like, come to the bar, introduce yourself to the barman and talk to him about yourself. Tell him your sign, if you prefer the sea or the mountain, what you usually like to drink etc. etc. Armed with his 'hereditary gift', he'll make you exactly what you wanted and didn't know about. If he makes something you don't like, we promise to punish him severely and make you another drink'.

Message on the Menu

After taking our time with the menu, we went for the 'Trouble', the 'Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster' and the third one I can't remember for sure, but I believe it was the 'Sherry Cobler'.

An inexcusably amount of time later (given the place was empty when we went), we got our drinks.

Sherry Cobler

Tarragon, orange, sherry and bitters. I heard no complains from the friend that got this one, and he was also impressed by the carvings on the glass (you can faintly see them if you look closely at the full size picture).

Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster

Strawberries, basil, raspberries, vodka and pepper. My friend that was having this complained that the basil and pepper didn't really come through, and that the drink was weird just for the sake of it. I think the waiting had got to him!


Watermelon, ginger, chilli and a double of tequila. I had this one so I can tell you what I thought of it. It was nice. Not the 'last drink before I die' nice that I get with the 'Sonic Boom' at Baba au Rum, but I didn't have any complains.


Now these babies were sweet! The green ones had a wasabi-ish heat to them. I could have had a bowl of them all to myself!

No time to chat, next stop, the Gin Joint which was practically just around the corner!

The last place was named after a comedy, this one after a classic romantic drama. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum! And if you don't know which one I'm talking about, that would be Casablanca, and Humphrey Bogart famous line "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine".

The Menu

I really enjoyed the menu at the Gin Joint. It starts with a story about how prohibition of alcohol in the United States in  the 1920s resulted in a large array of illegal underground bars and numerous cocktails to go with them. Most, if not all, of the cocktails on the menu were accompanied with the story of their origin. It almost makes one nostalgic of a time they never even got to know!

We sat outside (though the slant of the pavement didn't make things easy!). To be honest now I can't remember what my friends ordered, but I did get pictures anyway. I ordered a Tommy's Margarita.

You can tell how much the table was slanting by level of the drink in the glass!

Tommy's Margarita.

I was surprised my Tommy's Margarita wasn't served in a tall glass and that it was served with ice. None the less, I tried it and found it had exactly the same taste as the one I had a few days ago at Baba au Rum. It was a slightly bitter taste that confused me because of the Agave Syrup which should be present in a Tommy's Margarita. My friend explained that, though many argue against it, a 'Reposado' tequila is used to make a 'better quality' drink. This sort of tequila has been aged a minimum of two months, but less than a year in oak barrels. That taste I was getting was from the oak barrel. Soon as he'd told me, I connected the dots and verified that the taste I was getting was an oaky one.

We drank our drinks and agreed that this was a serious place and had it not been a weak day and had the hunger not kicked in, we would have happily tried more of the drinks on the menu!

Read more about The Gin Joint on Athimorama

I think the bottom line on trying these two places is that, the opening of Baba au Rum in the area has sparked the opening of more serious cocktail bars all of which are at least on the same league - it was about time!

View Serious Cocktail Bars in a larger map

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Kozi's: Definitely the best meat in town!

The first time I wrote about Kozi's I said it had the best meat in town. I've been there many, many, many, many times since. Last time was only a few hours ago and I can now confidently say it has, consistently, the best meat in town.

Seriously, I'm generally a fast eater and tend to gulp my food down, but every single time I'm at Kozi's, and have before me that phenomenally juicy and tender rib-eye steak, cooked perfectly medium-rare as requested, I can't help but take my time carefully cutting every bite, swooshing it around the juices in the plate, delicately placing it on my tongue, and then slowly biting into it so that each and every one of my taste buds can savour the taste of the steak as it literally melts like butter in my mouth.

The Rib-eye

It recently occurred to me that whatever else I eat, wherever else I eat it, I think to myself, "it was nice, but it could have been a rib-eye at Kozi's instead"...

And steak loves a salad, so this time round we had a Kozi's salad, which has Mozzarella, prosciutto, lettuce, rocket, cherry tomatoes with Kozi's sauce. Usually however, I have the ceaser salad which has big lovely grilled pieces of chicken in it, just right to get the appetite going!

Kozi's Salad

The starters are also to die for! I've had the stuffed portobello, the BBQ chicken wings, and the honey delight (grilled haloumi wrapped in prosciutto and served with honey and lemon) and they are all really really good. The burger is definitely one of the best going around, and of course all the grilled meats are all right up there with the rest! And last but not least, the deserts, which I believe are all home made. I usually go for the cheesecake, but the Oreo version is very very naughty indeed!

Honey Delight

BBQ Wings

This isn't on the menu (yet?). I believe they called it the Super Kozi's Burger!

Mala Mala Burger

Panna cotta

Cheesecake, Oreo Cheesecake and Chocolate moose

Basically almost everything on menu is very good, but they are shadowed by those which are exceptionally good, which in turn bow down to the phenomenally amazing rib-eye!

And then there's the environment; genuinely cozy! The staff always pleasant, and then Kozi himself! Always there, you get the sense that he absolutely loves what he is doing and the place he's set up and wants everything to be perfect! I've actually been sat outside in the street, waiting, not for a table, but for my company to arrive and he has come out, said hello, and offered me water or something while I wait! Now I think that goes further than customer service, I think that comes straight from the heart!

So honestly, do yourselves a favour, make the effort to get to Melissia, somehow, and have a meal at Kozi's. You won't regret it.

View Kozis in a larger map

And if you're still not convinced, see what others have to say:

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Vamos Amigos: Authentic Mexican the American Way!

About a week or so ago, I had arranged to treck all the way down to Glifada after work to meat up with a couple of friend. A year ago I wouldn't have done this, not on a weekday and not after work. Rush-hour traffic going down to Glifada is an absolute nightmare! However, ever since I've gotten my motorbike, getting around has become so much easier so I said what the hell, I'll do it!

The thing is, I'd read about a burger joint, The Burger Joint, that is competing for the best burger title! I figured this was a good opportunity to try it out. Unfortunately, one of the friends I was visiting, who lives in the neighbourhood, had been there the day before, so we were looking for something else.

We started by checking athinorama, then used foursquare and eventually just ended up walking the streets. We were hoping for something non-european (so unfortunately Bayern Bierhaus was out the question - damn!). Eventually we decided to try for a taste of Mexico and entered 'Vamos Amigos'. Their website reads "we are committed to serving our guests authentic Mexican dishes". It should have read "we are committed to serving out guests what they know as authentic Mexican dishes". I've sort of jumped the gun in saying this however so I'm going to rewind now and tell you how our visit panned out.

The first thing I noticed on entering the place was how large and empty it was. It probably was just the time  and day, but I still wondered how often it fills up. We sat right in the back, next to the glass that separated the inner seating from the outside ones. I did wish it had been open so we could have gone outside because it did look nice. They had a water feature going outside, each table had a little cactus on it and generally care had been taken into giving the place a Mexican feel - maybe too much care (we did manage to extract from the waiter that the sombrero sealed baskets the tortillas were served in had been purchased from some food and hospitality exhibition in Germany).

A Cactus per Table

Water Feature

Going through the menu I noticed it was more or less split into the the Mexican half: Nachos, Nachos, Nachos, Quesadillas, Chilli con Carne, Guacamole etc. for starters and Fajitas, Tacos, Burritos, Enchilada, Chimichanga etc. for mains, and the western half: BBQ chicken wings and a whole load of fried stuff for starters, and Grilled stuff, chicken with various sauces, burgers and pasta for mains. Sounds like a Fridays/Applebees/Ruby Tuesday menu you say... no no no, it must be your imagination. I immediately dismissed the western half, and we eventually decided to go for Chilli con Carne, Guacamole, Nachos and a basic mixed salad to start with, and then the Chimichanga and the Fajita with veal as our mains. To finish we said 'sod it' and went for the deep fried ice cream (for novelty value - though I have to admit I have had deep fried ice cream before).

Nachos with Dipping Sauce

When the waiter first arrived, somehow the conversation turned to how spicy the food was, and how we were puzzled because I like my food really spicy but my friends didn't. He said, "I could bring you some spicy dipping sauce on the side". I said, "Yea!". He asked "How spicy I would like it?". I said, "Give me all you've got". He said, "What if I bring medium spicy, and if its not spicy enough I'll bring very spicy". I said "No, you're more likely to get it right if you bring very spicy and if its too spicy you can bring medium spicy". he said, "OK". He brought the sauce, I tried it. It rated 'barely hot' on my hot scale. Oh if only I had a penny every time this happened I'd be a rich man! By the end of the meal, when he came around to ask if everything was all right, I couldn't help but mention that my hot sauce rated 'barely hot'. He sighed with disappointment and said, "Well next time you should let us know and we'll bring you the not stuff".

The Ensalada Mixta

Basically, lettuce leaves cut it to strips in a crunchy tortilla nest with chopped tomato, lots of carrots, cheese and sour cream on top. Theoretically there were was also sweat corn, kidney beans and it was dressed with a vinaigrette. I can't remember seeing of tasting the last three. Either way, the salad wasn't bad, but it left me largely indifferent.

The Guacamole

Is this the colour of guacamole? How come I remember a more vibrant green? Taste-wise it tasted oily, either from the avocado or from added olive oil, either way I think it needed some acidity to cut though this, which would also explain the colour as the avocado would darken without some lemon or lime.

The Chilli con Carne

Not much to say, it tasted great, but there's a fine line between Chilli con Carne and Bolognese sauce, and this was too close to that line! Barely spicy -both in terms of heat and spices used. Hardly any beans in it (if any at all) (though my understanding is that there's an ongoing 'war' about if Chilli con Carne should have beans in it).

The Chimichanga

Chicken and cheese wrapped and cooked in a tortilla. How wrong can you go with that. It was always going to taste good, but if you're not eating it at home, you expect it to taste great.

The Fajitas

What you see it what you get. The meat was tender, you wrapped it in one of four tortillas, added some condiments and ate it. I did think that for the amount of meat, they could have had a few more tortillas.

Deep Fried Ice Cream

This was actually the most exciting thing we had. The crust we were told was made with some sort of cereals. It tasted like biscuit. Very nice. And the ice cream inside: no picture means it wasn't there long enough to take one ;)

After the meal was over, my hunger subsided, and my brain functional, I started to think about the meal I'd had. The first question I ask myself, every single time I visit a new place, is will I be coming again. Quick question, gut feeling answer, and the answer was no! And I couldn't understand why. There was nothing wrong with the meal, it was sort of what I expected, and yet there was nothing special about it. Nothing to scream "wow!".

The same night I'm still thinking what went wrong. Maybe I just don't like Mexican food. But how can it be? Given me lime, coriander, cumin, tequila, peppers, sweetcorn, beans and chilli! I love so many of these flavours that I associate with Mexican food. And then it hit me. They were all absent. The Chilli con Carne and Fajitas meat was garnished with the greens from fresh onions (instead of possibly coriander), there was no lime zing in either Fajitas or the Guacamole, the salad was hardly dressed, the use of sweetcorn and beans was negligible, and there was no chilli - either that or it was as weak as Weak Mac. Weak! All the food tasted nice without tasting of anything!

I wasn't done though. I'd already read in Heston Blumenthal's Total Perfection that Chilli con Carne is far from authentic Mexican cuisine, so I decided to look around the internet for what is. I was as much shocked as appalled with myself for what I found: bottom line being that what I largely understood and associated with Mexican food is actually American influenced Mexican food, or Tex-Mex. I'll spare you the details, less to link a few pages that I found particularly interesting: this one which basically talks about how Tex-Mex evolved and this one which is basically all about the real deal Mexican food.

Going back now to Vamos Amigos, call it Mexican or call it Tex-Mex, for me, it is a poor and sloppy attempt at both. Attention has been put into the detail of how the place looks and how it presents itself, but the lack of that attention in to food show in dishes that are just OK: not notably better that anything you can get at the likes of Fridays, Applebees etc. But don't take my word for it, here's a map, see what you think.

View Vamos Amigos in a larger map
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