“We’re going to the Greek Larder for your birthday treat,” my other half texted to me, “You’ll like it – they change the menus every day.”
She wasn’t wrong – this self-styled Greek restaurant, deli and bar masquerading as an Ideal Home Show set, succeeds in cooking ravishingly tempting and focusing on relatively short menus of regional dishes hand-made from great fresh ingredients in an open kitchen by charming Greek staff, a formula that works in spades for me…
…all of which makes it all the more baffling that the estimable Fay Maschler, queen of restaurant reviews in the Evening Standard for as long as anyone can remember, came to give the Larder a highly stingy two stars (see here.)
The Larder might also be seen as an antidote to Greek-by-numbers tourist menus, a fate that befalls every national cuisine, often to the point where the menu sends itself up and becomes a cliche. However, putting on authentic “authentic” dishes (ie. those labelled such by restaurant marketing parlance rarely come close) is never enough on its own. It must be matched by technique, verve, service and care, the latter of which is the stumbling block for so many establishments, which in the final analysis err on the side of slapdash.
It being a wet November night, we had no difficulty getting a table, though it was pleasant to see that the customers already there crossed the expanse of multicultural London. The atmosphere is midway between a modern high-class grocers and a canteen, which I don’t mean as an insult. Quite the reverse, the Larder actually feels quite homely and not especially like designer-conceived restaurant.
No bread (it might well have featured on the menu as an extra, can’t remember), but olives were on the house. Three different varieties, Greek (natch!) and decidedly better than your average olives. We also ordered two red wines which demonstrated conclusively that my previous experience of Greek wines was misleading:
Agiorgitiko – 2014 by Papaioannou Winery (Agiorgitiko) Peloponnese Red fruit aromas, very well balanced & rich in tannins
Hedgehog – 2011 by Ktima Alpha (Xinomavro) W. Macedonia Complex, full of forest berries, rounded tannins, balanced acidity & soft wood tones
Why had I not come across Hedgehog before? It was rich, potent, a mouthful of evocative forest flavours, exactly as described. If you go to a restaurant without gaining a new and eye-opening experience, you’re going to the wrong restaurants, and this was one such moment.
For starters we dipped into meze and souvlaki. For me, grilled octopus Paros style, for her a pastry wrap with fava bean puree and all manner of other wonderful things. Octopus legs from a mature beast can be stridently muscular to the point of being inedible; these had texture, to be sure, but were tasty and well-seasoned with the hint of chewiness, helped by a smash of olive oil and a smear of hummus-like paste on the plate.
For mains she chose “duck fricassee” with horta (aka wilted greens), while I went for Old Spot (poor old spot!) stuffed with vine leaves and apricots, served with chick peas and Romanesco in a delicious gravy.
One word of caution: her duck was certainly not fricasseed, but seared and roasted duck breast, sliced pink and served atop the greens. It was well-executed without being the tastiest duck I’ve ever sampled. A hunk of pork worked well with its sympathetically-chosen accompaniments, demonstrating both tenderness and depth of flavour. The one side of fries with wild thyme went down a treat, being crisp and moreish.
But the highlight? The Greek baked cheesecake studded with morello cherries and accompanied with a spoonful of stewed pear. It sounds nothing but this was, as I told our proud waiter, the best cheesecake I’ve eaten in many a year. It tasted zingingly fresh, creamy and zesty, and had a thin, dark and crispy base that beat crushed digestives out of sight. A perfect combination and well worthy of praise; not only that, but the honey-rich dessert wine I selected to go with it proved sublime, leaving me well-satisfied from my birthday treat.
My assessment? A rather decent 4 stars out of 5 (0.1 each knocked off for not including bread and for misdefining fricassee) and a good parallel with the Italian Rubedo, praise indeed. Perhaps not an “occasion” restaurant, but certainly better than Fay’s assessment – and for trying to use good ingredients, some sourced locally and some imported from Greece, they deserve. But ohhhhh, that cheesecake….
A few quotes from their website below:
Greek regional food at its best – restaurant and delicatessen from founder Theodore Kyriakou.
The Greek Larder brings to London’s increasingly sophisticated food scene great Greek regional produce from unique food producers, exploring the rich culinary history and fabulous offerings of the Eastern Mediterranean basin. A restaurant and delicatessen open 7 days a week with a distinctive menu that captures the tastes, flavours and very essence of Greece and the Aegean.
The restaurant looks out over the Regent’s canal and is within easy walking distance of King’s Cross and St Pancras…directions here.
The cooking at The Greek Larder is light, product driven and focuses on food from Greek regions and the Eastern Mediterranean basin. Theodore’s cooking favours traditional recipes and draws on the street food of Athens which influenced his youth and shaped his culinary creativity. Enjoy traditional dishes (some updated with a twist) from the menu with the emphasis on clean flavours, seasonal ingredients freshly prepared with simplicity and restraint at the heart of every plate.
Savour Greek indigenous wines ranging from the unusual to the classic, made by true artisans dedicated to producing some of the most exciting wines around, or enjoy a delicious sweet treat and a robust Greek coffee or tea made from Greek mountain herbs. For lovers of real ale The Greek Larder has a superb range of house beers.
Taste and buy from a unique selection of Greek foods sourced from independent, hitherto little known producers – including cheeses, charcuterie, olives, Cycladic honey, pulses, traditional sweets and delicacies: the best from small regional producers in Greece and its islands.
Theodore and Panos met while fishing under the temple of Poseidon, followed by many sailing hours in the Aegean, discussions about ingredients and the consumption of home roasted pistachios from Miss Valie (Panos’ mother). A few years later the project to open The Greek Larder started to take form and led them to the new King’s Cross restaurant.
Athens born Theodore, best known for launching ‘Livebait’ in 1995 and ‘The Real Greek’ in 1999, is an award winning Chef who relishes the traditions and great skill handed down to him by his father and grandfather. With his innate sense of the Mediterranean, Theodore’s dishes are motivated by his love of herbs, the simple tastes of the land, the sunshine and the sea; the local indigenous flavours and produce from all over the Aegean.
Theodore has picked up a few awards such as, “Winner of The Time Out Best Restaurant of the Year Award” for Livebait in 1997, “Winner of The Time Out Best Restaurant of the Year Award” for The Real Greek in 2000, “Nominee for Carlton London Restaurant Awards for Best New Restaurant and Most Outstanding London Chef” for The Real Greek in 2000, “Winner of the Most Innovative Menu Award at the “Fooding” awards in Paris” in 2001 and “Nominee for the most outstanding wine list in the London Restaurant Awards”.
He has written A Culinary Voyage Around the Greek Islands, and co-written with Charles Campion, The Real Greek at Home, Real Greek Food and The Livebait Cookbook.
In 1991 Panos Manuelides embarked on bringing the delights of Greek cuisine to the UK. He started out by selling premium Greek olives from a stall on Portobello Road. As it grew in popularity it soon became clear to Panos that there was a gap in the market for high quality authentic Greek products and so Odysea was born.