20 December, 2014

Athinaikon @ Syntagma-Monastiraki

Friday yesterday, we had a casual day-off to use up the annual leave and went to central Athens for a stroll.

First we visited Benaki Museum to see an exhibition of El Greco. It is about friends and sponsors of the man in Toledo. The texts were more interesting than the materials on exhibition themselves, but the English translation was a bit painful to read (not really bad, but I tended to get lost when I arrived at the end of the phrases). It is a small exhibition with only one room and ticket is 5 Euro. If you want to see the museum itself, you should pay 7 Euro in addition. But if you are interested only in the exhibition, you can buy only 5 Euro ticket (as we did).

After Benaki, we went to Kolonaki and bought Nespresso capsules. I did not know the shop moved to Kolonaki Square (I heard that it happened in September this year). It is more convenient for me.

Then we looked for a place for lunch. I wanted to try Laundrette 2 which opened on Valaoritou Street, but it was closed (and to my regret, Brasserie Valaoritou was closed down). I wonder it opens only in late afternoon.

So we went to Athinaikon on Mitropoleos Street. It is situated in front of Cervantes Institute. Walking from Syntagma Square, you'll find it before arriving at the Cathedral. It is somewhere on the borders of Syntagma, Monastiraki and Plaka areas.

Athinaikon in Omonia (Themistokleous Street) is one of the older restaurants in Athens (since 1934), but Mitropoleos one opened in 2013, in a style quite different from the original one.

Although it was a weekday and 3 o'clock, the place was bustling and almost full. Some tables were occupied by groups of friends who were having Christmas-Year End lunch and some were having late lunch after Christmas shopping.

This was my 2nd time here and GH's first.

As soon as seated, a waiter brought us a bottle of tap water and bread basket right after. The bread was served with black olive paste. When I came here the first time, our waiter asked us if we wanted bread or not, but not this time. I guess you can refuse if you don't need it, especially because it costs you 1.20 Euro per person.

We did not have problem with it, because we wanted bread anyway. It was fresh and tasty as well as the olive paste.

We ordered only 2 plates, because it was meant to be a light lunch. This is stuffed lamb wrapped in vine leaves and served with oven baked potatoes (11.70 Euro). It was one of the dishes of the day.

It was a well executed dish.

And linguine with vegetable sticks and tomato sauce (7 Euro).

You don't see the vegetable sticks, which were hidden under the pasta. They are carrots and zucchini cut in match stick size, which added crunchiness to the pasta. A pleasant dish.

We shared above 2 dishes and were fine.

At the end we were offered free dessert.

One was yogurt with syrupy grapes.

The other was halvas made with butter.

Both really good, much above the average.

The bill, with a bottle of coke, came to 23.10 Euro plus 1.85 Euro obligatory tip due to the season.

It is a nice restaurant which offers well cooked Greek food for a reasonable price. It is highly recommended if you happen to be in the area and want decent Greek food.

Mitropoleos 34, Syntagma
Μητροπόλεως 34, Συνταγμα
Tel. 210.3252688, 210.3251598

I took a look at Spyromiliou Arcade (the building occupied by Attica Department Store and Zonar's). It did not look so Christmasy, but it was busier with a new restaurant opening in front of Pasaje. I think it was called City Bistro.

13 December, 2014

White Elephant @ Halandri

Visited White Elephant in Halandri.

Now in Athens there are Red Elephant, Pink Elephant and White Elephant and all of them are between Ambelokipi and Halandri. The Red and Pink Elephants are Indian restaurant and White Elephant is Japanese-Chinese, if I understood well the concept.

This is not sort of the restaurants I would get attracted, but it happened that a friend of ours bought a coupon of this place which she could not use in time and gave it to us. It cost 39.90 Euro for a sushi meal for 2.

The location is just by Agia Paraskevi metro station, which actually is in dimos Halandriou.

The premises have garden and a pool. It should be really nice in warmer seasons, but now it is winter and everyone was inside.

There were actually several groups & couples of people there, but we were taken to this corner maybe because we were with a coupon. Later another group with coupon were led here. Although we requested a table for non-smokers, the our actual table was next to (unofficial) smokers' corner and we needed to change tables.

The coupon included 2 glasses of wine (or sake) and 1 bottle of water, so we did not have to order anything to drink.

The 1st starter was prawn tempura and baby spinach salad, which was supposed to cost 16.50 Euro.

Here I have a disclosure: I lived in Japan for 30 years of my life.

And I say that the tempura butter here was wrong. It was too spongy. It was like home-made tempura than something made at restaurants. And, there was no sauce (in Japan, it is normally eaten with dashi dipping-sauce, or with some salt). I would call it a some Asian-fusion buttered prawns, which tasted good, if you don't think it was a tempura.

The other starter was edamame, which is young soybeans. In Japan, it is a favorite beer companion. It was quite good (it is difficult to go wrong with edamame), although I thought they put too much grainy sea salt.

First sushi was salmon and prawn nigiri. Here the rice was wrong; it was not cooked to core. Probably they did not use a good rice-cooker or did not use a right setting. The salmon and prawns were good. Original price is 8.90 Euro for a set of 3 each.

And 2 sorts of maki. 1 was salmon ura-maki with spicy mayo and the other was smoke salmon-maki with avocado. Original price is 9.80 Euro each (not each piece, but each bar).

There the problem with the rice persisted, but it was less noticeable because of the proportion of  fish and avocado was quite large. I'd prefer maki to nigiri here.

To finish was a glass of sorbet for 2. From the start, the waiters kept on saying that we would have lemon sorbet, but what actually arrived was strawberry sorbet. Weird. If they did not have lemon sorbet, they did not have to tell us that they would bring us lemon sorbet (more than once).

And they gave us normal receipt, which shows that the reduction on the coupon was genuine.

All in all, the food was not bad, especially for someone who is not actually Japanese (or Far-East Asians who have frequent contact with Japanese food). The price, however, seemed too high for the food they offer. If you do not mind paying extra for nice environment, it might be fine, but I do. I would rather pay for the food than for the interior decoration.

It is not my sort of restaurants, as I had suspected even before the visit.

And I did not like this statue at the entrance. What do you think?

Ag. Paraskevis 124, Halandri, Athens
Αγ. Παρασκευής 124, Χαλάνδρι, Αθήνα
Tel. 210-6855581

06 December, 2014

Walking around Omonia Square

I walked around Omonia Square on 28 November 2014 and these are photos that I took then.

The reason to uploading these pictures is to remember the current situation of the area.

Omonia is not one of the nicest areas of Athens. Or I'd rather say that it is almost a symbol of urban degeneration. Tourists are often warned: Do not go around Omonia and never book your hotel in the area even the rate is very attractive.

The fame of Omonia was such that a couple of years ago, two large hotels on the square, Acropol and 2 Fashion were closed down and they remain inactive since.

There were talks and attempts of revamping the square from time to time, but has never really accomplished. The government's latest project of renovation "Rethink Athens" (pedestrianization of Panepisthimiou Street, which runs between Syntagma Square and Omonia Square) has suffered a setback as the European Commission has decided against the funding recently. Athens is still trying to convince the EC to change its mind.

How is the situation now?

Here is the square.

It was 9 o'clock in the morning and there was nothing menacing. There was quite a lot of cars and commuters (I took pains to take the above shot without cars so that the view was unhindered).

As in the other areas of Athens, new bakeries have been popping up. I found a new outlet of Attika Artopoieia (this chain was used to be named Attiki Fourni, but has changed its name recently; I have no idea why).

Hondos Centre is still there. This is one of the flag shop of the retailer and has been here as long as I remember (the years I remember are not long, but at least 10 years). If you are interested, there is a cafeteria at the top floor and you can have a nice view.

There are many stalls selling koulouria. It is a bit similar to pretzel. In Turkey, these dry, circular and sesame-coated bread is called Simit and in both countries people eat it typically as breakfast or snack. It tastes unexpectedly better than it looks, especially when it is fresh. If you have never tried it, you should. One koulouri costs 50 to 60 cents.

A tyropita shop selling "Divine Cheese Pie". It is a shop called Gianniotiko, which has another outlet on Panepisthimiou Street. I don't remember that it had an outlet on Omonia Square. There is also a souvlaki shop of the same name just next to it.

The single most conspicuous change in the square, I believe, is the new outlet of Veneti bakery. It has also many tables and chairs in front of it.

The building was once occupied by a self-service restaurant-cafe called Neon, which had another outlet in Syntagma. Both were closed down. Although the premises in Syntagma were taken up by another restaurant, this one in Omonia had been unoccupied since 2010 till December 2013.

And to my surprise, I found a reminder of Neon on one of the tents of Veneti.

This is very nostalgic for people who know Athens for decades.


My walk did not end in Omonia. I walked into the area between Athinas Street and Tsandari (Pireos) Street, where is now an Indian-Pakistani-Chinese quarter. My impression, though, is that Indian-Pakistani-Bangradeshi are more eminent here and the Chinese on the other side of Pireos Street (so-called Keramikos area, which should not be confused with the area immediately by the Keramikos metro station, which is called 'Gazi').

At some points, you feel as if you are somewhere in India or Bangladesh. I guess this is a barber shop, judging from the sign of scissors.

And now there are many Indian/Pakistani fast food outlets. (This one was closed just because it was too early in the morning; many opens only after the lunch time).

An Indian/bangladeshi/Pakistani restaurant I have never heard of. Attractive.

It is situated on Geraniou Street, which once was too shady that even I would try to avoid. It is still not a nice and shiny, but it felt much better than before.

Another restaurant of which name you can read only if you know Arabic. As it says "Grill House", it should be a kebab place.

I remembered my days in Birmingham, UK.

Then I walked into Evripidou Street, behind the Vegetable section of  the Varvakio Central Market.

Here also, the feel was much less seedy than before.

This newly restored building is occupied by a new grocery shop with eat-in section, called Karamanridika tou Fani . It sells cured meat products of Sary and meze dishes to eat-in.

Just across is the street is another famous pastourmas shop, Miran.

And next to Miran is another of the genre, Arapian.

This part of Evripidou Street is now frequented by foodies, from Athens and abroad and it is almost a tourist attraction.

Overall, my impression from the area was positive. Although it is still a seedier part of Athens, but it did not look like a slam anymore.

Hope it gets even better!