Monday, May 23, 2016

Varoulko, Athens (*)

After quite a few years waiting for it, I finally managed to visit Varoulko, the seafood Michelin starred restaurant of Athens. Located in Mikrolimano (which means small harbour) some 10km from the Constitution square and the city centre, in a row of many fish taverns.

The new address in Mikrolimano, came to replace the old one in Kerameikos, which had a terrace with views of Acropolis, to a more suitable and fish matching one by the sea. The owner and head chef of Varoulko, Lefteris Lazarou, mostly know in Greece for his role in the Master Chef TV program. Born to a ship chef father, he followed the same path working in ship kitchens before opening his own restaurant in Piraeus in 1987, later moving to Kerameikos and finally back to the sea where it is located now. For the last 23 years Varoulko is awarded a golden toque from Athinorama magazine every year while it holds a Michelin star from 2002 till now. 

The main interior salle is modern and classy with big attention to detail while the outdoor salle is more casual matching with the environment and the other seafood restaurants in the area. Mikrolimano is a row of fish taverns and restaurants from start to finish.

There is a menu for lunch and a slightly different one for dinner. Many dishes are common on both menus. You can choose from a la carte or take a menu which is proposed for the day by the chef (it had 3 courses in our visit). We chose to go a la carte to try more. 

To begin we were offered bread and olives. Bread was of two kinds, white and brown, paired with an extra virgin olive oil, called Ritual Bloom from Lakonia, Sparta, which by the way costs about 35euros for the half litre bottle. 

We started with squid roasted over charcoal, with fava and tomato. The squid had a nice texture, being slightly less cooked than usually, while the addition of cumin added to the flavor. 

Next came, crispy dorade fillets from Messolongi with crunchy thinly sliced bread slices. Accompanied by five different sauces. Clockwise, cheese, peas, ketchup, carrot and eggplant sauce. There was also pancetta flakes. The fish was tender and flavorful, but was overpowered by the sauces. The smoky eggplant and the citrusy carrot one were both amazing. 

Rofomakaronada, or linguine with grouper was amazing. The pasta al dente with a white cream sauce and diced tomato. The fish called rofos or Epinephelus marginatus from Alonissos is one of the tastiest you can find, being a bit fatty and gelatinous. Here it was perfectly cooked.

Next it was a signature dish of the chef, the most recommended one and maybe the best on the menu. Orzo cooked like a risotto with prawns (it might be done with crayfish as well according to the market) and tomato. It has a semisweet white Greek wine, boukovo and Parmesan. The orzo was cooked al dente as well, the prawns very fresh full of flavor and texture while the heat from the boukovo added to the whole taste. I had read that the chef adds stock from ox tail to enhance the flavors. Definitely try this dish. ( We actually had a similar dish in Clochard a few weeks ago which was also as amazing as this).

The main course was Sfyrida, or white grouper (Epinephelus Aeneus). Sfyrida is maybe the tastiest fish, on par with Turbot, some will find it better. Quite hard to find it is praised for the gelatinus texture and fatty full flavors. Here it was roasted and paired with pea puree and briam (something like a diced ratatouille) and fried almyra, or edible seaweed adding a crunchy texture. The fish was nicely cooked having good depth of flavor, although for a main course it was small sized. 

For dessert we chose, Baklava, done in another way. Crunchy pastry, pistachio light cream like a Chantilly and cream. The syrup was added below the plate on dry ice to enhance the flavors of real baklava. It was interesting as for the presentation but just ok as of the taste. 

Better was rice pudding done again in another way. Filled in a canollo, paired with mandarin puree, mandarin sorbet and salted butter caramel.      

There are many wine options by bottle or by glass with reasonable prices and bottles starting from about 20 euros. You can have an excellent Greek wine for 25 to 30 euros, just ask the sommelier. Options from other countries are available too. 

Highly recommended, especially for anyone who wants to taste some of the best seafood Greece has to offer. 

Open Monday to Sunday, from 13:00 to 01:00

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Clochard, Thessaloniki

That was my second visit to Clochard, the stylish bar-restaurant of Proxenou-Koromila street. Been in the fashion quite street of Thessaloniki since 1979, it has received many ''Toque d'or'' or ''Χρυσος Σκουφος'' prices since 2008 from Athinorama. The cooking is modern Mediterranean with influences from France and Asia, from the ingredients to the decor of the salle.

My previous visit was made a la carte. This time though there was a multi course set menu to celebrate this year's ''toque d'or'' which you can find during the whole May every Tuesday and Wednesday for lunch or dinner.

We started with an amuse bouche, tartar of rock fish with yuzu, lime, chili in cucumber gazpacho. It surely opened our appetite, with the acidity of lemon and freshness of the cucumber.

Orzo cooked like a risotto, with prawns and crayfish bisque, was excellent, full of flavors.

Fillet of croaker with a crust of seasonal herbs and fricassee cooked greens. I found this dish amazing, the greens a bit bitter, the tender croaker fillet and the salty crust.

Homemade ravioli with slow cooked veal and pesto sauce. The pesto sauce was overpowering the veal but it was so tasty, so who cares.

Fillet of duck breast with grapes, Jerusalem artichoke puree and Madeira wine sauce. The main course was the only disappointment of the menu. While the puree was very good and the Madeira sauce amazing the duck fillet was overcooked and lacked in flavor.

For dessert we had tonka beans creme with red fruits in a semisphere base of dark chocolate and strawberry coulis. The tonka creme was very aromatic perfectly balanced with the chocolate and the red fruits. I wonder where can I find some beans to do my own tonka creme.

Recommended, especially while there are set menus available.