Greek cuisine is presented to us as healthy, fresh, delicious, full of spices and love. But is it presented the same way in London as it does in Greece?
Reporter:Maria-Christina Chougkaeva| Sub-Editor: Visnja Marjanovic
Mediterranean cuisine is known for being healthy, fresh and colourful. When you ask someone ‘’What is the dish you associate with Greece?’’, everyone answers the same thing… Greek salad. A Greek salad contains red onions, cucumber, tomato, olives and a slice of feta cheese.A salad is no good without a pinch of salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. It is so simple yet so good.
Others may mention the famous gyros or as they call it in Greece, souvlaki – a classic Greek wrap that contains bits of meat, either chicken or pork, two slices of tomato, chips, onion and tzatziki.
Being Greek means you love food. It is the reason to bring everyone together around one table. Even if you are not apart of the family, once joining a Greek table, you become family. As soon as everyone sits around the table they enjoy their time by sharing jokes, stories, creating memories and eating.
Since we do not live in Greece but want to experience that feeling, we decided to visit a Greek restaurant in London.
We were told we have to book a table yet we never did. Instead we were sure that we would find a place to sit, as we were a group of three people.
‘The Real Greek’, is a restaurant chain occupying different areas of London such as Bankside, Soho, Stratford and Covent Garden. We visited Covent Garden, since it was close to central. We believed it has to have the best customer service as well as the most fresh food.
Once we entered the restaurant an unpleasant smell hit our noses, a smell that did not flatter the place we were about to eat at. It was a mix of spice and a potential smell of body odour. The lights were toned down and we noticed the three waitresses running around making sure all the tables had been approached.
A young woman approached and offered us a table to sit. We looked at each other and as she walked off, we followed her. You could hear a buzzing noise, which was from the conversation the crowd was having. As we sat down, our eyes started observing the environment we were in. It usually happens automatically, when you come to a place for the first time.
There was nothing that represented the Greek culture. Even the music which was slightly heard in the background, did not give you the feeling that you were about to eat in a Greek restaurant. In fact, we felt like we were in a typical restaurant on a Sunday evening.
The two menus that were given to us were individually headlined. The first, by the name ‘Food menu,’ contained all of the dishes that the restaurant had to offer. The second menu by the name ‘Athenian Set Menu’ had a special offer of three meze dishes for the price of £11,95.
Since we came to a place to taste original food, we didn’t want to go with the classic salad, as it was something we could make at home.
The dish that caught my eye and was considered as the most ‘Greek’, from the food menu, was the wrap. A souvlaki wrap, as it was called on the menu, worth £6.25. We decided to order a chicken wrap and two lamb kefte wraps. We were really hungry and thought that a wrap won’t do the deal. So we ordered from the Athenian set the one that included flatbread (pita), taramosalata and lamb cutlets.
As we placed our order, the young waitress took the menus from the table and slowly walked off. We started chatting to each other and shared how we felt about coming to the restaurant for the first time.
Ten minutes in, our order was nowhere to be seen. After a couple of minutes, we saw the waitress coming out from the main kitchen and we assumed she was coming towards our table with our order.
She placed a three set pyramid with plates on each level, yet the top plate was missing. The pyramid reminded us of Caffe Concerto. The Caffe Concerto usually serves their pastries on a three level pyramid from where the customer would enjoy the different varieties of desserts. It made us wonder if we were actually there for dinner with friends or tea with our grandparents.
The top plate that should have contained the lamb cutlets was absent and so was our excitement. It was very disappointing that we had to wait so long for our order and when it finally arrived, it contained half of what we ordered.
The second dish from the pyramid contained warm flatbread. A traditional bread that is used to make souvlaki — or the wrap — as the menu has it written down. It was cut in six very small triangle pieces ready to eat.
The third dish was taramosalata. A pink coloured thick dip, to which you dip in the flatbread or just eat with a fork.Yet the one we received had a creamy colour to it, probably because of the amount of oil that was added to it. Adding oil just makes the original colour change, yet sometimes it can also be affected by the type of fish roe that it contains.
Our portion was a bit more salty than we expected and it gave a very strong aftertaste due to the fish roe. Let’s just say that we had to re-order water twice, in order to clear the saltiness from our mouth.
We emptied the dishes in minutes, after all… there wasn’t much to eat. While explaining to one of my friends what the taramosalata contained, we felt like it was taking a long time for our order to arrive. The waitress suddenly appeared from nowhere. She held in her hands four dishes.
She first placed the dish that was missing from the pyramid and then started placing the rest.
The dish with the lamb cutlets, was surprisingly disappointing. It had cold lentils with three small lamb chops on top. So small, you could actually hold it with your palm closed. They were tasty, as any other meat you would grill…yet there was nothing special about them.
Once the wrap was placed on the table, I felt disappointed with what I saw in front of me. You would think that if you wait a long time, you wont be disappointed with the result. The wrap was cut in half so that it would be easier to eat, yet it did not contain anything from the original souvlaki-wrap you would get in Greece. It contained meat and a bit of sauce… nothing more.
We were annoyed, especially me and my friend, as we know what Greek food tastes like. What makes it even worse is that people don’t actually experience anything in the Real Greek that represents an authentic Athenian atmosphere. Our friend was upset with what he ordered and how nothing from the restaurant made him feel like he was in an environment that is all about Greek food.
It may be that the name ‘The Real Greek’ is just a marketing stunt to interest customers and make them think they have experienced the Greek cuisine. Yet there is nothing about the Real Greek that is real or Greek!
One thing is for sure, a real Greek would be extremely heartbroken once he visits this restaurant.