Friday, 4 September 2015

Dining and w(h)ining in Helsinki: El Greco, the best Greek in town

Returning to the mundane existence that is life outside holiday didn't seem terribly appealing. Summer seemed to have finally arrived in Finland. Sun kept shining. And I was definitely going through daily octopus withdrawal symptoms. And I had finally managed to get a tan I just had to show off, right? So, I decided to hang on to the holiday mode, threw on all the fabulous things I bought in Greece, grabbed my friend and headed over to the best Greek restaurant in Helsinki: El Greco. And my. It didn't fail this time either. 

Located next door to Ragu, El Greco is a bit classier than your average Greek taverna. The tacky paraphernalia is kept to a minimum: no blue and white tablecloths, not a single plastic bunch of grapes in sight. Authenticity is still there. So, we kicked off our evening with ouzo. That was something I hadn't had for a whopping three days, after all...!

The menu features true Greek flavours, though some adjustments have been made to accomodate the Finnish palate, the kitchen confesses. Bread is made on the premises and is delicious. The olive oil (Greek, of course...) was superb. Aromatic to a point of floral.

To start with we had tzatziki, hummus and roasted aubergine dip (€10,60), lamb tartar e(€13,60) and octopus marinated in vinegar, served with caper and red wine marmalade and yellow lentil mash (€14,60)

Tzatziki was, as can be expected, excellent. Aubergine dip had charming, gentle smokiness and hummus got a nice, zingy twist from parsley (perhaps some lemon, too?)

After the first bite of tartare we both stopped and just stared at each other. "Great texture and depth of flavours", is what the food blogger managed to finally utter. "I want this as my pillow (?)", is what my friend, the cat blogger blurted.

The meat is chopped by hand and results in fantastic texture. The taste is full of all those familiar Middle Eastern flavours- courtesy of their own spice blend (allspice definitely features there).

And then there was octopus. Octopus, people! I'd been raving about it to my companion already before and if possible, it was even nicer than I remembered. No matter how much I begged, cried and twisted, I wasn't given the recipe for the marmalade. However, you should definitely try my recipe for the yellow lentil mash.

Then we shared Pasta Mytilini (€24,80): pasta with king prawns and green mussles in creamy tomato sauce spiked with ouzo. The mussles were probably frozen which resulted in bland chewiness. Zucchini was an interesting addition.

And since my RDD of octopus had been met, it was time to move on to the other star of Greek cuisine: lamb.

Sirloin with potato and chevre fondant and red wine and thyme sauce (€24,80) was a very good dish, though a bit generic. This you can get in just about any restaurant. 

Paidakia, grilled lamb chops drizzled with lemon and olive oil served with Mediterranean grilled veg (€26,90)on the other hand was a Greek holiday on a plate. Everything about these juicy babies was so spot on!

We really didn't think we could possibly accommodate dessert. We really didn't.  But about three seconds after it was carried to the table we'd polished it off, too.

The selection featured their baclava with insanely gorgeous orange sorbet, chocolate fondant with perfectly lava-like centre and pear poached in sweet red wine (Christmas! Now!)

I've only recently started to realize what an interesting wine country Greece  is. I am already planning a trip to Santorini, home to incredibly mineral whites (owing to the vulcanic terroir) and Macedonia, which produces some fantastic wines. A trip to El Greco is highly recommended for their wine list alone. 

With the octopus I had Halkidiki (Assyrtiko-Sauvignon Blanc blend) from central Macedonia, which I initially found too raisiny. With the meatiness of the octopus and the tanginess of the marmalade it was a perfect match, though.

For the main course we had Maronia (the grape being Mavroudis) which I was already familiar with. The full-bodied softness won over the companion as well. Service and wine recommendations were glorious throughout the dinner. 

Other wines you should try are Petra (made of Roditis, €46 a bottle) - a fresh and fruity wine balanced by dry mineral acidity and Thalassitis (€64 a bottle), an Assyrtiko from Santorini with a delightfully ripe fruitiness with great acidity and minerality.

So, should you fancy a mini-break in Greece with only hours to spare, head over here. The best Greek in town. No question about it.

* In cooperation with El Greco* 




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