“There are two types of people; those who are Greek, and those who wish they were Greek”, says the cheery, care-free owner of Lemonia – words taken from a film we all know and love. Nestled amongst an international crowd of happy diners in this sunny, homely and oh-so Mediterranean Greek taverna sat atop Primrose Hill, I couldn’t disagree with him. Plied with dish after dish of classic Greek fare, I was content as content could be.
There are few restaurants in London that can match Lemonia’s buzzing atmosphere. Reservations are crucial – I arrived just ten minutes past opening time and already the restaurant was alive, with most of the tables occupied by families. Lemonia is a family joint in every sense of the word; family-run and a place where multiple generations reunite – there’s no better way to catch-up than over good food.
The taverna is an integral part of Greek culture and this family-run restaurant has been sharing Greece’s customs, lifestyle and, most importantly, food with Londoners since 1979. The menu is a line-up of Greek classics, from creamy layered moussaka, to dolomades (tightly-rolled vine leaf parcels filled with minced meat, rice and herbs), skewered meats and stifado (a meaty slow-cooked casserole). While these are all an excellent choice, it’s the speciality meze which draws in the crowds – a selection of cold and hot meze, and main dishes. At £24 per person for a minimum of two people (which I would argue should be three), it’s the ultimate feast.
Lemonia’s waiters and waitresses move about the room in a dance-like fashion, weaving effortlessly between tables, collecting plates from one while delivering a receipt to another, wiping surfaces while carrying large platters of small dishes above their heads, soon to be set down in front of eager diners.
Round one of the meze is the cold dishes and I hardly knew where to start, my eyes dancing between blushing taramasalata, creamy tzatziki speckled with vibrant green and melitzanosalata, baba ghanoush’s herby Greek friend. A salad of chickpeas, black beans, carrot, peppers and herbs was satisfyingly crisp and provided a little freshness to provide balance against the rich dips, while the tabbouleh, which was correctly more parsley than grain, gave a wonderful fragrance when piled upon a mound of golden hummus. Surprisingly, this dish I most enjoyed was a tiny pile of potato salad, seasoned with celery, capers, spring onion and herbs and dressed in olive oil, despite this dish being a mere accompaniment to the dips.
Next came the hot meze of whole fried sardines, lightly battered kalamari rings, bite-size loukanika (a mildly spiced sausage with a similar flavour to pepperoni) and salty grilled halloumi served on lountza (smoked pork loin), all of which were tasty, but passable. It was the dinky triangles of spanakopita that stole the show with their lace-thin crisp pastry that flaked all over my lips when i bit in to the delicate creamy spinach and feta filling.
Full-bellied and satisfied, I cast an eye over the coffee menu. But little did I know, the meal was far from over. To both my excitement and apprehension, the main dishes were still to come. I didn’t want any more food, and certainly didn’t need it, but once a glorious plate of grilled lamb chops, pork, chicken and herby mince chicken keftedes was placed in front of me, I couldn’t help but dig in. I even managed a few mouthfuls of pourgouri (crushed wheat flavoured with spices and herbs).
I’m fascinated by Greek coffee. There is a true art to its preparation, simmering the finely ground beans to infuse their intensely earthy, smokey flavour into the water. Uniquely thick – an almost velvet texture – and sweet (often too sweet), this, accompanied by a cube of rose-scented Greek(?) Delight was the perfect end to the meal. A sticky square of baklava, or home-made galaktopoureko filled with sweet patisserie cream tempted me, but I made the wise decision to wave the white flag on more food.
A second trip to Lemonia didn’t disappoint. Now into autumn, I chose a fittingly hearty dish for a grey, rainy day in London; the city’s best moussaka according to Lemonia’s owner. I couldn’t disagree. Laced with warming cinnamon and fragrant bay and oregano, the layers of soft aubergine and courgette, and deeply meaty lamb mince, were generously topped with a thick béchamel. A perfectly balanced dish that was a pleasure to eat paired with a glass of chocolatey, fruity Halkidiki Greek red. Phenomenal.
Step off the streets of London and into Greece. You won’t want to leave.
89 Regent’s Park Road,
T: 020 7586 7454
Open 12:00-15:00 & 18:00-23:00 Mon-Sat; 12:00-15:30 Sun