If you have visions of a traditional, family-run cantina with yiayia tending to the stove, or of a greasy but delicious roadside souvlaki joint where meat is stripped off giant skewers and squashed into fluffy pita with glistening fries and slathered in sauce, you’ll be disappointed. But “we are not in Greece”, says co-owner of Greek souvlaki joint, Suvlaki, Eirini Margariti, “we are in London”. Suvlaki’s new outlet in Shoreditch very much embodies Brick Lane; a melting pot of cuisines and cultures where curry houses are a dime a dozen, North-African food meets French bistro dining, and a bowl of cereal becomes a gourmet meal. Suvlaki takes Greece’s popular and ancient fast-food (references of barbecued meats being served in this way date back to the 3rd century) and serves it on modern wooden boards and dainty plates, garnished with quenelles of sauce, kale chips and spirallised veg. Yes, it’s a little poncey, but I can’t deny that I need a little ponciness in my life from time to time.
This week, Suvlaki hosted its soft launch, inviting foodies to sample a slightly revamped menu, still souvlaki-led, accompanied by snacks, sides, small plates and signature dishes. The restaurant’s interiors, which have been designed by multi award-winning design studio, AfroditiKrassa, are inspired by the urban metropolis of Athens, using earthy tones of grey and blue, trimmed with accents of copper. It’s a very harmonious setting; everything matches the colour scheme, from the menus to the dishes and even the salt and pepper shakers, which Eirini urges us not to run off with as a souvenir of our visit: “the copperware was really difficult to find and didn’t come cheap; we had to order it from China!”
The menu has been designed with the help of celeb-chef Elias Mamalakis; Greece’s answer to Gordon Ramsay, according to the Greek member of our party (who we tactfully brought along for quality control!) and Michelin chef Alfred Prasad; the youngest ever Indian chef to receive this accolade at the age of 29. These are not your standard souvlaki; wild boar sausage is skewered with bell peppers whose blistered skins impart charcoal barbecue flavour, bouncy prawns meet rose aioli, chilli and dill, and aged Scottish Texel lamb is served with chilli beets and a cool herb sauce. Meats are well-seasoned and cooked over hot coals in the open-kitchen.
Eirini made her way around the tables asking for feedback on the food and already had plans to change certain dishes, such as a miniature plate of Cretan salad that would have been much better served in a bowl, she agreed, to allow the juices and oil to soak into the delicious, but rather hard, morsels of fried bread. While in most restaurants, ‘small plates’ are designed to share, here I suggest ordering your own as we were fighting over the salad’s few chunks of tangy, crumbly feta – the real deal rather than the overly salty, dry Greek-style cheese served in many “authentic” Greek restaurants. Similarly, a spoonful each of the richly-spiced, fragrant and succulent pork kritharaki (£5) left me craving more of this meaty deliciousness. At least the cheese nibble (£4.5) was easy to ration – one piece each of salty grilled Mastelo cheese nestled in charred pita with a lick of sticky fig marmalade. Kiss your diet goodbye and order a second plate of this cheese heaven for yourself!
Desert is to be paired with a celebratory shot of mastiha (or three) (£3), a liqueur flavoured with the resin of the mastic tree. The “Samos to Soho” cheesecake (£5) is the perfect accompaniment. Why Samos you ask? As Gus Portokalos preaches daily, the root of everything lies in Greece! Forget New York, the ancient Greeks were the first to discover that adding honey and eggs to cheese resulted in a delicious dessert. According to archaeological finds, the first “cheese cake” was created on the Greek island of Samos, dating to about 2000 BC. Food historians believe cheesecake was served to athletes during the first Olympic Games held in 776 BC, to give them energy before their races and competitions. Suvlaki’s version is served in an elegant cocktail glass and features wild honey-infused silky cream cheese mounded on a sandy biscuit base and garnished with sour cherries in syrup and crisp teardrops of orange meringue .
The prices have taken a climb since my last visit to the Soho branch. At £4.90-£5.50 for a single skewer or mini wrap and a suggestion of four dishes per person, a meal here will make a considerable dent in your wallet. But at least Eirini is grounded enough to be aware that they are not the cheapest eat on the block and she proudly defends her menu. “We could get cheaper tomatoes from the supermarket, but they don’t taste half as good as the ones we have sourced from the Isle of White” she explains, “and I would rather give my customers good quality, free-range chicken from a farm in Essex than frozen meat imported from Greece. There is great produce available in the UK, so we use it.” I can’t say fairer than that.
161 Brick Lane,
Open 12:00-23:30 Mon-Thurs; 12:00-00:00 Fri & Sat; 12:00-22:30 Sun