It was perhaps the strangest thing my wife could have said.
Over breakfast the morning after a dinner at The Greek Larder at King’s Cross, in conjunction with the Lyrarakis winery from Crete represented by Bart Lyrarakis and the winery’s oenologist Miriam Ambouzer, Jancis turned to me and said, ‘It’s a shame Katie wasn’t with us last night because she would have loved it.’
If you have not had the pleasure of meeting my younger sister Katie, let me enlighten you. She would indeed have loved it, as Jancis so astutely pointed out, except for one aspect of the wine dinner: she does not drink. At all.
What Jancis was referring to was the food that was right up my sister’s boulevard for a variety of reasons. It was all well judged, in terms of portion size and the speed of delivery. It was very colourful. It was varied and distinctive. There were a lot of vegetables involved. And, above all, it was delicious.
And she would have loved it because the five different starters, one meat main course and one dessert were all the creation of the restaurant’s chef and founder, Theodore Kyriakou (pictured), whose strong Greek accent, as well as the memories of his mother’s cooking growing up in Athens, have not left him despite the fact that he spent most of his working life in London. (Theodore was the chef at Livebait in The Cut, SE1, and was responsible for the birth of The Real Greek when it started out as a single restaurant in what was then the wasteland of Shoreditch.)
There were no more than 25 of us, all seated at individual tables. To our left were Bart and Myriam representing the winery, who spoke about the wines as they were being served, and to our right, Theodore, wearing a thin, grey, long jacket, who spoke about each dish as it was served. They each provided an equal amount of useful information and fun.
The five starters were each served separately. First up, and impossible not to eat with your fingers, was a crisp, fried ‘package’ of melted kasseri cheese and Cretan dagianta inside thin layers of Rhodes flat bread. Then on a salad of thin slices of grilled artichoke came a piece of hortopita, filo pastry stuffed with all things green, spinach, parsley and herbs, all of which Theodore said were grown in the King’s Cross Skip Garden, no more than half a mile away.
Then to the first of three fish courses, three strips of cuttlefish on a bed of lentils infused with bay leaves; this was followed by three pieces of smoked eel sitting on top of a dolmadakia, a vine leaf stuffed with lots of finely diced spring onions and rice; and then Theodore’s exquisite taramosalata on a round of grilled sourdough.
By this stage, the six of us were pretty full and I went up to the kitchen, with the blessing of our guests, to ask them to serve our main courses on the small side. My excursion was futile as this was already the kitchen’s plan, with three small pieces of roast Goosenargh duck breast on top of a slow-cooked casserole of seasonal greens. Then it was dessert, a martini glass full of a mixture of a yoghurt made from Greek sheep’s milk combined with mizythra, a soft, white cheese made from sheep or goat’s milk that, because it has no salt added to it, develops sweet overtones which it imparts to the sorbet.
While I will leave the details of the wines we tasted – all from the local grape varietiesin which Lyrarakis specialise – to others far more expert, I will leave you with two thoughts in particular.
The first and perhaps the most important is that today white wines are far more appealing and food friendly than reds; they seem to be so much more in tune with what and how we want to eat. This is a change that has long been in the making but definitely seems to have arrived. Only a fortnight ago we were guests of the founders of The Judean Hills Quartet, four wineries based between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, who have started producing white wines to critical acclaim. One thing they mentioned was that the response from their restaurant customers has been fantastic. People want interesting white wines, such as Lyrarakis’s Plyto 2015 that was served with the first course, because its flavours go so well with the food that we want to eat today.
The second is the absence of a cheese course. At The Greek Larder, we went directly from a red wine, Okto 2013, a blend of Kotsifali, Mandilaria and Syrah, served with the meat to a non-vintage wine they call Malvasia of Crete, a blend of Vidanio, Vilana, Plyto and Dafni served with the excellent sorbet, and no one noticed or made a fuss or complained. The world did not come to an end. It will probably take a long time for this very French habit to be consigned to the rubbish heap of history but I feel it ought to find its way there one day.
At £45 per head including wines and all the food, this was also one of the best-value wine dinners I have been to.