Some Greek fusion successes at this cosy Notting Hill neighbourhood place make it worth a visit – 6.5/10
Trying to find good Greek food in central London is surprisingly difficult, which seems bizarre for a city that has had a substantial population of souvlaki-loving, pita-wielding, lamb-skewering Hellenes for decades (of which I count myself as one). The Real Greek is the only proper chain to have permeated London – essentially the Pizza Express of Greek restaurants, churning out meagre fare about as “real” as Donald Trump’s tan. On the pricier, “upmarket” side, you have places like Lemonia (Primrose Hill) with its celebrity-studded taverna charm and Opso (Marylebone) with its jazzed-up interpretation of Greek food that irked Jay Rayner (and me).
The best place I know is undoubtedly Nissi in Palmer’s Green (so cool it doesn’t even have a website), which perfectly combines modern authenticity with the Greek compulsion to feed people until they explode. We have loyally made the pilgrimage for years with Greek-Cypriot family and will continue to do so until they either close down or I die. I’ve also heard good things about Meraki (Fitzrovia) but haven’t had the chance to visit yet.
Due to my own incompetence, I arrived half an hour early for my dinner at Mazi. Unfortunately, due to my friend’s incompetence (and a relatively successful Hinge date), she arrived half an hour late, which left me to enjoy an hour’s worth of quizzical and increasingly concerned looks from my fellow diners. Why hasn’t he ordered anything yet? Doesn’t he have any friends? Has he been stood up by a date? The waitress brings me some sourdough with a pitying smile – maybe I can at least get some free food out of this! It’s not pita, but it’s warm and comes with luminescent olive oil and salt, so I’m happy. A glass of Manolesakis Estate, Moschomavro-Limnio 2017 from the all-Greek wine list keeps me company with its aroma of cherries and maybe pine.
About half an hour in with no word from my friend, I can no longer keep my appetite at bay and order a trio of the “jars”. It’s a novel (for me) and very sensible way of serving some of the classic Greek dips. Taramasalata is gently aerated into a delightful mousse with a dollop of yellow roe – thankfully not as luridly pink as some of the supermarket versions, which are often enriched with beetroot juice. The grilled aubergine purée is smoky and has an added Japanese tinge of soy and honey.
Finally, tiropita – usually a kind of Greek cheese pie – comes deconstructed as a luscious pot of spicy cheese and caramelised leeks with firm shards of filo pastry poking out of it. Sometime during this preliminary feast, my friend arrives to some judgemental looks from my fellow diners. We laugh and try to finish the gigantic jars together, but they are really aimed for three or four people to share. The sourdough is cut in long slices and perfect for scooping the dips out of the jars, but my inner Greek can’t help wishing I had some pita bread.
Pork belly gyro tacos are surprisingly successful, crispy and caramelised with some crunchy greens. Served in soft tacos with tzatziki and sweet onions, they are a strange hybrid of Greek, Mexican and Chinese, but I want more. A spicy, acidic glass of Gaia Notios, Agiorgitiko-Syrah 2015 cuts through the pork fat.
Most people associate the word saganaki with a slab of cheese, fried until bubbling and served with dipping bread, but it can actually mean any type of dish cooked in a saganaki pan (sometimes shrimp or mussels). It will take a lot of convincing before I believe that prawns and cheese are a good combination and unfortunately Mazi’s version does not convince me. The prawns are plump and the tomato sauce has a pleasant hint of chilli and aniseed, but the addition of feta doesn’t work and it desperately needs something substantial to soak up the sauce.
A relatively small portion of squid is tough and could do with a slice of lemon on the side. The thick garlic aioli smeared around the plate is fresh but a tad bland. The table next to us have the scallops and the courgette cakes, which look more promising.
A tender chicken breast sitting on a bed of slightly under-sautéed mushrooms is juicy with nice, crispy skin. There is a hint of black truffle somewhere, which gives it an earthy tang, and the accompanying hünkâr beğendi – a kind of Turkish aubergine purée mixed with milk and flour – is smoky and buttery, an almost pâté-like texture. We order a bottle of Hedgehog Single Vineyard Xinomavro 2012 on recommendation, which is fruity and smooth – a solid companion for the chicken.
A pair of éclairs come prettily decorated with popcorn and pansies and stuffed with squidgy chocolate cream. The choux pastry is a little dense, but is easily moistened with a spoonful of strong Greek coffee ice cream.
Loukoumades – Greek deep-fried doughnuts – are drenched in light floral honey and dusted with cinnamon. They are less tooth-numbingly sweet than the typical Greek ones, tempered by a scattering of crushed walnuts. I’d even be happy with them without the boule of chocolate sorbet hiding in the corner of the box.
Mazi started and finished well, but the middle dishes didn’t manage to live up to their promise. I love the Greek fusion idea (not that Greek food needs improving) and, to be fair, several other dishes on the menu sounded very tempting: the grilled octopus, the shredded lamb shoulder stifado… swoon. I’ll go back at some point to test these out with a more reliable friend!
Dinner cost us £194 (including £69 on wine), which is pretty pricey but, alas, unsurprising for Notting Hill. If I had a capacious enough wallet to live on the quiet side streets behind Notting Hill Gate station, I could see myself quickly becoming a local. It’s small, cosy and has that neighbourhood feel that makes you forget you’re still in Zone 1 – definitely worth a visit if you’re trying to avoid the string of chain restaurants right by the station.
A Moveable Feast