Hands-down the best Greek food in London, only available until 21 June – 10/10
The abundant photography and commentary on Instagram and other foodie publications sometimes makes reviewing restaurants in London rather difficult. On the one hand, it’s an invaluable source of information, which leads me to try places I would never otherwise have encountered in my daily quest for good food. On the other hand, my own obsessive nature inevitably leads me to do some fairly serious research before most meals, to the extent that, if I don’t like the look of a restaurant, I simply don’t go. Not the best attitude for a purported restaurant reviewer, I’ll admit… For the curious among you, the main restaurant blogs I admire/aspire to emulate are Chris Pople’s Cheese & Biscuits (especially for his out-of-town reviews), the anonymous Picky Glutton (for his/her sheer dedication, thoroughness and frequent use of the word “winsome”) and, of course, Samphire & Salsify (who always has his finger on the London pulse).
It’s always refreshing then to be invited by a friend to somewhere that I’ve never heard of. The only thing I know in advance is that it’s Greek food, which (as I’ve mentioned before) I am naturally suspicious of inside Zone 2. Great Guns Social is a converted pub in Borough (currently backing onto an unfortunately dusty building site), which describes itself as the “new culinary jewel in the crown of Borough”. Fighting talk.
They run a series of residencies – usually only a few weeks long – led by a celebrity chef and supported by GGS’ own house chef. It’s pretty quiet when we wander in on a Friday lunchtime – so much so that we wonder if we’re in the right place. The only hint that Maria Elia (author of Smashing Plates) is cooking here is a small chalkboard sign just inside the door. Our hopes are slightly battered for a second time when we discover that the lunch menu is a condensed, mostly vegetarian version of the full menu shown on GGS’ website. Meat-eaters beware that if you fancy the rib-eye tagliata or the chargrilled lamb cutlets (which I very much do), you’d better go for dinner!
However, all doubts and concerns melt away into the drizzly afternoon rain as soon as the first dish arrives: a simple plate of taramasalata with potato crisps. It’s the perfect consistency and the perfect colour – none of that fluorescent pink muck, which looks like it came from fish dredged from the rivers around Chernobyl. The chips are salty and not oily, though they could do with another couple of seconds in the fryer. Clearly we are going to be safe in Maria Elia’s hands.
Wild greens mac ‘n’ cheese bites are simply divine. I mean, just look at them… all seductive in their little salty bread coats. The innards are rich and smooth, not at all claggy, and lightly seasoned with dill, which is the perfect partner for the wild greens (or horta, as they’re known in Greek). They’re so good that we immediately order a second plate.
Similarly, moussaka croquettes are outrageously delicious, bursting with the heady aromas of lamb and mint, all tangled up with delicious morsels of aubergine.
A thick diamond-shaped slice of broccoli baklava is a rather smart idea – each flaky layer interspersed with dill, sliced almonds and little flecks of feta. A luscious bed of green pea skordalia (potato and garlic purée) is good slathering material.
The lightly-fried gnocchi are delightfully pillowy and coated in a genuinely wonderful tomato ragu. Fat chunks of tender octopus and sharp capers give the whole dish a rustic kind of charm, reminiscent of a hilltop taverna overlooking the Aegean.
A side-serving of sweet heritage tomatoes may very well have been delivered directly from the basket of Demeter herself and are simply presented with a few torn basil leaves and “Greek goddess” dressing (delicious, whatever it is).
For years when I was young, I helped my dad make keftedes (meatballs) in our kitchen, mixing the pork and beef in a big glass bowl with a handful of grated potato, onion, mint and parsley – maybe a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg – before shallow-frying them in batches and popping them on a piece of kitchen roll over a plate to dry. Most of the time I would break one open straight away, scorching hot, and douse it in lemon juice before devouring it. They are still one of my favourite dishes and a key part of any real Greek meze. These cauliflower versions are pretty good, but (surprise, surprise) no comparison for the meaty home-cooked variety.
And finally, dessert… Oh my. A gorgeous and slightly alcoholic (I think) chocolate pot, topped with velvety, cloud-like white chocolate cream and a scattering of crushed macadamias and almonds. The perfect end to one of the best lunches I’ve had in ages.
In case you didn’t get the point, I’m a little bit in love with Maria Elia’s cooking – simple yet creative, it showcases Greek food at its very best. I’ve never understood why Greek food in London is of such poor quality and Maria Elia proves that it doesn’t have to be this way. She will only be at GGS for another 10 days until 21 June, so make sure you book a table soon – there’s still space! I already have another table booked for dinner…
A large lunch for two cost us £105.75, including three very drinkable glasses of Athanasiou red for £8 each. Apparently GGS’ next pop-up is on as-yet-undisclosed Asian theme. In addition, John Gregory Smith will be there for 3 select days in July. What more could you ask for! Get yourself there.
A Moveable Feast