I begin this review with an apology. This is a review of the restaurant Ama Laxei located in the Exarchia district of Athens. I had the … of eating here (positive, negative? Please read on) in June of this year but since my blog wasn’t even born at that point, the review had to wait. Since then FeedTim is finding its way and this particular restaurant has kept creeping back to mind as I often sit there, daydreaming about food.
Why this place in a less famed part of town? Well, the dishes being served from the fragrant and charming converted school playground have at their core the essence of what FeedTim has been born out of: a passion for local food with local people.
I wanted to create a sense of ambiguity but I can’t resist so I’ll jump to the conclusion and say that Ama Laxei is bloody brilliant. It is one of the finest restaurants I have ever had the privilege to eat at. Finest doesn’t even mean pricey. It’s really reasonable (an average meze dish costing €6). In a natural and minimal setting, this place is simple and celebrates authenticity in a part of town you probably wouldn’t visit otherwise. It ticks all the boxes for me and apparently does so for the team at Buzz Feed who this year voted it as one of the '31 places around the world you should eat at before you die.’
As mentioned Ama Laxei is a converted school and the owners have done well to preserve the site’s history with great chalk style drawings of school children adorning one wall and keeping drawn out hop scotch numbers outside on the concrete floor. The setting is ever so pleasing with most of the outdoor space covered over with vines from which hang stylish lamps.
The restaurant is buzzing and as soon as you enter you leave behind the chaotic streets of the capital and become immersed in a Mediterranean village setting, where old men playing backgammon are swapped for hip Athenians which just confirms you’ve hit a gem. The restaurant is purposely simple in its décor, using the natural beauty to speak for itself. I loved the typical white tavern style dishes that began to fill our table as well as the post office style brown paper table cloth that keeps the setting minimal (but practical at the same time, a win win).
It’s the simplicity and no-frills of Ama Laxei that makes it remarkable. This is a Mezedopolis, so food is to be shared, and that’s that. The owners embrace local ingredients and understand that the beauty is to not mess with them too much. The subtle twists such as the honey glazed chicken wings marinaded in white wine, poppy seeds and coriander as well as the ouzo and spearmint meatballs does make the offering exciting, but it’s the classics that really get you salivating.
The Greek salad was out of this world (a theme from every restaurant we ate at in the city) because the tomatoes, and especially the cucumber, were so sweet. Whenever you bite into an olive you’re surprised by how much flesh you get through before reaching the pip. Unlike in Spain where I tend to find the olives spoiled in a vinegar solution, in Greece they’re not tampered with. The block of feta plonked on top dressed with dried oregano and capers was creamy and intensely satisfying, but that doesn’t even compare to the myzithra cheese that coated the traditional Skioufichta pasta from Crete with olives and sundried tomato. That had to be my favourite dish and is full proof that homemade pasta is not just a staple of Italian cuisine.
The dishes we shared were reminiscent of Greek food I have tried throughout the seasons, just simply on a different level. I really enjoyed the warmth oozing from the oven roasted chickpeas with smoked pork and seasonal wild greens. However every dish, even as simple as the saganaki cheese, was given plenty of attention. As I say, every ingredient was highly valued here.
As soon as I found out that two of my good friends were heading to Athens a month later I made them promise me they would go. They ended up eating there everyday and thoroughly recommended the Octopus with Hummus (you must try octopus when travelling to Greece) and the Fava Bean (split pea) Purée. For our first visit to Ama Laxei we failered to order any fish (a massive booboo I know) and so when I return to this gem I think my selection of mezedes will be more fish heavy. My good pals have proved the octopus is a winner and I too would be very tempted to try the Shrimp Risotto flavoured with saffron and Mastic Oil (Mastic gum an ingredient that I use when preparing bread). The Goat Sausage from Drama, near to the Greek-Bulgarian border, also sounds like a real treat.
I found the service pretty good but the truth is it makes no difference. It was that evening, our final one in Athens, when I sat there with my family under the vines and realised that this setting, with this food, is where I really couldn’t be more satisfied in life. Thank you team for providing this culinary ecstasy.