Restaurant Review: Funky Gourmet, Athens in Greece
Hurrying through the backstreets of Greece’s capital, I pass Funky Gourmet twice before realising that it is indeed where I am supposed to be. There is no sign outside, just an unassuming man awaiting each guest. He opens the door, and a woman, all in black, leads me up three flights of narrow stairs to a room with dark walls, well-spaced tables and simple, cream chairs. I peer out of the windows at the crumbling Athenian cityscape and settle into my seat, entirely unprepared for the experience ahead.
A fresh bottle of Rose Prestige Premier Cru from the Duval Leroy Champagne House is uncorked. Light with aromas of wild cherries, fig and ginger, it makes a smart match for the first four courses of the tasting menu. These courses are served in quick succession, starting with a tartlet of salty mullet roe topped with a white chocolate disc, a cuttlefish ‘oreo’ served on ink mayonnaise in a real cuttle shell, and then a pretty ‘beetrose’, a beetroot flower served in edible soil in a stone plinth. Each dish provides a different assault to the senses, and mixes savoury and sweet flavours with creative flair.
For me, the finale of the appetiser course is the simply named ‘picnic’. A chequered cloth appears and a wealth of toy-size Greek picnic items are laid out, from olive baguettes to a creamy quail’s egg, a homemade veg pie to a buttery miniature pastitsio cheese. Two cashews come enclosed in an edible plastic bag and a tangy passionfruit and tapioca seed juice is served from its peel cup. It brings together all of the comforting Greek classics into a dainty and delicious spread.
A fresh beer from the island of Chios matches the bread course. Just a roll served on a wooden board, but it is perhaps the tastiest bread I’ve ever eaten. Rings of sesame koulouri bread are a staple of the Greek diet and you can spot them in street-side stalls all over Athens. Funky Gourmet has taken this simple street food and created the perfect bread, a slightly-sweet crisp dough with melting Cretan buttermilk and the soft saltiness of fleur de sel.
A hot bowl of pasta pockets comes next, and the waitress removes fresh sea-urchin eggs from their shells to pour into each pocket, the briny seafood balanced by the smoothness of the pasta and the warm broth. This is followed by ‘earthy aromas’ with snails, mushrooms and toasted barley topped with freshly grated black truffle from the Peloponnese. It is matched by a peppery red wine from the Piemont area of Italy, itself famous for its truffles.
When I read Greek Salad on the menu, I foolishly believe I know what to expect. However, a snow-white sorbet arrives instead, served with a silver trowel and a little cup of sherry. It really conveys the flavours of cucumber, olive, feta and olive oil and, as well as being an incredible feat of cookery and science, this makes a refreshing palate-cleanser before the main course. Funky Gourmet is perhaps most famous for its signature ‘Silence of the Lamb’ dish of lamb brain but I opt for the catch of the day instead, a soft white fish perfectly cooked in a simple dill sauce.
I love Ferrero Rochers so was excited when the little chocolate arrived at my table in a pristine glass box. However, in another theatrical turn, the flavours of roquefort burst in my mouth instead of the chocolate I anticipate. The nutty and velvety texture are identical to the original and there is also a sweetness that is reminiscent of the real Ferrero Rocher. Unexpectedly, this is one of the highlights of the tasting menu for me, and it was matched by a heavenly Niepoort Port from the Douro Valley.
When a boiled egg arrives with salt and pepper shakers and soft bread, I am on the alert for trickery. The shell is pink chocolate filled with white coconut sorbet and a mango puree yolk. It is deliciously sweet and goes well with the sponge ‘bread’ and tonka bean and cinnamon spices. Continuing with the sugary hit, a divine chocolate bomb is presented with a lighter for the ‘wick’, and dry ice is poured onto my very own green Mastic plant, where I pick an exploding orange ‘fruit’ from a branch. This is a little sickly but I appreciate the unique presentation and the matching golden Malvasia wine from the island of Paros which is rich and intense with hints of burnt orange and warming Christmas spices.
Another favourite element is the heavenly Red Box, a treasure trove of fresh macarons, madeleines and chocolate truffles, beautifully presented in miniature drawers of a shining red box. These mouthwatering delicacies are matched by a heady single-estate coffee from Panama, freshly poured at your table.
It is all theatre and fun at Funky Gourmet – nothing is as you expect and you bite into each dish not quite knowing the direction the journey is taking. The performance even extends to the waiting staff who introduce each dish in cryptic, playful fashion, leaving the diner intrigued and eager for the next bite. But the reason Funky Gourmet has two Michelin stars and is regularly regarded as the best restaurant in Athens is that the quality of the flavours and the exquisite wine pairings match up to this sense of fun. The food really is as delicious as it is innovative.
I head down the dark staircase and out into the streets of Athens, feeling both inspired and a little bamboozled by my experience. I have the feeling that this evening will stay with me for some time, and not just because I will never look at a Ferrero Rocher in quite the same way again…
Chefs Georgianna Hiliadaki and Nikos Roussos opened Funky Gourmet in 2009, won their first Michelin star for the restaurant in 2012 and their second in 2014. They both trained at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York before working in several restaurants around the world then returning to their origins in Athens, Greece.
Address: Funky Gourmet, 13 Paramithias Street and Salaminos, Keramikos, Athens, 10435, +30 210 5242727, funkygourmet.com