The restaurant used to be located in one of the streets near Hull’s football stadium blighted by heavy parking restrictions, particularly on match days.
Mediterranean cuisine, it seems to me, shouldn’t be rushed. It’s food designed to be enjoyed languorously, preferably beneath a vine-strewn pergola with dappled sunlight dancing across the tablecloth. Having to bolt down your dolmades, saganaki and melitzanosalata because City are taking on Stoke round the corner and Dibble wants your scabby jalopy shifted simply isn’t conducive to creating an appropriately torporial state.
Thankfully, the owner of the Aegean recently decided to relocate to the unhurried environs of Newland Avenue. There is no pergola, but there is also no requirement to keep an eye on the clock and there is a marvellous full-wall front window that lets in the cool breeze on a warm early autumn evening. The time is now right for me to see what everyone had been banging on about.
At first, I thought the menu looked worryingly extensive. I’m always concerned that offering dozens of dishes means quality may suffer. Too much of the food may be cooked in advance and reheated or ingredients may be sourced more cheaply than is ideal. No such worries here, though. The menu features over two dozen dishes in the appetisers section alone, but I’ve tried around a third of them and they’ve all been fabulous so far. You’ll be familiar with dips like hummus and tyrokafteri and they arrive in generous portions tasting as good as I’ve ever had. Similarly, you’ll have enjoyed dolmades and halloumi and spetsofai and keftedes and they’re all present, correct and spot on.
There were a few appetisers I was unfamiliar with; lountza, a grilled smoked pork joint, was surprisingly spicy with a texture that demands you chew it so you end up looking like a cowboy gnawing on jerky. This sounds like a negative but isn’t. Fried courgette cake arrived in the form of three small-ish patties containing mashed courgette and feta. Amongst the stiff competition, they were the best things I ate all night. Light and flavourful and covered in just the right amount of crunch. Saganaki is the name of the pan the Greek fry cheese in. What I was served was simply called saganaki cheese but I’m fairly sure it was halloumi. But when you’re stuffing fried cheese in your face, you rarely stop to ask for detail.
As is my want, I demurred from the fish dishes but the dozen options on that section of the menu would, I’m sure, satisfy anyone with pescatarian tendencies. There is calamari and grilled octopus and the like but the couple on the table next to ours were able to confirm that the grilled bream and bass were excellent.
I plumped, as usual, for meat. The mixed souvlaki is four skewers of charcoal-grilled pork, chicken, lamb and mixed kofte placed on a chunky pitta so that the meaty juices soak right in. This is where the leftover dips you’ve cannily saved from the appetisers come into their own. Every bite of meat is accompanied by a scoop of taramasalata or tzatziki or (best of all) melitzanosalata so that you draw different flavours from the meat with each succulent mouthful.
Vegetarians are also well catered for, with salads and stuffed peppers and baked aubergine and the like. And there are other filling, good value dishes such as pastitsio and stifado, should you fancy a more wallet-friendly lunch. The range of desserts include perfect baklava, kataifi and a custardy-filo-syrup delight called galaktoboureko that was new to me but became an instant favourite.
The owner and chef at the Aegean is Simon Koliandris, a Cypriot who landed on these shores in the 90s and has slowly, inexorably worked his way to Hull. The Aegean is his first restaurant and he’s clearly revelling in finally arriving in his home-away-from-home. His restaurant bustles with life and laughter and both are fuelled by great food. It’s clearly the sort of place you turn to when you absolutely need a good feed. I was put off visiting previously because of the parking but I am now in danger of becoming a permanent resident. I may just sell my car and move in.
The Aegean, 17-19 Newland Avenue, Hull, HU5 3AG, tel: 01482 568866, www.aegeantaverna.co.uk. Open noon to 10pm, every day
drinks selection 4/5