The Greek has brought a slice of the eastern Med to Hull – at a price to write home about, says Dave Lee.
You know when you’re on holiday somewhere round the Med and you happen upon a really authentic little tapas or meze bar and you end up eating there every day for a week and when you get home you buy loads of terracotta dishes and try (and fail) to make the same stuff yourself while you bore everyone daft with tales of how you found this amazing place where you got incredible food for next to no money and if they ever go they really must try it? Well, imagine finding the same place but in the middle of Hull.
The Greek opened a few months ago and I’ve been four times now. Each time I’m delighted by the daily changing, handwritten menu,; I’m charmed by the all-Greek staff who joyfully wriggle through the linguistically-challenging ordering process and I’m left sated by the seemingly endless stream of dishes that keep appearing on the table despite being convinced I’d ordered only about three. I’m then extremely surprised by the much smaller than anticipated bill I’m handed at the end. It’s all rather marvellous.
The Greek is owned by John Alexakis who decided to close the former Fish and Chip Kitchen and return to his roots. Front of house is Greek-born Hull resident Yiannis Makris and his wife Mata is the chef who has moved from cooking for ten or so family members at the weekend to 40 or so strangers every day. That Mata has so confidently upscaled her cooking from home to commercial kitchen is testament to her skill as a chef. In turn, Mata credits her mother and grandmother for handing down the traditional dishes and cooking techniques she now employs.
I’m assuming her family lived somewhere inland in Greece as there are no fish or shellfish dishes on the menu (or there haven’t been whenever I’ve visited) so everything is either meat or veg, very simply cooked and sourced locally or direct from Greece when required. The feta, olives, capers etc are all flown in, while the meat and veg come from nearby butchers and grocers, bought fresh daily.
There is Greek beer, olive oil, vinegar and olive bread baked fresh every morning. You honestly might as well be in a bar in the backstreets of Agrinio or Konazi.
If you visit, you may find entirely different dishes served that day but I can recommend any of following. Dakos, which is Cretan salad along the lines of the Italian panzanella. It’s a bread salad made from barley rusk piled high with tomatoes, feta, black olives, parsley and tiny capers. The combined juices soak into the rusk to create a big dish of loveliness that would, by itself, make a satisfying lunch. And it’s only £6.
There’s Gemista, two oven-roasted peppers stuffed with rice and herbs and served with feta and potatoes pan-fried in olive oil. The rice is incredibly light and fragrant and the potatoes and feta add more tastes and texture to ensure nothing is too bland. It’s only £5.
There’s Bougourdi, which is like baked Camembert but instead it’s feta. The baking gives the cheese new, subtle, deeper flavours and when it’s piled onto olive bread you wonder how they can manage when they’re charging only £4.50 for it. Same with the spinach and feta pastry swirl for £4.80, which is so light and fluffy that you struggle to eat it either off a fork or with your fingers without it melting away before it reaches your mouth.
For £5, you get eight or nine juicy Keftedakia, meatballs served with yogurt. For 50 pence more you get Spetzofai, which is a plate full of slices of sausage cooked with peppers in a light tomato sauce. It’s all fantastic and it just goes on and on.
Dolmades for £3.50, chicken souvlaki (strips of grilled chicken served with chips and sauce in a pitta roll) for £4.50, and there are dips like tzatziki, hummus, garlic, spicy cheese and aubergine salad. It’s difficult to spend more than £20 without utterly stuffing yourself and I’ve not even mentioned afters yet.
Puddings also change daily but you may encounter Ravani (a simple, moist, tasty sponge cake soaked in sugar syrup) for just £2; Galaktoboureko (set milk and semolina sandwiched between filo pastry) for £3 or a dish of yogurt, honey and walnut, also for £3. You may not encounter any of these. That’s all part of the joy of being cooked for by people who are happy and confident making it up as they go along.
The pessimist in me would expect there to be a short window during which The Greek is a hugely attractive place to eat. Success will either push their prices up or they will want to move to larger premises and either of these eventualities may dilute what makes the place special, which is why I’m going to eat there as often as possible. Great, authentic food that satisfies and surprises at a ridiculously low price is too good a thing to not enjoy as much as you can, while you can.
The Greek, 78 Princes Avenue, Hull, HU5 3QP. Tel: 01482 440400. Open: 12 to 11pm every day.