Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Loyia tis Ploris (Λόγια της Πλώρης)

Have you ever experienced a meal that was prepared and cooked as exquisitely as it was served to you? For me, this is a rare occasion, but as fate would have it, it could not be avoided. As a Greek food blogger, it is impossible not to visit Λόγια της Πλώρης (Loyia tis Ploris). Practically all the Greek food bloggers I know have been there, so it seems inevitable that I would somehow end up there too.

loyia tis ploris athens fish taverna

The first to discover this restaurant in a charming side street of the dingy main road leading out of Athens towards the west was Laurie, who chanced upon this gem of a place through a leisurely stroll in an area not many people would think to look for a fish taverna of exceptional taste and quality:

"Logia tis Ploris is a fish taverna, on a narrow pedestrian walkway, in a quiet, aging, residential neighborhood one block off busy Peiraios Street. The young owners have tastefully renovated a neoclassical house, and serve food one is more likely to encounter at a table near than sea than in downtown Athens."

decided to follow her by taking Peter to Loyia tis Ploris on his most recent trip to Greece:

"How often does it happen that one meets a fellow bloger who lives on the other side of the world in an Athenian restaurant suggested to you by another fellow blogger who lives in Alaska? Not at all often, I would say, unless you have Greek roots such as Gourmet Peter whom I had the good fortune to meet after a year's worth of blogging friendship."

You don't believe this could happen? The proof is in Peter's photographs:

"The taverna was very quiet, the music kept to a minimum and the service prompt. We ordered off the menu like a kid in a candy store with mom's stolen purse...we barely had any elbow room on the table!"

mediterranean cooking in alaska
(Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska arrives in Crete)

It was only natural that I follow in their footsteps, or should I say, Laurie's footsteps, because I would never have thought of walking westwards in central Athens in the evening. I couldn't explain why I was perturbed at the thought of going west, leaving the lit-up rock of the Acropolis behind us. Indeed, on that one day I spent in the capital, I had stayed overnight at a relative's house in the west, bombarded by the dust, debris and cement in one of the dirtiest suburbs in the whole of Greater Athens. "It's just off Ιερά Οδός (Iera Odos)," explained my friend, who didn't know that I had been doing most of my shopping on Iera Odos at the street market during my years of teaching in an English language school in Egaleo.

parthenon at sunset athens
(A magical early October evening in the capital city; even the stars and moon were present.)

So, here I was following someone I had never met before in my life through the dreariest Athenian suburbs, wondering where I would end up. Although I have been living in Greece for a long time, Crete cannot be likened to Athens in any way; it felt strange to be walking through a part of Greece that reminded me of the alternative cafe culture as I remembered it in Wellington: dark rooms, smoky lights, modern furniture bordering on the eccentric. In early October, Hania had practically 'shut down' until the next tourist season in the following year; yet, here I was walking around in an area that was just starting to burst into life, with its indoor entertainment targeting youth.

When we finally arrived at the restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised; I felt as if I had been transported to the Athens of the old black-and-white movies, where everyone lived in brick houses whose windowsills were decorated with flowerboxes filled with gardenias and geraniums. The atmosphere of Loyia tis Ploris did this neighbourhood justice; there were some tables arranged in an outdoor patio, with pretty tablecloths and a little vase of flowers in the centre. It was too cold to sit outside that night, so we entered the restaurant...

... and sat at the same table as Peter and Ioanna, the last Greek food bloggers to visit Loyia tis Ploris. Window seats always have a special lure to them, even if the view shows an evening setting. As we ate our meal, we watched people opening their windows, closing the shutters, switching off lights, locking their doors for the night, retiring for the day, on a quiet Sunday evening in the heart of old-time Athens.

There were few people in the restaurant that night. The music was not too intrusive, but the emptiness of the room unnerved me slightly. Loyia tis Ploris is big on live music; on a Sunday night, this is not a possibility, as most people in the neighbourhood would be annoyed by the noise, especially if they were trying to get a good night's sleep before going to work the next day. Maybe this is why the restaurant wasn't too full. There was a small group of young people chatting wildly in Greek and English, and a trio of Greek males who looked as though they had met up at the restaurant to discuss some private business. We were the third group of customers for the evening.

A good-looking friendly young man came to take our order, explaining that every single item on the menu was available. We started with some aromatic tender smoked fish fillets (μπακαλιάρος - bakaliaros; cod) and a mashed bean dip (φάβα παντρεμένη - fava pantremeni), served with some fresh bread. The meal continued with a spectacular salad served in a 'boat', which is only fitting for a restaurant named Loyia tis Ploris: "words of the prow". The white house wine was a perfect accompaniment.

fava pantremeni and smoked bakaliaros cod loyia tis ploris salad

Another boat followed: fresh shellfish in a dill sauce. Just as the wine was beginning to run out, another carafe magically appeared on the table, without being invited.

loyia tis ploris cockles in dill sauce loyia tis ploris shells

The west of the night was vewy blerwy. I wemember a pan of fennel-scented pasta being plonked in front of me, with some shellfish floating on top of it. Were dey cwabs making a won for wit? I twyed to photogwaph em, but the plate kept moving. Or was it my camewa? I only managed to gwab a shot of em az zere carcasses lay on top of the cockle shells. When we asked for the bill, they must have bought us somefing sweet, az I wemember eating desert. I jus carn wemember what it was. I thing it was before the expanding peppermints emerged. Whatever it was, it was wewy wewy good...

My friends knew better what to choose to eat at Loyia tis Ploris than I did; after all, they cook the same kind of food in their kitchens that we ate at Loyia tis Ploris. If you want to try some fancy fava dip, look no further than on Laurie's, Peter's and Ioanna's websites. For a child-friendly version, try mine. You could also try making your own pasta (like Ioanna did) and then serving it with a spectacular shellfish pasta, like Peter's; pick out the shellfish before serving to children and just say 'makaronada'. For an exquisite dressing for shellfish, try Laurie; if the kids don't like 'em, eat 'em all yourself.

Loyia tis Ploris has clearly become a cult classic in the food blogosphere. I extend the invitation to all food bloggers despite their cultural inclination, and may I meet up with more of you. And please, do come to Hania where I'll serve up seasonal goodies from our garden on our balcony with a view of the port of Souda and the nightly ferry boat; we're waiting for you.

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