Walking into the venue on a Wednesday evening, the atmosphere was so lively, it could easily have been a Saturday night. A few minutes away from Shoreditch High Street station, this branch of The Athenian can be found in Unit 54. The popular hang-out can be found in a number of locations across London, including their latest opening in Tooting Market in south London.
We really liked the easy to read menu that was presented to us as soon as we entered the restaurant, which explains what each dish is, and where it originates from.
Price Tag: £
Occasion: Catch up, friends, casual date night
Location: Boxpark Unit 54, 2-10 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6GY
The Athenian provides two key classics: Souvlaki and Gyros (pronounced: gi-ros). A gyros is simply shavings of meat marinated in herbs, lemon juice and olive oil, whilst Souvlaki are thick cuts of meat on a skewer.
Despite sticking to traditional Greek food, the key items on the menu can be adapted for those with different dietary requirements. For example, there is the gluten-free Naked Souvlaki which is simply a wrap less version of the main dishes, then for vegans, there’s a variety of croquettes and a Vegan Seitan Gyros, which is as high in protein as meat.
As recommended, we ordered the Chicken and Halloumi Souvlaki with the honey mustard sauce (£7.90 including a drink). The chicken was tender and moist, and the light honey mustard sauce complimented it well, it wasn’t too sweet or tangy. Additionally, the bread to meat ratio was impressive; there was a generous amount of meat and chips, accompanied with a thick and soft bread. The halloumi was also a great cheese option to complement the chicken with. Overall, we found that the fresh and simple flavours were very close to the ones in Greece, with the only difference being the honey mustard sauce which was a nice twist regardless.
The second dish was the Pork Gyros with Tzatziki sauce, a mixture of yoghurt, cucumber and garlic (£6.90 including a drink). This was recommended as pork is the popular choice for a Gyros in Greece. Usually pork can be rather heavy, but the thin shavings made it super light and easy to digest. Out of both the Souvlaki and Gyros I definitely felt this dish had more flavour. The thin cuts really allowed the flavours to seep through into the meat. Similar to the Souvlaki, the bread was also thick and soft, and the yoghurt-based sauce was a good simple option, as it gave the dish a very subtle yet light zingy finish.
DRINKS & DESSERT
Sticking to the theme of authenticity, all ingredients and almost everything in the restaurant is sourced from Greece. You can treat yourself to a green can of Coca-Cola (£1 with a meal, £1.60 individually), a less sugary version of the original. Then there is Epsa, a popular choice of lemonade in Greece, which also comes in an orangeade flavour, and then there’s the Argo beer (£3.60). For those with a sweet tooth there is a chocolate option called Ion (£2.30) which is a chocolate bar, that comes in both a Milk Chocolate and Almond flavour.
This really depends on whether you like loud, lively environments. For me personally, I prefer quiet and calmness, however, I did like the energy of having loads of people around who were clearly having a good time. Keep in mind, this venue is always busy especially during the evenings, so if you like it when it’s quieter go closer to the opening time (early lunch time).
Visiting this spot is a reminder that food doesn’t have to be ostentatious to be good. It’s also a lesson as to why it is important to respect the authenticity of different cuisines. The Athenian shows that it is possible to adapt traditional food to meet the market, without completely stripping dishes of their heritage.