Housed in a restored neoclassical villa, the place alone is worth visiting for its abundance of, let's say, overambitious décor elements that suggest the endeavours of an artsy spirit with meandering tastes. There are two indoor dining rooms, upstairs and downstairs, (white teacups suspended from chandeliers, winged statues, a porcelain doll sitting on a glass ball lamp, giant red glass apples next to a gold figurine and fake books on a black settee, among many more knickknacks no burglar would steal). And there is a wonderful, stone-tiled, shaded patio, with high old walls providing sanctuary from the noisy bustle of central Athens.
At the bar, (where the leather-and-wood stools stand on see-through floor tiles above a cute rock garden) we had the Domaine Tselepos ‘Amalia’ Brut, a Moschofilero from Arcadia, with refreshingly acidic fine bubbles, from which, according to Fabien’s refined nose and palate, emerged aromas of rose petals, brioche and honey. Service was attentive and cordial. After the first glass, the décor somehow drew together to provide a feeling of coziness, maybe from every shelf and corner bearing friendly objects that, if anything, radiate good intentions.
The food is world-class contemporary and probably deserving of a Michelin star, yet firmly rooted in Greece. Mr. Xenakis, the chef, is part of what is being called the Greek Creative Cuisine movement, and he’s one of the best of the bunch. What this culinary trend does is use top skills and techniques and the richness and quality of local ingredients to creatively re-invent and expand upon ancient mainstays. Its propagators grew up on traditional home cooking, which gives them such a sure hand with the source material. Just the appetizers show it. What is traditionally a Chortopita, a flabby poor man’s pie of greens wrapped in filo dough, becomes a crunchy pocket bursting with flavor. A take on the traditional friend salted cod: a crackling baked potato filled with mullet roe and cod. The classic beetroot and yoghurt is enlivened with raspberry. The Saganaki, usually a salty, rubbery slab, is delicious when the goat cheese melts from its crust, paired with a salad that features fennel, apple and truffle honey and a sprinkling of hazelnuts.
Straying a bit from purely “traditional” bases, the elements nevertheless stay grounded in tradition. Like with a crème brulé of feta paired with pickled watermelon, or with Scallops in Tahini (sesame seed paste) with Jerusalem artichoke, a delicate and delicious dish. At this point, Fabien would like me to point out that we had a Domaine Hatzidakis, Assyrtiko, from Santorini, year 2016, which was turning into one of our favorite wines on our Athens food tour. Then the Domaine Bosinakis - Moschofilero "Mantinia" 2016, with a lemony and floral taste, fruity and citrusy. And the organic chicken with egg and wheat was paired with a Domaine Gentilini Robola from Kefalonia, 2017. Note that the complexity of this wine, with flavors of lime, apple, grapefruit, and a finish of toasted bread, originate from the plot selection. Fat in the mouth with a slight minerality, ending with a round acidity. And Fabien isn’t done yet: The 2016 Ktima Gerovassiliou Viognier enhanced the ash-baked potatoes, wild mushrooms, black truffle, smoked cheese from Naousa. And the pasta with oxtail and shiitake was lit up by the 2015 Domaine Zafeirakis Limniona. Its hints of blackcurrant, cherry, strawberry jam, licorice, violet but also white pepper and spices, all vibrate in unison. Fabien adds that the roasted lamb, with tomato, butter beans, celeriac and kale combined tenderly with the Dougos Rapsani Old Vines 2015. Its aromas of tomato and red berries, coupled with notes of tobacco and ham, bring a botanical finesse to the spice's sweetness. I’d say it was all good stuff.
The conclusion of our visit for me didn’t lie in the excellent chocolate, orange, vanilla and mint ice cream, as Fabien would have it, but in the fact that, walking out, I was at peace with whoever decorated the place. Maybe all this stuff was meant as a joke on people like me who take their esthetic opinions too seriously. Like going home: in most cases, and definitely in my own, you have to see beyond the kitsch your mom has standing around to embrace the essentials. Aleria is definitely embraceable.
Megalou Alexandrou 57
104 35 Metaxourgio - Athens