Aristotle Onassis was a Greek shipping magnate, business tycoon and one of the world’s richest men. The Onassis Cultural Center, entirely funded by his estate’s public benefit foundation, opened in Athens in 2010. It houses two amphitheaters and covers a city block just south of the city center. On the top floor and roof terrace of this graceful, hyper modern white marble and glass edifice, is the restaurant “Hytra,” taking its name from a clay cooking-vessel used in ancient Greece. This may strike one as a total associative clash, but somehow miraculously, over a 14-course meal, it reveals itself as a perfect match.
The interior - a bar, a lounge, the dining area, both inside and out under the stars - was recently re-designed and can hold its own with any space done by the world’s top contemporary architects. You’re high up, with glass all around, a view of the acropolis. The dining area’s tables are round, black and featureless. It seems impersonal, until you interact with the staff, conveying a friendly professionalism that seems sincere and makes you feel everyone is happy to be here. And over the course of the meal, you pretty much meet them all. The sommeliers take turns serving you according to what they’re passionate about; the assistant chefs individually bring what they just prepared to the table. It almost feels like being spoiled by a very big family. And after a while you get where the good vibes are coming from. They are all part of something exiting and creative, a vision of modern Greek gastronomy held by their two-star-decorated ringleader, chef Anastasios Mantis. The food is a revelation. Every element is sourced is Greece with meticulous attention to quality, tradition and sustainability. Wild apples, and almonds, sloes and pine resin, and I could go on and on about the things you discover. There is an herb garden adjacent to the kitchen. A hothouse has recently been added to the roof terrace.
Among the many standouts were a surprising ‘Chef's Garden,’ combining herbs, greens, vegetables and flowers, bread with cannabis seeds, a lamb tartare wrapped in rock samphire leaves (Crithmum maritimum, sea fennel or Salicornia). The black pork (an ancient breed) came with sea-buckthorn, fermented carrots and marigold flowers. The beef cheeks were bathing in pickled onions, salsify and lemon thyme. Dabs of fresh goat cheese and fresh herbs were on a carob cracker shaped like a tree. And the tsourekki (a Greek Easter brioche) was adorned with mastic ice cream.
The wine list is extensive with many small biodynamic vintages. Again, your horizons of what Greece has to offer will be raised. And as you progress through the 14-course tasting menu, with the individual plate presentation on Greek handmade ceramics, you enjoy the lightness of an esthetic and gastronomical journey, both innovative and rooted in ancient tradition, that makes the mismatch of an antique name with a hyper modern setting seem logical and fitting.
Onassis Cultural Center
107-109 Syngrou avenue