Syndagma square is the bulls-eye center of Athens, a nexus of traffic, girded by Parliament, hotels and the busiest shopping area at the foot of the acropolis. On a street corner, two blocks down, among a string of eateries and bars is Nolan. There is no name anywhere on the outside, or on the concrete door that must weigh a ton. The bare tables on the sidewalk looked too cramped to be suitable for a meal. It was high noon and no one was eating. I walked right past it, twice.
Inside is a small dining area and a row of seats along one wall. Past a built-in counter where the manager lingers, you can spy the kitchen. We sat outside, occasionally interrupted by traffic noise, and were warned not to leave our phones on the table where someone could snatch them. Call it a very urban feel. But once you take a look at the simple grey menu, you realize, this place is special.
Clams with peanuts - mackerel, smoked bacon and beans - shrimp and anchovy in rice paper - zucchini with miso and smoked eggplant salad - burned cabbage and cauliflower with aged white Naxos cheese - greens with souzouk and bonito - amberjack with radish - bean noodles with tomato and octopus. And there’s more. Ingredients and techniques from all over Asia and Greece - if you’re wondering what to drink with this panoply, pick the 2016 Hatzidakis Assyrtiko, which is a dry white from Santorini and just perfect.
Service is friendly and professional. The dishes are to be shared, so that you can get a taste of as many as possible. The presentation is attractive, the apportioned elements thoughtfully balanced. The chef, Sotiris Kontizas, is Greek/Japanese and, in addition to a bunch of awards and national fame as a Master Chef TV judge, he recently garnered the most votes by far in a magazine campaign to determine the best chef in town.
So, uninformed and just strolling past, you may think just another trendy, urban café/restaurant/bar whatever… stop! The food at Nolan you can only get at Nolan, and it will make you yearn to return, again and again. Be warned, for dinner, you’ll need a reservation.