Greece has not got that many fine dining restaurants to offer to gourmets and the chances one may have to taste top dishes are limited, especially if one is looking for Greek gourmet cuisine. The only restaurant, so far, that promises a genuine Greek dinner which can meet one’s sophisticated tastes, is Varoulko.
Lefteris Lazarou, Varoulko’s Head Chef, started cooking at young age at his father’s side, a cook on ships, who infused him with love for creation and cooking. Lazarou has had the chance to travel all over the Mediterranean Sea and experience different national cuisines that inspired him and provided him with the needed influences to create his own signature dishes. In 1987, he opened his first restaurant in his home town, Piraeus, which soon became “talk of the town” because of his groundbreaking, gourmet dishes. He was the first Greek chef who “dared” to present Greek fish in haute cuisine creations.
In 2004, the restaurant moved to a new location, in Athens’ centre, with its terrace overlooking the perennial Parthenon temple, offering, during the summer months, a magnificent and romantic view. On the other hand, its main dining room, although low-ceilinged, is well lit up and decorated smartly, with long, blue curtains reminding of the sea. The friendly, smiling welcome of Varoulko’s personnel and the experienced service bring the Greek hospitality to mind.
Lefteris Lazarou’s practice of proposing a personalised degustation menu, based on the main menu’s dishes, according to your tastes and taking into consideration any possible fish allergies, and his habit of coming out of the kitchen to meet and talk with his guests, gives the impression that one is paying a visit to his own house. As expected, Varoulko’s dishes are inspired from the sea and are almost exclusively fish oriented. Their origin is obviously Greek, but they are influenced by Lazarou’s experiences from his travels. This is why, in every dish one can find exotic ingredients, such as avocado, blended with Greek produces in a gourmet, balanced and an aromatic ensemble of clams with avocado, served in a slightly acidic broth with coriander to smoothen the textures and the taste.
Varoulko’s principle is simple. They cook only with fresh ingredients and this is reflected on the dishes. The daily come in of fresh striped sea bream is coated with slices of crunchy bread and is served with a velvety smooth mousse of smoked aubergine, the gourmet version of a traditional Greek delicacy, and a touch of red berry mousse that brings out the needed acidity to complete the dish.
Additionally, Lazarou proves his talent in his signature dish, which as soon as it was first presented many years ago, became an instant hit and was copied widely. He cooks his interpretation of risotto, using Greek kritharáki (barley), cooked in al dente style, quenched with Limnio wine (a Greek aromatic wine from the Muscat grape variety), fully flavoured and served with juicy langoustine, spiced with cappuccino leaves. Accompany the dish with a glass of fresh wine of Assyrtiko variety, from Sanotrini, and you will have a memorable experience. On the same page,
the tastefully presented minced langoustine meat, cooked in veal broth and served on top of two fresh ravioli filled with truffle paste, indicates that Lazarou has found the secret of making delicious dishes.
And when the time for the dessert comes the Gran Couva chocolate cigar, made of crunchy cocoa biscuit filled with chocolate and crunchy pearls, is presented as a real one. The cigar is served in an ash tray with ash made out of granulated sugar and squid ink powder. The “explosive” accompanying refreshment drink of exotic fruits will bring childhood memories to mind.
Simple, straightforward flavours in balanced, haute cuisine fish creations is what Varoulko promises and executes brilliantly. No taste gets distinguished and nothing is too much or too little in Lefteris Lazarou’s dishes, who offers his guest a Greek fine dining night.
Images courtesy of Varoulko
Written by Lazaros