Wednesday, 25 September 2013

I wandered hungry like a cloud, the smell of garlic smoothly lied

Maybe the location should of been a warning  and maybe the name should of leapt out at me in large glaring warning klaxons, even it's inviting Greek music on the tanoy distracted me from the final nail in the coffin.... "Authentic Greek Cuisine" but I got taken in long enough to order food in the Bigg Market's Greek Taverna... optimistically called Simply Greek Tavern  ( 2-4 Bigg Market). In fact for an eatery that serves authentic Greek cuisine, there wasn't a lot of Greeks in the place or Greek on the menu, we had to translate backwards to know what we were ordering.

In my defence, by the time I knew I had made an error it was too late to get away. The lovely slavic waitress and the genuinely Greek manager had both been around  a few times to see if we were "aright" and hoped it was lovely. In typical English deference we nodded politely first few times then I had to say something about the alleged Greek Salad ( more on that later). Our first warning sign  should of been  when I asked our waitress if the tzadziki was proper garlicky or not. She said rather honestly that it depended on the day. I know , I know, but we were already sat down and hoping to be fed in short order. As it turns out the tzadziki was a fine medium strength, but not nearly as strong as I like it.

What really upset me was the downward slide of the experience from the moment we entered the place. It started well enough, the smell of garlic in the air, the sound of current top 40 Greek tunes wafting through the air, sufficiently Greek decor of the 70's kind abounded. Surely these were signs that our hosts had spent more money on the food than the dinning room. Our first course arrived and proceeded to underwhelm us. Consisting of  a plate of Spanakopita, or as the menu helpfully told us...spinach pie, with a Greek salad and side order of Tzadziki and bread , the items in question were ok  to passable to what the hell is this.  Beginning with the best bits, the tzadziki was properly thick, well blended with garlic, olive oil  salt and dill, though mint does just as well. It could have been stronger  and there should have been on offer a medium or a strong, but as I said, acceptable to someone who has had the stuff prepared by "genuine Greeks".  As for the Spanakopita, it was ok, a bit mild, it was missing a few signature touches  but not so much that a hungry person could not forgive the leaving out of larger doses of Feta or Ricotta cheese. The seasoning was passable and the finished product  as served while a bit thin was well baked and ticked enough of the boxes to make it an acceptable though hardly awe inspiring starter.

Where the meal fell apart was the main. We were told it was Geordie portions and so only ordered the one of the Souvlaki chicken platter and split it. Did we want rice or chips with that? Again with the bloody chips! Of course we wanted the rice, and it came with a Greek salad. Let's first tell you what each component is supposed to look like  and  prepared properly.

The meat on sticks kebab part on offer (lamb is the real stuff but you know) is supposed to have chicken  bits marinated for at least a few hours if not overnight in a combination of garlic, yoghurt, olive oil, oregano or some other herb, as well a few other not so secret ingredients. This is then grilled and served all lovingly and gloriously smothered in tzadziki that waits on the side for dipping in.  What we got was something I would get in a Polish kitchen if my Gran had roasted a chicken in the oven after having hacked it to bits and skewered it. Tender, juicy and tasting of nothing but chicken fat. If that was Greek I'm Prince Phillip.

Moving along to the salad also purporting itself to be Greek, we firmly expected a healthy portion of onions, tomato, feta cheese, olives, more herbs and spices and olive oil etc.... What we got could only be described as a miserly tiny, shallow bowl of unmixed veg that might one day when it grew up be a French salad of some sort with a totally un required single hot pepper.

Lastly, the rice we were promised should have been a heaping spread of flavoured rice cooked in chicken broth and drizzled with the juices of the above mentioned Souvlaki mixed further with a few bits of chopped savory through it. Yum, I couldn't wait.... I'm still waiting, what sat there instead in a small pile dumped from a bowl shape off Masterchef, was a small perfectly cooked cup of  white steamed rice any Chinese chef would be proud of. Besides being not nearly enough, this was in  no way Greek, not even vaguely Mediterranean and it was bland.

If you are like some people, you want to dip your roast Polish Chicken in Tzadziki sauce, it was there but hardly enough to even stain two skewers worth.

Can you tell what I think happens here? Sure you do, in fact you might have guessed by now. The Spanakopita is made somewhere else and heated up, can't screw that up. The sauce is made on the spot sometimes and there is no quality control, seems we got lucky on the day.  Lastly the chicken takes 20 minutes to make we were told, I expect that's 10 to 15 minutes to marinate in what ever they think they can fool us with then another 10  minutes in the oven. What no frying first to seal in the flavours????

This alleged genuine Greek Taverna is nothing but a place where locals with no tastebuds come to brave Continental food. If you've ever eaten anywhere in Greece, in a Greek home or lived in a Greek area in any major urban centre, you would, like the lone other poor bastard in the place, sat with his ill informed mates who swore blind this was the best in town, have through the meal wondered how it could have gone so terribly wrong. He was the lucky one as he seemed to not have to pay for his erm ... meal. We being honest souls accepted that some sort of food had been brought to us, it was cooked sufficiently to not harm us and if we pretended it wasn't Greek, it might be something my wife's Jewish Grandmother in Brooklyn might have cooked for the high holydays. On these grounds and these grounds alone, I consented to pay the grossly overpriced addition of £26.70.

I told the front of house man that his ancestors were weeping and that was never in a million years Greek, or even mock Mediterranean. His body language was that of a man rumbled for selling his soul to the "you want chips with that" Gods. I suspect he doesn't eat off the menu or take his Mother there, that alone would kill her and she'd never speak to him again. I'd be embarrassed too, but if you are prepared to throw out basic standards to make a bit of money, it's a sort of business model I suppose.

If you want authentic Greek cuisine... go to fecking Greece, or London or Paris. Save your money and reputation. I may one day find real Greek food in Newcastle, but not today. Stay away from this so called Bouzouki palace, life is too short and money too valuable to throw away on confused soulless bistros that put bechamel sauce in moussaka, Oh G-d I think I'm going to be ill.

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