Koukaki, in central Athens, is one of those neighborhoods that in the past few years has seen a great deal of development, despite Greece’s economic recession.
Conveniently located near the Acropolis Museum, the new Contemporary Art Museum and Panteion University, this once-quiet residential district has become the talk of the town among food lovers and night owls. Modern and traditional eateries, cafeterias, bars and bakeries keep popping up, and as competition gets tougher, the quality gets better and prices get all the more attractive. (A rising tide, as they say.)
Fabrika tou Efrosinou opened its doors almost two years ago. Its unusual and clever name immediately captures one’s attention: Fabrika, factory in Russian, has the same meaning in Greek slang, usually with communist connotations; Efrosinos is the Greek Orthodox patron saint of all cooks.
Co-owner Giorgos Gatsos is the restaurant’s chef and seems to have been blessed by Saint Efrosinos. From his father, who was a fisherman, he learned to love and appreciate simple traditional cooking using few but high-quality ingredients. He studied theology in Belgrade and spent much time in Greek monasteries – especially at Agion Oros (Mount Athos or the Autonomous Monastic State of the Holy Mountain, located in northeastern Greece and an important center of Christian Orthodox Monasticism), where he was trained in monastery-style cooking. Monastery cuisine is an important part of traditional Greek cooking – and one of the healthiest – focusing primarily on fresh seasonal vegetables and legumes, artisanal cheeses and yogurt, sourdough bread, olive oil and wine.
Gatsos’s partner, Athina Tsoli, is a devoted and accomplished winemaker with a great passion for good food. She studied agricultural science in Greece and later oenology in Bordeaux. She collaborates with specific vineyards in Naousa, Santorini and Goumenitsa where old, local varieties are cultivated and produces her own wine, under the label Athina. Unsurprisingly, the wine list here is top notch.
The atmosphere at Fabrika tou Efrosinou is vibrant and modern. Serbian artist Gora oversaw the interior design, which combines elements of a traditional kafenio with contemporary artworks and unique retro pieces like the antique refrigerator and the bronze chandeliers hanging on the ceiling – which, incidentally, came from the summer home of Josip Broz Tito, the revolutionary leader of former Yugoslavia.
The menu is simple, focusing on traditional, seasonal dishes from different regions of Greece, using special ingredients brought in from all over the country, and executed in a more modern and refined way. The daily specials are plenty and varied, but always faithful to the restaurant’s main philosophy.
Portions are generous here, and we recommend ordering a few dishes to share. We thoroughly enjoyed a beautiful carrot salad with almonds and chopped rose loukoumi (the Greek version of Turkish delight). We also ordered the savory pumpkin pie with goat-milk feta and the meat pie, both delicious. The grilled manouri (a white, semi-soft, mild, creamy cheese made from goat or sheep’s milk, with a subtle nutty flavor) was perfectly complemented by an olive marmalade and sesame seeds. The fish pastourma (cured, smoked cod fillet with fenugreek and sea salt) was also excellent. If available, isli kefte, cracked wheat patties stuffed with minced meat and pine nuts, are a must-try, and we loved the sarmadakia, bite-sized dolma with rice and herbs served with yogurt. As a main we had the slow-roasted rooster, served with hand-made Greek-style noodles, and for dessert a carob tart with orange cream and a yogurt mousse with lemon zest, a lovely ending to this delightful meal.
Gatsos and Tsoli have invested this restaurant with their passion and expertise and it shows. “We rely on human relationships,” Tsoli says, “and are proud of the knowledge, simplicity and love for food [we’ve] inherited from our families.”