Growing up, Nikos Thomas’ passion had always been music. Born and raised in Sparta, he moved to Athens for school, but instead of going to class, he spent his time drumming for his band, The Darkstar.
When Thomas was desperately looking for work in 2005, he was forced to switch gears and take on a particularly unglamorous gig: working at the Hooters in Athens Mall as a grill cook, the best-paying job he could find. Little did this rocker know he would be sacrificing his life-long passion of music for a new and tastier one – cooking.
Two years out from his Hooters gig, Nikos found himself enrolled at a chefs’ school, eventually moving on to work in restaurants, then hired on as chef at a hotel on the island of Zakynthos. And as Nikos opened himself up to new passions, more found its way into his life. On Zakynthos, Nikos met Alexandra Gasparinatou, who had just come out of a chefs’ school herself. With some support from Alexandra’s family, who were inspired by Nikos’ talent, the couple began making plans to open the quietly trendy Simul, the modern Greek bistro on the outskirts of Kolonaki they now run. Their shared vision inspired the name, which is the Latin word for “together.”
Simul opened its doors in December 2015 on a residential street off the beaten path in central Athens, on the ground floor of a charming apartment block, which for 25 years housed Prunier, a legendary French bistro. The old-school space was transformed into a modern, minimalist restaurant with beautiful lighting that somehow manages to evoke a cozy, welcoming vibe. Their small, cute courtyard with only half a dozen tables makes for just the right spot in the warm months of spring and summer.
The menu is modern Greek that incorporates advanced techniques and plenty of fusion elements, all skillfully blended with unique ingredients and flavors that amount to surprisingly familiar results. It’s a far cry from the franchise American burgers-and-fries-fare of 10 years ago, when Nikos first discovered his talent in the kitchen. Take, for instance, his perfectly grilled calamari, served with creamed parsley root and dressed in a coconut-lime sauce. Although here the generally traditional calamari is primarily cooked with non-traditional Greek ingredients like coconut, lime and cilantro, the final result is unexpectedly close to the classic avgolemono (egg and lemon sauce) – a staple Greek emulsion. It’s familiar, contemporary and light.
The seasonal menu changes twice a year, including the desserts, allowing for only high-quality ingredients. Nikos and Alexandra strive to get all their supplies from small local producers. The seafood comes from a fisherman on the island of Euboea. The lamb is from the famous Athenian butcher, Papoulias, and is brought to Athens from Tripoli, in the Peloponnese. The trout, trahana and early harvest olive oil come from Sparta; the microgreens (including edible flowers and sprouts) from a local farm in Lagonisi; the mushrooms are from Filippopoulos, a famous mushroom hunter in Athens; the list goes on. This time next year, the couple is hoping to open a small farm to source even more of their ingredients.
You will be welcomed at Simul with a basket of homemade bread, including traditional sourdough and carob, that comes along with solid early harvest olive oil – fantastic to spread on a freshly baked heel – and stamnotyri from Andros island, a creamy white goat cheese that has a slightly sour aftertaste and that is flavored with mastic. This cheese is also used in Nikos’ tomato salad, a beautiful plate with impossibly fresh tomatoes and strawberries. It’s accompanied by cucumber sorbet and a delightfully creamy cheese. Nikos particularly enjoys cooking with seafood, and we must say that these dishes are remarkable. Apart from the calamari, we recommend you try the ray cheeks, served with perfectly fried potato gnocchi, creamed cauliflower and black garlic (a favorite ingredient in Greece for the past few years).
Nikos’ signature dish, however, which is on the menu all year round, is the rooster. Slow-cooked in red wine, it’s served with sour trahana – made almost risotto-like for a velvety, comforting effect – and arseniko cheese from Naxos island. Apart from these a la cart treats, the ever-hip Simul also offers a tasting menu, labeled #bistronomy. On the hashtagged list are seven dishes, including handmade brioche stuffed with stifado (rabbit stew made with shallots, red wine, cinnamon and rosemary).
But let’s not forget the desserts. In charge of all things pastry is the young and talented Emmanuela Delatola, whose sweets are currently fresh and light in anticipation of summer. All the ice creams and sorbets are prepared in-house with fresh ingredients, of course, and they are just remarkable. Among our favorites was the mango and passionfruit sorbet, wrapped like a dumpling in fresh mango carpaccio, served on olive oil crumble and tahini and white chocolate “rocks.”
Excellent bottles produced in small numbers from the less-famous wineries around Greece adorn the wine list, which meshes well with the bistro’s concept of supporting the small and local, and are carefully selected to perfectly pair with the dishes. A new cocktail menu with a Greek core has been recently added – every drink is based on Greek distillates. Like the wine, they are paired with the restaurant’s dishes, and they carry the signature of well-known bartender Stamatis Stamatiadis.
Friendly and passionate service, inventive dishes, reasonable prices and a casually elegant vibe – it’s hard to believe that we have a starting job at Hooters to thank for all of this.