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What do shakshuka, kibbeh, nachos, hummus, crepes and a turkey club sandwich have in common? They are all on the menu of The Spot, a charming comfort-food/tapas bar with a global pedigree that opened in October not far from the pedestrianized road that circles the Acropolis. And they are there because they are all personal favorites of the owners, Turkish-born Aysegul Ozden Trifyllis and her Greek husband Yiannis Trifyllis.

“We don’t want to fit into a niche,” Aysegul told us when we visited one balmy day in early November. “That’s why we didn’t make our food just Turkish or Greek.”

Given their story, there’s no way The Spot can be forced into a niche. The couple met online in the late 90s, in a chat room when Aysegul was looking for a Greek with whom she could discuss the Imia crisis, which almost led to war when Turkey took possession of a deserted Greek islet in the southeast Aegean. They talked every day but did not meet until 2006 when Yiannis, who worked in shipping, went to Istanbul, where Aysegul had an architecture practice. They were married the following year, and after two years in Athens, moved to Manila, where Yiannis served as his company’s manager for the Philippines. In 2013, he left his job but they remained in the country since prospects in Greece then were bleak.

“We decided to go into the food business,” said Yiannis. “There was no Greek restaurant in Manila. And we went to culinary school there, learned the professional culinary arts – mostly French, of course – and Aysegul started a pastry business. We also set up a souvlaki stand in the night markets there – just a grill and a table – but we made good money. Then we graduated to a stall, with three tables, and soon had long lines of people waiting outside. We didn’t even have a sign but we did have Greek chairs, painted blue and white, so they knew what we were [serving].”

Yiannis taught himself to make pork and beef gyros from scratch, and Aysegul spent her days rolling out pita breads. “Until I found some Israelis who made them to go with their falafel,” she said.

At some point they found themselves running three Greek restaurants, and one of them was awarded best new restaurant of the year in Manila by Esquire magazine.

“By then we were making all the classics, moussaka, pastitsio, etc. But we knew we had to leave when [President Rodrigo] Duterte came to power,” said Yiannis.

“So we returned to Athens in 2017 with our two kids and vowed never to open a restaurant ever again,” continued Aysegul with a rueful smile. “Or eat moussaka.”

“We don’t want to fit into a niche,” Aysegul told us. “That’s why we didn’t make our food just Turkish or Greek.”

Nevertheless, they found a creperie for sale in Nikaia and bought it. But they weren’t satisfied with the setup, so they turned their attention to the small space in Thissio that The Spot now occupies. From last winter until October they were “eating their words” and struggling with bureaucracy and renovations to transform it into a functional, attractive place to meet, eat, drink and even listen to live music.

The décor betrays Aysegul’s architectural background. Everything has been carefully chosen so that it resembles a work of modern minimalist art: light gray walls, two pinewood tables with benches, red stools surrounding a higher pine table, wooden slatted boxes dangling close to the ceiling to provide a bit of sound insulation, a bar fronted by gleaming glasses hanging upside down, interesting rope-strung lights in the bathroom, and a black and red logo out front.

“At the moment we are a work in progress, haven’t quite made up our minds about our identity,” said Aysegul. “I want it to be a breakfast place. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day in Turkey. And already we are full on weekends with the brunch crowd. But we’re also thinking of having this as a jazz club with food.

“We’ve started out with communal tables – that’s common in Turkey – but if it doesn’t work out, we’ll switch to smaller tables,” she added.

Meanwhile, the small kitchen caters to all tastes. We watched with envy as a customer tucked into poached eggs accompanied by sliced avocado and tomato, and struggled to decide which mezedes to sample, eventually choosing a very satisfying authentic lahmacun; a crunchy mixed salad with a scrumptious dressing; and kibbeh (cracked wheat crust enclosing a juicy minced meat filling) that took us back to Gaziantep, the mecca of food in southeastern Turkey, where we tasted this time-consuming treat for the first time. And, on Yiannis’ insistence, we also shared a plate of poutine, a Canadian invention where fried potatoes are topped with mozzarella cheese and drizzled with truffle-flavored gravy (their tweak), probably not something we’d order again but we’ve heard Canadian friends wax ecstatic.

Also on offer are about 15 omelets; platters of hot and cold appetizers – finger food for groups of friends – from Greece, Turkey and the Middle East; open and shut sandwiches; and a huge variety of sweet and savory waffles and crepes. There are fresh juices, two types of draft beer, coffees and “limitless black tea with breakfast,” while the house wines are supplied by Angelos Rouvalis, one of the leaders of the post-retsina era of good Greek wines.

What is most surprising about this eclectic, imaginative menu is the really affordable prices, unusual for such high-quality food – a glass of wine costs a mere €3, the lahmacun and basic omelet the same. As Yiannis says, “We’re trying to keep prices down. We want to attract people who enjoy wine and beer, and we won’t raise our prices.”

But there is every possibility that the menu will expand still further, as Aysegul wants to add some South American and Asian dishes.

So keep your eye on The Spot. It’s still early days but in some ways it has already “hit the spot.”

Marco Arguello

Published on December 04, 2019

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