Considering its prime location between the Acropolis and the neighborhoods of Petralona, Kallithea and Neos Kosmos, the fact that Koukaki has seen a wave of development in the last 15 years is no surprise. Cafés, bars, restaurants, hotels and Airbnbs have sprung up all over the neighborhood, making it an increasingly popular destination for visitors.
At the same time, life has become something of a headache for long-time residents – with so many apartments being turned into Airbnbs, property prices have gone up significantly, and the neighborhood has become too noisy and busy, particularly during the high season.
So one of the (few) upsides to the pandemic was that we had the chance this summer to enjoy a quieter and yet increasingly charming Koukaki, as well as some of our favorite outdoor dining spots in the area.
One place we kept returning to was Gargaretta, which opened in May 2019. The restaurant-deli takes its name from the section of Koukaki it’s located in: The area just south of Dionysiou Aeropagitou, the pedestrian street that runs between the Acropolis Hill and the Acropolis Museum, is called Gargaretta after a prominent Italian family that owned and cultivated land in the area during the Middle Ages. It’s leafier compared to the lower side of Koukaki and has many beautifully renovated Neoclassical buildings.
An all-day bistro with elegant meze dishes, tasty desserts made in-house and a great selection of wines and other drinks, Gargaretta is the newest project from sisters Katia and Nancy Simidopoulou. They have been in the area for quite a while and own Hotel Herodion located right across the street, a family business open since the early 1970s.
They have entrusted the kitchen to chef Manolis Mavriyiannakis, who hails from Sfakia, a village in Crete. You can see his influence not only in the meze dishes but as well as the products that are sold in the small deli, all of which have been personally chosen by him, like rye rusks from a small bakery in Sfakia, sioufihta (a type of pasta from Crete) made of carob and a fantastic thyme honey that his cousin produces on the island.
The tables are few in number, especially this year with the new Covid-19 restrictions, so make sure you book ahead. We prefer to sit outside, which is pleasant no matter the time of day. In addition to dinner and lunch they also serve brunch on the weekends between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. with a separate menu. But you can come here at any time, really, during their regular opening hours and enjoy a glass of wine and some nibbles, or maybe a coffee and something sweet (we’re partial to their sokolatina, a chocolate mousse cake).
We like going for an early dinner (which is around 7 or 8 p.m. in Greece) to enjoy the last bit of beautiful light before darkness falls.
We like going for an early dinner (which is around 7 or 8 p.m. in Greece) to enjoy the last bit of beautiful light before darkness falls. First up is wine – their list features mostly domestic wines and gives a great overview of Greek regions and varietals. This time we went for our favorite assyrtiko: Santorini by Estate Argyros. A particularly mineral, dry, white PDO grape variety native to Santorini, with citrusy aromas, high acidity and a beautiful aftertaste, assyrtiko is typically paired with seafood and fresh vegetables; this specific label also goes well with pork, poultry and smoked cheeses.
The small menu changes according to the season and the availability of certain products, so we always make sure to ask Vicky, the hands-on manager, to suggest some of their special dishes that will pair with our drinks in the best possible way.
On this visit we devoured their grilled mastello cheese (a goat milk cheese from Chios island) served with a lemon and ginger marmalade. Their savory beef pastourma (cured, spicy beef) madeleines, served with a side dip of yogurt and sundried tomatoes, were also delicious. Other options included a selection of their fine Greek cheeses and cold cuts, and a number of different salads like their namesake Gargaretta, which has creamed avocado, cherry tomatoes, xinotyri (a fresh, creamy and slightly tangy white cheese) and louza (cured pork loin) from Mykonos.
For a main, we ordered their fish and chips, which riffs on the traditional Greek-style fried salted cod with skordalia (garlic dip). Here the fish was wrapped in potato spirals and fried until crisp, and served with a side dip of black garlic mayo. Our meal ended with a light lemon tart with blackberries and an iced drink of mastiha liqueur and freshly squeezed lemon juice. It was a refreshing finish to an end-of-summer meal.