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When it comes to food, Onofrio Ioakimidis takes his inspiration from both the north and the south. His love for cooking blossomed in Thessaloniki – he was born and raised in the northern Greek city, which is second only to Athens in terms of size and legendary for its cuisine.

But his grande amore with the culinary arts really began with his grandmother Constanza. Originally from the southern Italian city of Naples, Constanza fled Italy during the difficult years of Mussolini and moved to Greece. Fate brought her to Thessaloniki and into the arms of Grigoris, who soon became her husband. Onofrio recalls a childhood spent in nonna’s kitchen, at first playing with flour and dough, and then eventually learning how to make pasta.

Despite an enviable background in two beloved food cultures, it never occurred to Onofrio to train as a chef. Instead, he studied graphic and interior design, only cooking pasta for his friends and family. In 2007, however, a friend of his from Rome convinced him to open an Italian restaurant together in Thessaloniki, and so Rosticceria di Salonicco, serving fresh handmade pasta and other delightful goodies shipped straight from Italy, was born. Onofrio stayed there for around five years, but then one thing led to another and he found himself on the island of Tinos, where he opened Trattoria d’Italia in Krokos village. It was his first solo project, and his pasta dishes quickly became the talk of the island.

Falling in love on a Greek island may sound a bit cliché, but it happens, and when it does it’s often very sudden and very romantic, as Onofrio himself experienced. He fell quickly and hard for Elena, a journalist from Athens who was there on holiday. That’s how Onofrio ended up in Athens in 2015, right in the midst of the economic crisis, looking for a spot for his next culinary endeavor.

That same year, the first Trattoria d’Italia in Athens opened on a quiet pedestrian street in Pagrati. Two years later, it moved down the road into a handsome old house. The two-story building wasn’t in the best shape, but it had a certain faded glamor that Onofrio was on the hunt for.

“Everything is handmade here,” he says, “and I don’t just mean the food. I moved two restaurants into this house. I decided to close down the trattoria on Tinos as we had a baby on the way and I had to focus on one place. Then I literally carried each piece of furniture from the first restaurant to the new spot.”

That personal touch is evident as soon as you enter the charming building. Right across from the entrance is an old wooden staircase, and to the right is the kitchen where you’ll always find Onofrio working. Walk upstairs and you enter a lounge that feels like something you’d find in a friend’s house, only with too many tables – there are flowing floral curtains, red-and-white checkered tablecloths and mismatched vintage-looking plates, like the ones your grandma keeps in her cupboards. There’s also a separate space for special occasions or business meetings, nothing fancy and equally as cozy, just with more privacy.

“I want my customers to feel as if they’ve just been transported to the south of Italy, to feel as if they’re visiting an Italian home down in Napoli or Sicily. This is a trattoria not a restaurant, a trattoria should look old and simple and handmade. It has to have a personal touch. And maybe even a cobweb or two in the corner of the ceiling!” he explains.

“I want my customers to feel as if they’ve just been transported to the south of Italy, to feel as if they’re visiting an Italian home down in Napoli or Sicily.”

While the atmosphere is perfectly cozy and romantic, the food is so good that you could strip away all the charming interiors and we would still keep coming back again and again. Everything is handmade here, including, of course, the pasta, which Onofrio makes daily – linguini, lasagna, fusilli, tagliatelle and even ravioli, when he has time for it. (On Tinos, he even made his own guanciale – cured pork jowl – although he doesn’t have the space to do it here.)

The menu is small and simple, like it should be at a proper trattoria. “When you go to a trattoria, you should always go for the classics: puttanesca [a tomato-based sauce], amatriciana [a red sauce made with guanciale], boscaiola [a creamy mushroom sauce] or polpette [with meatballs],” Onofrio says. As soon as we sat down, our waiter brought over a basket of sliced fresh bread, a couple of crostini and green olives. Before jumping to a main, we ordered his delicious vitello tonnato, sliced veal covered with a creamy tuna sauce, although a classic carpaccio, thinly sliced raw meat, would also be a great start to the meal.

While you can never go wrong with the classics that Onofrio recommends, we luxuriated in the pere con Gorgonzola, which was so delicious we dream of it almost daily – altogether the linguini with thinly sliced pear, guanciale, walnuts, Gorgonzola and truffle was surprisingly light, given the richness of its parts, and paired perfectly with a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. His pesto di pistacchi (pistachio pesto sauce) is also very popular and highly recommended.

Apart from the 12 pasta dishes on the menu, Onofrio makes a couple of meat dishes and extra specials on the weekend, like his incredible porchetta, a roast pork roll stuffed with mortadella.

We ended our meal with his homemade limoncello, which was not too sweet and very fragrant, and the tiramisu. It was one of the best we’ve ever had, and we didn’t even have to make the trip to Italy to enjoy it.

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