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Greek restaurants, much like Italian, have been influential in educating the British palate with the flavours of the Mediterranean. And yet it feels like Greek cuisine has forever been on the fringes of dining out culture here, and is still waiting for its moment to truly announce itself.
That moment could be on the horizon. In London’s leafy Holland Park, Vori Greek Kitchen is a fine new neighbourhood restaurant that seamlessly blends into its salubrious surroundings without sacrificing any culinary authenticity.
Vori has genuine curb appeal, but word-of-mouth has clearly travelled fast around here. Even on a Sunday, when the British habitually migrate to gastropubs, the small dining room quickly filled up with bookings of two or three and a few hopeful walk-ins.
After just a few winter months, it already has a nicely worn-in feel. How a restaurant sounds is often a good indicator of who it attracts, and Vori’s audible profile was not unlike that of a good local pub: alive but comfortable and familiar. It’s a tone most restaurants spend years trying to cultivate.
The floorspace of Vori’s dining room may be modest, but it has expertly maximised all three dimensions of it. A small mezzanine level overlooks a narrow dining room with a liberating amount of overhead space for those dining below.
The aesthetic is purposefully restrained but welcoming. Dark terracotta walls and cool, slate-grey tables recalled rustic tavernas from hot summer holidays somewhere in the Aegean Sea, just without the tight walls and clutter. A motif of electric blue – found on the staircase and the towering wine rack – could be a hint of flag-carrying pride, and why not?
To complete the scene, modernist gold pendants hung from the ceiling offered just the right dose of metro-glamour. After all, we are in Holland Park, where the likes of the Beckhams reside.
The food and drinks
As someone who suffers from menu option paralysis, I appreciate any menu like Vori’s, which fits onto one side of A4 with room to spare. I also took encouragement from how unpronounceable the majority of the dishes were.
No Greek meal can start without tzatziki, that cooling dip of yoghurt, cucumber, mint and garlic. You’ll get a choice of sourdough (from the renowned St. John’s Bakery) or pita to scoop it up. Regrettably I chose the sourdough, not because it was bad but because I caught a glimpse of that iconic flatbread on the table next to me, and pined for its charred, slightly oiled edges.
Next was a classic Greek salad and I’m relieved that Vori didn’t try anything clever with it. Sweet, ripe tomatoes, salty cheese and olives and fiery red onion, nicely seasoned. Sorted. The only thing missing was my sunglasses and a baking sun above.
Grilled king prawns came in an addictively spiced, anise-infused sauce. After the prawn heads had been sucked clean, I gratefully cleaned the plate with the crusts of my sourdough. A mineral-rich and zesty 2020 Cephalonian Orealios Gaea white wine was a well-recommended pairing, just one of an expertly curated list of native Greek wines in every shade.
A dish of warm, crisp, deep fried courgette balls with feta on a puddle of cold yoghurt was an unexpected highlight of the meal. They resembled croquettes – never a bad thing in my view – and I was encouraged by our waiter’s excited reaction when I ordered it. His grandmother’s exact recipe, I was told. True or not, they were so delicious that I had to order a second round of them.
I must confess some disappointment at my main course of grilled squid on Santorini puree and capers. I don’t dispute the authenticity of its design, but on the plate it presented challenges. I want a little bite when it comes to squid, but this was on the chewy side of the line, not helped by the portion size that could have been half what it was.
That was the only real misstep though, and redemption was quickly found in my companion’s moussaka, which had the kind of clear definition between layers of well-seasoned vegetables, meat and béchamel that pale imitations do not.
The dessert, a sugarless Cretan cheesecake, carried an unusual but very pleasant sourness that was offset by sweet candied walnuts, and floral honey and wild thyme. Like a dessert should, it delivered a satisfying ending.
We all need a restaurant like Vori Greek Kitchen in our neighbourhood. A place that respects tradition but isn’t held back by it. The food may need a little refinement in places but I applaud its elevated honesty. The service is crisp and genuinely hospitable. It’s getting a lot of things right, and if Greek cuisine is going to see a renaissance anytime soon, I would expect Vori to be an influential part of it.
Dominic Kocur was a guest of Vori Greek Kitchen. 120 Holland Park Avenue, London W11 4UA; vorigreekitchen.co.uk
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