Not one to rest on his Michelin star, acclaimed chef Lefteris Lazarou is constantly trying to outdo himself with magnificent results. Rather than ordering from a menu, you can simply give him an idea of what you like and let him create your seafood dish from what he found that day at the market. Among his most fabulous compilations are the orzo with crayfish flavored with Limnio wine, smoked red chile, and Parmesan; the white grouper with cherry tomatoes, sour apple, and smoked mashed potatoes; and the sea bream with red bell pepper sauce and ratatouille. Some dishes fuse traditional peasant fare like the flowers of courgettes with unusual flavors like framboise. In the summer, dinner is served on a rooftop terrace with a wonderful Acropolis view.
Sep 4, 2008
I had a pleasure to eat at Varoulko yesterday, 3 September. The weather was fine, the table overlooked Acropolis – everything was set up for a nice evening with excellent sea food. But, the aftertaste was bitter, and not because of the espresso (which was good), but because of details which make the difference between a Greek place and a great place. We started well. The menu was built around day’s catch and included a cold crab salad with
mandarine sauce, fried crusty sardine fillets with smoked aubergine mousse and a tiny dash of strawberry sauce, a risotto-like couscous cooked in pork stock with baby squid and a beef sauce (sounds strange, but was probably the very best course of the whole meal), a cod with black ravioli and lemon-egg sauce and as main a grilled red porgy (fagri) with green stewed vegetables and a tomato. We polished the meal off with a chocolate cream with caramel ice-cream (my wife) and chamomile induced sweet bavarois with sharp and refreshing lemon sorbet. Our wine was a reasonably priced Greek asyrtiko. The food was very good though not excellent. The main course remained a disappointment after the strong beginning, and the lemon sorbet in the dessert almost killed the delicate flavour of chamomile. However, this was minor. The problem was elsewhere. My wife’s crab salad had a surprisingly great amount of shell and other uncomestible parts. When asked for our comments after the first starter, we mentioned this and expressed our slight disappointment. Our criticism was well-received, a promise to pass our message to the kitchen and to the Chef was made by two of the head waiters and we left it at that waiting that the Chef would probably come to apologise and offer an excuse. The Chef did indeed arrive. He spent approximately 80 % of the time of our meal (2.5 hours) outside the kitchen amongst the clientele having no chance of controlling anything that came out of the kitchen. He even served to a few tables, those, where he obviously had friends and acquaintances. He did not have 30 seconds for us, even to briefly say good evening. Nor did he have to the majority of the tables. He was too busy sitting down with his friends. Our water glasses remained empty for minutes at a time – we had to ask for more. This caused the Sommelier to criticise the waiter behind our backs for not having paid attention to the tables. This was obviously very good per se, but we should not have witnessed that. Similarly we overheard the criticisms of the Chef to another waiter who did not serve us at another occasion. Our bread plates remained empty until we asked for more. And we waited 10 minutes for bread to arrive as it "had to be re-heated", we were told. I could still disregard the water, the bread, the public lecturing – but I cannot disregard the way the second bottle of wine was served. I did not have a chance to check, taste and verify our second bottle of wine. Instead it was opened before I could see it and it was poured straight into my wife’s half full glass and to my old empty glass. Nor can I disregard the absence of the Chef at the time when we made our polite criticism. At the end of the meal, we even mentioned that we actually did wait for him to come and that we saw him dashing around the clients, but not sparing us a word (let alone promising us desserts for free or reduction of the price of our bill). It was disappointing. It was what can be expected from a flashy fashion restaurant, not from a restaurant which is supposedly at the top of its league. Varoulko and its Chef boast one Michelin star since 2002. While the food was close to being of that quality, the attention to the details was missing yesterday. Also the lack of will to correct or somehow compensate for mistakes was not what one expects from a restaurant of this reputation. For a meal which costs 300 euro for two people one can and should expect more.
Oct 23, 2007
While staying in Athens a couple of weeks ago, my friend and I made reservations at To Varoulko. We are both foodies and were looking forward to what we thought would be one of Athens' best dining experiences. When are two single attractive women and we were traveling without male partners. When we arrived at the restaurant, we were seated at the very back of the rooftop dining area: the worst seat in the house. We knew it but did not complain,
because we just wanted to enjoy a good meal. That didn't happen. The manager (or owner, a late middle-aged man arrived at our table some 20 minutes after we had been seated. He did not ask us if we wanted anything to drink, but gave us the menus. The menu offered two prix fixe degustations at two price points. When he handed out the menus, he condescended to explain to us what a degustation was and why the prices were justified. We were surprised as he had not felt the duty to so inform the group of businessmen seated after us (but served before us) of such basics. We had to ask him to send over a wine list and a server to take our apertif order. 15 minutes later a server did arrive to take our drink order. The service was horrendous: at one point a server almost tossed one of the courses in front of me. The two exceptions to the horrific service were both women. Surprisingly, in the bastion of mysoginy, the sommelier was a woman. She was terrific and knew her wine list well. The back waitress (interning while attendng school)was the ony other female staff person. She was also helpful. At the end of this maddening experience, we paid the bill and then asked to speak with the manager. We explained our concerns and he brushed them off. We spent $400 on dinner and rather than acknowledge the problem with the service, he offered to buy us a drink. We politely refused and left. It is interesting to note that we were the only table of women dining at To Varoulko that night. The other tables received much better service than ours. I will not return and I suggest avoiding this place as a matter of principle. The food was good, if not great. It suffered from lack of boldness in seasoning and construction.