I am from northern Greece, specifically the city of Thessaloniki so I know a few things about good Greek food. I grew up eating it after all, literally!
Food is ingrained in every aspect of Greek culture and no festivity, big or small is complete without its matching food delicacy; from spring lamp on Easter Sunday to lagana (a lightly leavened bread) and taramosalata on “Clean Monday” (Kathari Deytera) to melomakarona at Christmas, the list goes on.
In terms of eating out, there is no better place than Thessaloniki for sampling authentic Greek food. The plethora of restaurants, tavernas and ouzeris have earned it the unofficial title of culinary capital of Greece.
I have now lived in London for over 15 years and I tend to avoid Greek restaurants here altogether. The inevitable comparisons with what is on offer back home results in a profound but predictable sense of disappointment.
So it’s with these high standards in my mind that I visited Mazi, a small but stylish Greek restaurant in London’s Notting Hill.
The evening started on the other side of London, tasting some excellent Greek wines at Maltby & Greek (Druid str, SE1 2HQ). By the time we made our way up the picturesque Hillgate Street where Mazi is located it was just after 9pm and we had worked up quite an appetite.
I had read great reviews of Mazi in various UK publications but I was still skeptical as we were approaching the venue. After all, I was thinking, what do these British reviewers know about authentic Greek cuisine, they did not grow up in Greece so how dare they even contemplate providing an misinformed opinion with their non-Hellenic palates…
OK, I admit it, my logic for doubting the reviewers was not that rational….But I was hungry, so rationality that evening was not one of my key strengths.
We entered and the place was buzzing with activity. The small front room was completely packed and there was a great atmosphere. It took a few minutes for our table to be prepared and we used this time to stare at the procession of beautifully presented dishes flowing out of the kitchen.
Soon enough we were seated in the main room which contains no more than a dozen small tables. The Greek waitor greeted us warmly and took the time to describe some of the key dishes on the menu. For starters we ordered the aubergine salad and the calamari in squid ink fava, both cleverly served in small glass jars (as are all the Mazi starters).
The familiar aromas of the aubergine salad (melitzanosalata) just leapt out of the jar and instantly this place won us over. One mouthful of this famous greek delicacy and we silently looked at each other as we realised that this was not just good but it stood shoulder to shoulder with the best “melitzanosalata” we had tasted back home. It was simply delicious!
For mains we had the tiger prawns with orzo pasta (a stylish interpretation of Giouvetsi) and the shredded rabbit stifado on pearl onion cream. Both authentic and modern at the same time, a feat not easily achieved and as far as I know not seen elsewhere in London, or even in Greece for that matter.
For wine, we opted for a bottle of Malagousia from Domaine Gerovassiliou (a winery located around 20km south of Thessaloniki). This famous white wine is made from the indigenous Greek grape Malagousia and is a prime example of the massive improvement in Greek winemaking techniques over the last few decades. But more importantly, it was the perfect complement to the delicious food we were experiencing, (went particularly well with the orzo pasta and tiger prawns).
For desert, we ordered the loukoumades (traditional Greek donuts) in lavender honey and chocolate sorbet. This was presented to us in a square wooden case decorated with lavender flowers and smoking cinnamon sticks. Sounds over-the -top but it was brilliantly executed and a delightful touch to end the night.
Mazi has redefined Greek cuisine. It has demonstrated that authenticity and creativity can be combined without compromising on taste. More importantly it has achieved this in a simple and elegant way.
Well done and we will be back!
Mazi, 12-14 Hillgate Street, London W8 7SR