My best friend is married to a Greek man – like, a real one. His parents don’t speak English very well, being from Sparta and all – Sparta, like SPARTACUS. His name is Nick – incidentally, my best friend’s cousin is also married to a Greek man, whose name is also Nick. I think, in turn, his brother is called Nick.
When I received the invitation to Melanie and Nick’s wedding, I accepted immediately and sent my RSVP card with “vegetarian” marked under “dietary restrictions.” I got a phone call from Mel.
“I got your RSVP! I’m so excited!” she said. “But, you know that the vegetarian option at the wedding is fish, right?”
“What kind of wedding has fish as their veggie option?” I asked, baffled.
“A Greek one,” she answered – fair play.
At home, there are many many Greek eateries, Montreal being a city populated by many many Greeks. I used to skip school regularly to go to Villa du Souvlaki on Sherbrooke – I’d still do that today, if I a) still lived in Montreal and b) still went to school. Their crinkle cut fries are so GOOD. Souvlaki George is another NDG staple – even a suspicious fire couldn’t shut that shit down. For the real deal, there are endless numbers of authentic Greek taverns sprinkled around Parc X – the types of places where you don’t order off the menu and where Greek families convene to celebrate memorable occasions, like the addition of a new Nick to the clan. Places where I am prepared to go to great lengths – including eating octopus – to have someone take me there. Good bets include Tripolis on St Roch or Mythos on Parc.
In London, the only Greek restaurant I’d come across in my nearly four years of living here was The Real Greek, and not once can I say it ever crossed my mind to go in there. So when time came to cover Greece for this project, I asked my friend Elena for a recommendation, and landed at Lemonia in Primrose Hill.
Even the name Primrose Hill sounds like something out of a fairy tale. Primrose Hill, says Wikipedia, is one of the most expensive and most exclusive residential neighbourhoods in London. Present and past residents include Sienna Miller, John Cleese, Jeremy Clarkson, Boris Johnson, Daniel Craig, Friedrich Engels (author of The Communist Manifesto) and Harry Styles.
Clearly Lemonia would be no down and dirty diner – and my meal was not going to be cheap.
It was busy when we arrived – booking ahead had been a must on a Friday. We were seated near the back of the restaurant, which felt very much like a cross between a traditional Greek tavern and a subtropical rainforest.
Our first serious choice was whether to have Greek wine, or Cypriot wine. Cyprus-Greece relations somewhat escape me – the more I eat and the more I write the more it occurs to me that I know less about the world than I thought I did . Anyway, I think Leon Uris wrote a book about Cyprus once. It was good. On this occasion, I wasn’t going to go there.
Since Elena is Cypriot – Greek Cypriot, to be exact – we went with a dry Cypriot white, called Aphrodite. I felt like a goddess already.
Speaking in tongues with our waiter (I am NOT talking about you, she assured me – I’m still unconvinced) Elena ordered our starters – an aubergine salad, an octopus salad that I was reluctant to try because it looked very squishy, tzatziki and pitta and my personal favourite, spanakopita. These came swiftly, and I might describe them as little triangular bundles of spinach-filled joy.
For my benefit, our entire party decided to go “Greek Veggie” for the night, meaning everybody but me ordered fish – predictably, I ordered the chicken shashlik. Once again Elena communicated with our waiter in secret code, making good use of the word “innay,” which I understood to be the Greek translation of “innit,” a word I am very much still struggling to understand.
As we waited for our food, Duncan made brief eye contact with our waiter and a second bottle of wine appeared and I was very pleased that we had reached this level of mutual non-verbal understanding with the staff. Who needs languages, eh? It was a good thing too, because we waited a while. Nevermind – I can never fault a long linger with good friends, especially when there’s pitta.
“I should have warned you, the portions are small,” Elena said when our food finally did arrive. Although my chicken and Elena’s grilled fish came with rice and salad, the grilled squid was served all by its lonely self, and there wasn’t much of it. The food was very good, albeit not inspiring – charcoal grilled meat is charcoal grilled meat; what matters is where you’re eating it, and my night out at Lemonia is the closest I’m going to get to Sparta this year.
The damage – not awful, but not inexpensive, at £70 a couple including service. I wonder if Boris runs a tab…
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89 Regent’s Park Road
Nearest tube: Chalk Farm