Around the area where you can go to get fresh fish dinners ranging from the rustic and cost-effective to the bland and eye-wateringly expensive, stands something a little different. Strofilia is a (very) Greek eatery specializing in what the Greeks do well – the mezze. Among the hustle and bustle of the St Catherine area, Strofilia tucks itself away, almost to the point you could miss it if not paying attention. I take comfort in the fact that it doesn’t need to force you inside with garish pictures of food and flashing lights and simply lets the food do the talking.
For those not familiar with the mezze idea, it’s basically a Greek version of tapas, in that the dishes you get are smaller than a regular dinner plate and designed for sharing. If you are anything like me, it’s easy to imagine you could eat quite a few of these dishes, as they are only small. Beware though – it’s easy to overestimate. I was lucky enough to have my wife (Pam) as a dining partner, so that was no longer a problem.
We were warmly welcomed and ushered through to a surprisingly large yet cosy dining area and got started with an aperitif of Ouzo, interspersed with an earthy and salty tapenade of Kalamata olives and plenty of fluffy bread. I neglected to ask the name of the bread but it provided a delightful vehicle for the tapenade and other things to come – not too heavy and very fresh. It’s lucky the bread was there, as next up was the tzatziki. Don’t imagine for a second that this was the gelatinous white stuff you find in supermarkets. Dispel the idea of heavy garlic and soggy cucumber too, this is fresh and creamy, with the cucumber marinated in spices giving the dish a completely new dimension.
The now ritual battle of wills in which Pam tries to get some food before I eat it all was interrupted by the need to choose the wine. Reluctantly putting the bread down, I asked our waiter what he’d recommend, as I’m always keen to see if they know their cellar or not. We ordered a fairly eclectic food mix and were recommended the Ramnista Domaine Kyr-Yanni 2009. It transpired that the waiter did indeed know his stuff, as the forest fruits and spice of this red wine, balanced with some fairly prominent tannins provided an excellent accompaniment to some of the dishes, and a tasty foil to others.
Settled with wine, water and very little tzatziki left, the first plates came. The show opened with Ravioli de betteraves (beetroot salad), followed by Poulpe mijoté (slow-cooked octopus). The beetroot parcels were a delight, hand crafted slices of soft beet hiding a gentle sheep’s cheese centre and drizzled with an olive oil and walnut sauce. Surprisingly, this was the highlight for both of us, although more good things were to come. The octopus provided the only split vote of the evening. It was slowcooked and served with a fava bean purée, a combination I found fascinating. The flavours and textures worked well for me with the nutty bean flavour balanced against the rich sauce and the lovely texture of the octopus. I think the other 50% of the party was still irked because I settled on this instead of her beloved cod croquettes. Next time, perhaps.
Two plates to go and I could easily have just paid and left, as full as I felt but the devil on my shoulder urged me on and we welcomed the arrival of the halloumi grillé (grilled halloumi) and the one I was waiting for, the saucisses grillées (grilled sausage). Halloumi is very easy to get wrong, even if you’re Greek, so it was good that it came slightly charred and still hot. The addition of a tangy mint sauce was also a new thing to me, and something I shall be claiming as my own idea in future barbecues. The sausages were very good, earthy and slightly spicy with a real heavyweight lentil flavour to contend with. If I really had to criticize, I’d have liked a little more sauce but this is really a minor point and in no way stopped me finishing it all.
After all that food, a pudding was out of the question, although they did look very nice. Oh, OK then, but just something light. We had the millefeuille de pâte phylo (filo pastry millefeuille) and simply had to try the baklava. The millefeuille was very lightly caramelized and stuffed with cinnamon-flavoured cream, just right for a dining partner who claimed to have no more room. For me, it’s baklava all the way. This one was served with a sage ice cream which was light and carried more than a hint of sage. It struggled a little to compete with the wonderful clove and cinnamon spices in the baklava itself but the two balanced quite well.
A million miles from greasy gyros and limp salad leaves, try Strofilia for a classy take on Greek food in a comfortable atmosphere.