Chef Nikos Karathanos seals his comeback with Ateno 

Chef Nikos Karathanos seals his comeback with Ateno 

Nikos Karathanos reclaims his exalted place in the Athenian culinary pecking order with inventive comfort food at Ateno, a restaurant-deli housed in a stunning 19th century building in the old commercial district.  Ateno feeds our rekindled love for childhood favorites and homey foods with sophisticated “newstalgia” and transports us to our happy place.

Ateno’s stately 1831 building curves along  Miltiadou and Aiolou streets, lined with wholesale shops stacked with colourful bales of satin and lace. Reflecting the enterprising spirit of its neighborhood, walking into Ateno feels like you’ve stepped into a sophisticated pantopoleio.

The deli on the ground floor cleverly taps into the resurgence of demand for legacy and nostalgic foods, while interweaving tradition with sustainability and new dietary preferences. Everything on display is served at the restaurant: choice cold cuts and cheese from co-owners and chefs Spyros and Vangelis Liakos (of Basegrill fame), Greek wines curated by MW Yiannis Karakassis, coffee, honey, olive oils, Greek herbs and spices – even lentils and handcrafted pasta. A curated selection of Greece’s finest products showcased beautifully.

Nikos Karathanos who vaulted to fame with his first Michelin at 28 for his highly inventive creations has his kitchen on the mezannine floor. At Ateno, Karathanos mixes delicate herb-packed infusions with hearty traditional Greek cooking, exploring the culinary legacy of the flavours he grew up with at home.

Greek staples such as lamb fricassé, moussaka and dolmadaki are revisited zealously to create a sublime gastronomic experience. The Ateno moussaka sits on a bed of crunchy potato ‘vermicelli’ – making each bite a deeply satisfying explosion of textures and flavours – the crunch of the potato, the earthiness of the mince, rounded off by roasted eggplants in between and a luscious, creamy béchamel to top it off. It’s such a delightfully light, unfussy mouthful that your brain is seduced into believing that it’s guilt-free too! The other stand-out dishes were the lamb fricassée – a melt-in-your-mouth slow-roasted lamb with plentiful spinach, spring onions, dill, mint, parsley and celeriac in a lemon-infused sauce. Again, the acidity of the avgolemono sauce wrapped beautifully around the greens and the succulent lamb pieces to deliver nostalgia and sophistication. The menu reflects the bounty of Greek produce, with a lot of seasonal salads and flavour-packed veggie options as well.

During the day, the cafe area spills on to either side of the pedestrian street, perfect for a flavour packed pit stop in between errands.

There are just two choices on the dessert menu crafted by Dimitris Oikonomides – a chocolate tart with Madagascar vanilla ice cream and the almond dacquoise with vanilla mousse. We didn’t try it as we were already full, but at the table next to us, a whole production was underway. There was a ceremonial sprinkling of goodies, an army of servers scooping dollops of icecream in synchronized choreography. It seemed over the top but we  vicariously felt special too. And that pretty much describes the experience at Ateno: A warm embrace. Solace through food.

Info: Aiolou 52 & Miltiadou. Tel: 210 3223223

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