My exposure to Greek food has been unexciting. I spent my summer holidays on various Greek islands when I was in my late teens and early twenties and at this time, I was severely financially restricted (meaning I didn’t experiment eating at higher end restaurants – I don’t know if they even existed?). The typical tourist (drinking) destinations that I visited consisted of basically one cloned restaurant with a sleazy Greek waiter in front trying to persuade customers to enter his restaurant (mostly with bribes like free ouzo and free house wine). This restaurant clone served the same few dishes with more or less similar quality: Greek salad, gyros, souvlaki, moussaka, dolmades. Washed down with enough ouzo and retsina it tasted fine but I can’t say that it left any lasting positive impressions.
Also Greek restaurants in Austria served the same fare. Enjoyable in its simplicity and predictability but by no means culinary sophistication or inventive cooking. And there is the big danger of a dinner-long musical torture in the form of sirtaki. This honestly can spoil the best food and is enough to keep you from Greek restaurants and holidays in Greece forever!
I haven’t eaten Greek food since I moved to London, and I was intrigued to read some good reviews about a new Hellenic restaurant that had opened in Notting Hill, serving “innovative, tasty and refined Greek food”. Was this now finally the opportunity to change my views on Greek cuisine?
Mazi in a side street parallel to Kensington Church Street is certainly more expensive than your usual Greek restaurant. It is equally noisy though. After we entered the intimate dining area, we almost turned around and left straight away, as the small space was filled with loud noises of diners and of cutlery scraping plates. The combination of no wallpaper and tiled walls, no carpets, no table clothes and high ceilings led to a massive amplification of sound. Quite a shame really, as otherwise I thought the restaurant was really rather cute and I truly appreciated the lack of Greek folklore including the absence of blue and white checkered table clothes!
Also the menu was short and sweet and even though there were some of the classics to be found, they were considerably spiced up. Instead of ‘fried feta’ there was ‘feta tempura’, and I am dying to find out what a ‘modern Greek salad’ entails. We ordered conservative starters which were served in a jar (an unnecessary gimmick in my opinion) accompanied by lovely fresh bread.
I love a good zatziki but my body can’t tolerate the garlic overload that is a usual feature. Mazi prepares its zatziki with ‘with only a pinch of garlic’, so I had to order it. It was a nice but not overly exciting dish and £6 seemed slightly on the high side for what is basically yoghurt and cucumber. Grilled Aubergine with soya and thyme honey (6) were smoky and tasty and we soaked up each single bit of the sauce with more of the soft white bread.
While starters were really nothing to write home about, it got far more interesting with the main courses. Slow Cooked King Prawns (13), technically a dish from the hot starter section, consisted of tender and plumb prawns swimming in an alcohol infused sauce, I think it was Metaxa? The spirit worked surprisingly well with the tomatoes and my dinner companion moaned over it. So you can definitely do more with Greek ingredients than I had so far experienced! Again, I thought £13 for a starter was a rather pricey.
By far the best dish of the evening was the exquisite Rabbit Roll Ragout (15). The rabbit was cooked to perfection and beautifully flavoured with fragrant herbs such as thyme. I loved the pasta with it, soaking up all the delicious sauce, and the salty and creamy feta on the side provided a pleasant contrast. The portion was tiny though. I know I’m eating for 2 at the moment, but this honestly was too small even for one of us!
Mazi without doubt sets itself apart from your usual Greek restaurant and is an ambassador of what Greek food could be, if executed to a less lazy standard. I question the pricing, but at the same time can’t fault the quality of the food – so maybe it’s just ingrained in my perception that Greek restaurants should be cheap? I would go back to Mazi and I wouldn’t mind at all if modern Greek would become a new food trend…
- Food: 7/10
- Service: 7/10
- Ambiance: 6/10
- Value for Money: 6/10
- Chances of Returning: 20%
- Verdict: A very much-needed fresh take on Greek cuisine with some genuinely good cooking.